Recently, Pakistan’s foreign policy has seen a ‘paradigm shift’ on the Syrian conflict. During the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz al Saud in Islamabad earlier this week, Pakistan, for the first time, took an explicit stance in what appears to be a clear departure from its earlier position. The government in the past attempted to maintain a delicate balance by not taking sides on the Syrian crisis.
The turnaround in our policy has certainly come as a surprise for many observers at a time when the Syrian situation is still fluid and evolving. Pakistan’s approach may not have any direct bearing on the Syrian unrest but it will certainly compound its own problems in the region.
There has been a little debate on this fateful shift in foreign policy. No doubt, it is the prerogative of the government to chalk up policy on any major international issue. But decisions, which may have long-term repercussions for the state, must not be taken without due consultations with all stakeholders. Has the government really done this exercise on the issue of Syria? Who has been consulted? Has parliament sanctioned this?
On face of it, this seems not to be the case. As has been our chronic problem, most of our policies are based on adhocism. Today, much of Pakistan’s challenges stems from this policy of adhocism. Had our policy makers consulted experts, stakeholders and taken into account the long-term effects of, say, supporting the war against the former Soviet Union or siding with the US in its so-called war on terror, today Pakistan would have been much different.
In a democratic dispensation, decisions of national importance are taken in a structured way and after due consideration. But the current state of affairs in Pakistan suggest otherwise. In the absence of a full-time foreign minister, one cannot imagine a meaningful consultation with the ministry.
In this situation, the role of opposition parties is very critical. But unlike developed democracies, in Pakistan, political parties do not have a system where they have their own think-tanks and research institutes which can provide them the crucial input on such strategic matters. That is why we haven’t seen any reaction from these opposition groups on this key foreign policy issue. Nor have they sought any explanation from the government on the platform of parliament, which is known as representing the will of the people.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2014.
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