Looking for the silver lining
Pakistan’s standing in the comity of nations is at a historical low currently. The seventh nuclear power in the world seems looking hither and thither for directions. Apparently, something wrong has been done diplomatically which needs to be corrected.
The relations with India are on the lowest ebb. The Indians miss no opportunity of displaying their hatred. The controversial movie Phantom is one example. Again, India’s attempted closeness to UAE with the open intention isolating Pakistan speaks volumes of its intolerance. And Afghanistan seems to be very angry with Pakistan, as evident by Ashraf Ghani’s statement. Whatever happened to the Murree talks? Uncle Sam too is not very fond of us at the moment. It seems that problems have enveloped the country from all sides. Does every dark cloud have a silver lining? Well, maybe not.
China still seems to like us, though, and continues to be generous both in financial and non-financial measures. But that’s about it.
While the situation might seem scary, PML-N senator Nehal Hashmi seems to think that our foreign policy is moving in a new direction.
“There is a major shift in foreign policy these days,” he told DNA.
“Earlier, our entire focus was on the US rather than the region. Now our focus is shifting and getting more diversified.”
But what are the results of this diversified focus? Are they any good? The answers do not seem to be in the affirmative, but let us delve deeper before forming a conclusion.
US-India-Afghanistan: A lethal triangle
The post-Cold War period marks the conversion from a bipolar world to a unipolar one, with US being the only superpower. The only emerging superpower that is threatening the existence of US is China, and China seems to be friendly with Pakistan. On the other hand, India does not like China much because of India’s own ambitions about becoming a regional power. Chinese hegemony in the region is definitely disturbing. And Pakistan’s closeness to China too does not send out a good image of Pakistan.
These thoughts were forwarded by Hashmi too.
“US and India have vested interests in the region,” he explained.
“These vested interests are threatened by China’s towering stature, which in turn disturbs both the countries. Pakistan’s ties with China hence disturb both India and US. It is not a foreign policy flaw that is firing upon Pakistan, rather it is something else. Afghanistan too is not an independent country; rather it is still dictated to by the US. So Afghanistan’s spite towards us is natural.”
While the situation might seem scary, PML-N senator Nehal Hashmi seems to think that our foreign policy is moving in a new direction
This point, if true, highlights that Pakistan is being made the victim of a proxy war, which has nothing to do with our foreign policy. Rather there are externalities which are badly affecting Pakistan.
“US-India-Afghanistan,” Hashmi emphasised. “This is a triangle we need to focus on.”
Makes sense; but can we really attribute all of our diplomatic failure to externalities? That may not sound very rational.
Good neighbours, bad neighbours.
Geographically and culturally speaking, Pakistan is in an interesting neighbourhood. With India and Afghanistan always giving us trouble, and missing no chance of exhibiting their vengeance, Pakistan always has to be on the high alert both in the east and the west. Any diplomatic efforts hardly bear fruit. Recently, PM Nawaz was entirely overshadowed by Modi in their meeting. Movies and information come under Track 9 diplomacy and this is funny how all tracks of Indian diplomacy are continuously purging hatred toward Pakistan. On the west, Ashraf Ghani too openly lambasted the Pakistani government, effectively implying the end of peace talks. And what did our Foreign Office do?
We gave out a very empathetic statement, stressing the fact that we do understand what our “brotherly” people are going through. Well, this won’t grant us any strategic depth. We are just determined to downplay our own stature.
These unfriendly neighbours of ours justify their venom by calling us home to terrorist sanctuaries. This label itself is badly affecting Pakistan’s formulation of any effective foreign policy. This fact was highlighted by Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi, eminent political scientist.
“The perception outside that Pakistan still tolerates some terrorist groups that help it is making it difficult for Pakistan to pursue diplomacy,” he said.
But right now, India and Afghanistan are not the only countries in the region. We have other good neighbours whom we need to focus on.
“Pakistan is now scrapping the flawed foreign policy it followed in the past,” Hashmi said. “Earlier our sole reliance was on US, a country that is seven seas across from Pakistan. Now we are focusing in the neighbourhood, and China has been our long-lasting friend.”
Iran also lies in the region, and has got an elevated status recently because of the nuke deal.
“We enjoy sufficient ties with Iran,” Hashmi went on. “This relation is neither too good nor too frail. But yes, we have been living with them for thousands of years, and there are common cultural aspects. So yes, there are ties. But after the deal, Iran is more of an ally of US and India. “
“By shifting our diplomatic policy toward China and Central Asia, we will benefit more. We are already benefitting in fact. The evidence lies in Russia not siding with India against Pakistan any longer.”
South Asia is a happening region, when it comes to regional dynamics. And Pakistan shifting its diplomatic focus toward the region will have long-standing implications. The looming threat on east and west, and some amiability of China, the region presents an interesting scenario for Pakistan. But it is to be remembered that the world happens to have seven continents – not just Asia. Pakistan needs to keep that in mind.
Minister/advisor – Just a word apart
Another criticism that the government faces is the lack of a foreign minister, which sounds weird in some way. But is it of some significance diplomatically?
“There is just the difference of a word,” Nehal Hashmi asserted. “There is a word minister, and then there is this word advisor, that’s all.”
He went on explaining the fact.
“A minister has to be elected, and since Sartaj Aziz is not elected, he is not the minister. However, he has been a foreign minister in the past, and he is an expert in this domain. This is precisely why he is heading the foreign ministry portfolio. Now what difference does it make if he is not a minister? Lack of a minister is not affecting our work, our performance or our diplomatic policy is any way. Tariq Fatemi is also assisting in this domain and he too is a world renowned person.”
Coming from a ruling party senator, this explanation presents no surprise. It is natural to defend the ruling party. So it is important to take the opinion of neutral bystanders on this regard.
“I don’t think this is affecting our diplomacy,” said Dr Rizvi. “We don’t lack command in the foreign office. Too many people might be running the FO, and that could be a mess. But the lack of a foreign minister is not affecting us materially. That’s what I think.”
Following the discussion, it is obviously not affecting us whether there is a foreign minister or not. But something is definitely making it difficult for Pakistan to stand tall in the comity of nations. What is that exactly? It needs to be singled out and worked upon.
Whither foreign policy?
So yes, there are regional challenges. And well, the regional dynamics are shifting. A lot of recent events have important implications for our foreign policy. And in what direction is the foreign policy moving – if there is a policy at all.
China still seems to like us, though, and continues to be generous both in financial and non-financial measures. But that’s about it
Diplomatic efforts to get closer to India won’t really do us any good, unless the important issues are first sorted out. Any attempt to move closer to Afghanistan does not really help in the long run. With the troublesome traffic along the Durand Line, things hardly ever improve. China is our long-lasting friend, and it has always supported us. But Pak-China friendship is something that India and US don’t seem to eye with affection.
A new turn is Iran. Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline seems feasible now. But because of certain historical factors, new ties with Iran might distance us from Gulf countries – and particularly KSA.
Nehal Hashmi however rejected the idea.
“Well, KSA is our time-tested friend,” he explained.
“And Iran is our neighbour. Because of the past and because of our religious sentiments, I don’t think the relationship with KSA is going to be affected. I think Pak-KSA ties are above such factors as our association with our neighbours.”
Well is it so? Time will tell. Everyone who claims so needs to rummage their memory and recall that we refused to meddle in KSA-Yemen conflict, and UAE officials did not give very pleasant statements in return either. So where is our foreign policy heading in the Gulf is a question whose answer will take time.
Meanwhile we need to be introspective and see why we are being rejected by almost everyone in the world.
“This moment Pakistan needs to critically examine why it has problems with a number of countries,” said Dr Rizvi.
“Why is diplomacy failing? Well maybe, the FO is not doing enough thinking or maybe too many people are managing the foreign affairs, making it difficult to take the right decision at the right time.”
Something is definitely wrong. Maybe it’s the label of terrorism, or maybe it’s the result of the geo-political and geo-strategic forces. But we better pull our socks up, and do something about our diplomatic standing before it is too late.
Failing to do so will result in us being surrounded on all sides by dark clouds. And not every cloud might have a silver lining.