Foreign policy dilemmas

Published: March 9, 2014
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The writer is an independent political and defence analyst. He is also the author of several books, monographs and articles on Pakistan and South Asian Affairs

The writer is an independent political and defence analyst. He is also the author of several books, monographs and articles on Pakistan and South Asian Affairs

The mindset of a large number of politically active people and policymakers in Pakistan continues to be dominated by the Cold War politics of ideological divide and enduring friendships or enmities. The major discourse emphasises the global conflict between the Muslim and non-Muslim states of the Western world. A follow-up of this formulation is Islamic Pakistan versus non-Islamic states and groups. A widely shared view is that the major powers of the word are out to destabilise, if not destroy, Pakistan.

If a large number of states are viewed as Pakistan’s adversaries, it is difficult to relate with others in a positive manner. This creates the tendencies of isolationism and ultra-nationalism. The notions of sovereignty and national pride are overplayed to promote dislike of other states and the international system. They do not pay attention to international obligations but demand that the rest of the world think and act to their satisfaction. These orientations get reinforced by the traditionally combative relationship between India and Pakistan. The increased role of radical movements in Pakistan is also strengthening isolationist trends and combativeness towards several countries, especially the Western countries. Such a mindset conflicts with the current trends in international politics. Global and regional politics is no longer formulated on the basis of permanent ideological and political divides. In the 21st century, the world is more interdependent, characterised by globalisation, involving the movement of people, ideas and goods across the boundaries of the state. Engagement, active diplomacy, trade, investment and economic cooperative interaction are the hallmarks of the current international political order.

Two major factors shape the role of a state in regional and global contexts. First, internal political stability and cohesion, and economic resilience increase the capacity of a state to counter external pressures and increase its foreign policy options. Second, how relevant is a state for global economic interaction. This includes its trade relations, accessibility of its market to other countries and foreign investment.

Strong economic linkages defuse bilateral tensions and strengthen a state’s role at the global level. International trade and investment are possible if the state has political stability and a secure investment environment, as well as the availability of infrastructure facilities, especially energy and rationalised bureaucratic procedures. Foreign investors also monitor the quantum of local investment to judge the security and safety for foreign investments and investors.

Pakistan will be better placed if it coped with its internal problems and external threats by increasing its economic and trade relevance for the international community. This objective cannot be achieved without working earnestly for the creation of a stable and secure domestic environment by controlling internal violence and terrorism and putting its economic house in order by reviving its industrial and business sectors.

Pakistan’s negative image abroad cannot be countered unless the government controls religious and cultural extremism, and eliminates terrorism. The rhetoric of Pakistan being the victim of terrorism gives only one side of the truth. The other side is that Pakistan is also a source of transnational terrorism. Furthermore, the terrorist groups in Pakistan are indigenous and will not give up violence until the Pakistan government adopts a tough policy to eliminate them. The elimination of violence and terrorism of all kinds should be the highest priority of Pakistan’s civilian and military authorities.

We are living in an era of regional economic cooperation and trade. Pakistan should expand its trade and economic relations with India, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. It must also look for new markets in Africa and South America. Pakistan can learn from China’s India policy. Despite territorial disputes and political differences, China has developed strong economic and trade relations with India. It has also developed trade and human interactions with Taiwan, although it views the latter as a breakaway province that needs to be brought back into China.

Foreign policy must be based on mutually advantageous considerations rather than on some puritanical ideological or religious considerations. It must identify commonalities and reduce differences with other countries. The positive experience of mutual interaction, over the years, expands areas of commonalities and reduces disagreements. One problem in Pakistan is that any foreign country, developing active relations with India, is looked at with suspicion and doubt. Pakistan’s foreign policy must reduce its India obsession.

There are no purely religious wars or purely religion-based friendships today. Pakistan may emphasise common religion and culture with Muslim states; however, this cannot be a basis of enduring relationships unless other more practical considerations are developed in terms of political, security, economic and trade interests. Bilateral relations can be strengthened by a transfer of technology, exchange of qualified human power and promotion of non-official societal linkages.

The Muslim world is diversified in terms of historical backgrounds, political orientations and agendas, and power interests. Therefore, it is difficult to cultivate an operational consensus on regional and international issues among the Muslim states. However, cooperation can be built on pragmatic political and economic considerations. Pakistan must avoid involvement in intra-Middle East political conflicts, dynastic jealousies and power politics. It should not take a partisan position on internal strife and power struggles in Arab states, like Syria, Bahrain and Egypt.

Pakistan needs to cultivate friendly interactions with as many countries as possible if it wants to cope with internal and external challenges. It must also pursue active diplomacy in international and regional organisations. Such activism provides opportunity to remove misperceptions about Pakistan. It should ensure peace on its borders and within its territory as well, if it wants to come out of its present economic, political and strategic predicament. It must recognise the realities of the current international order rather than live in a self-created world of illusions and denials.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Mar 10, 2014 - 1:28AM

    Pakistan’s foreign policy must reduce its India obsession. Bravo. Is anyone listening?

    Recommend

  • Arindom
    Mar 10, 2014 - 2:05AM

    India today has a ‘veto’ on Pakistan’s internal development! Every single extremist and terrorist and every single retrogade policy in Pakistan is a result of the obsessive need to ‘bleed’ India. Every act of military zingoism and every unafforadble military expenditure ( indeed the very takeover by Military) is to counter India!

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  • vasan
    Mar 10, 2014 - 7:04AM

    Absolutely spot on. Cant advice pakistanis or pakistan govt any better. Every word is worth it.
    People who support improving Pakistan’s image by lobbying, by repeating “Pakistan has to be sold better”, “untold story of Pakistan” etc need to ponder over the statement by this author quoted below
    Pakistan’s negative image abroad cannot be countered unless the government controls religious and cultural extremism, and eliminates terrorism.
    The best advice is
    ” It must recognise the realities of the current international order rather than live in a self-created world of illusions and denials.”

    Recommend

  • nrmr44
    Mar 10, 2014 - 7:50AM

    What brought on this sudden flood of good sense?

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  • wonderer
    Mar 10, 2014 - 9:00AM

    Bravo!

    What enviable advancement! On reading this masterly piece the days when Najam Sethi was derided as an Indian/RAW agent already seem prehistoric. Our eyes seem to be opening at last.

    Another half a century, and we would likely take a turn for the better if we survive till then. Your guess is as good as mine as to how long it might take us to become a Nation respected internationally.

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  • Shaihd
    Mar 10, 2014 - 9:42AM

    Indeed its a good attempt to put things right but who will take the initiative and how soon ? One year has gone since the PMLN is in the office but what they are doing or planning is not clear. No roadmap has been formulated. They are following the policy “look busy do nothing”. While I agree with all concerns and suggestions of the writer I see a little hope from the government of PMLN. Sorry sir, you are playing been before a buffallo”.

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  • Islooboy
    Mar 10, 2014 - 10:46AM

    “They do not pay attention to international obligations but demand that the rest of the world think and act to their satisfaction.” Absollutely brilliant!!! In the recent incident of NDMA status to India, Pakistan did exactly this!!!

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  • Feroz
    Mar 10, 2014 - 11:50AM

    Good suggestions but not sure the author can influence anybody.

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  • nadeem
    Mar 10, 2014 - 1:23PM

    As long as the Army maintains its lock on major domestic and international policies, we will remain the epicenter of terrorism and continue on the path to isolation. It is not in the ‘corporate interest’ of the Army to have a peaceful Pakistan where, instead of war and militancy, the main focus is on trade (and its pre-requisites, namely education, healthcare, social welfare, rule of law, etc.). The civilians must wrest away all policy-making from the Army.

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  • Naresh Swadesi
    Mar 10, 2014 - 9:01PM

    Journalists are effective in Pakistan only if they support islamic machoism and arrogance and supremacy complex. That is the Situation which the Pakistani journalists have themselves created over 60 years.
    On which side was Askari Rizvi earlier?

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  • Anju
    Mar 10, 2014 - 11:11PM

    “Foreign policy must be based on mutually advantageous considerations rather than on some puritanical ideological or religious considerations.”…. There are lessons not just for Pakistan but for India too in your essay.

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  • kamran chaudhry
    Mar 11, 2014 - 12:26PM

    The writer has made a strong case for a transition from a anti-India foreign policy to a pro-Pakistan foreign policy. This case has been made many times before. The fact is Pakistan military, elite and some degree the media are so pathologically anti-India that any such change is highly improbable. Our nation was born out of anti-India, albeit anti-Hindu rhetoric and mindset. We will never get Kashmir but we are spending all our resources including sheltering anti-Pakistan elements to the detriment to our very existence as a sovereign nation.

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  • Prabhjyot Singh Madan
    Mar 11, 2014 - 12:55PM

    Am I reading a Indian newspaper. Great positive article by the author

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  • muhammad zahid ashraf
    Mar 11, 2014 - 3:11PM

    The author has mentioned quite a lot of subjects to be concerned for formulation of effective foreign policy , but I am quite surprised why did he not mention about changing mentality of this heterogeneous society and bring it on the one platform which is the dire need for structural change.Recommend

  • amoghavarsha.ii
    Mar 11, 2014 - 4:19PM

    @anju, Indian Govt. does not follow puritanical religious ideology in any of its policies. Even BJP is not like that when it matters. so don’t compare pakistan with india again.Recommend

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