The death of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mansoor in a drone attack in Balochistan on May 21 has raised several serious issues about the formulation and management of Pakistan’s foreign policy. The most serious deficiency exposed in our foreign policy is the slow and outdated response of our government machinery. Pakistan was the last to acknowledge the death of the Taliban leader. It was only after the Afghan Taliban had elected a successor that Pakistan was left with no option but to confirm on May 26 that Mullah Mansoor had died. Keep in mind that the incident took place on Pakistani territory.
There is lack of unity of mind among policymakers on critical issues and an absence of clarity on how to approach problems. While the foreign ministry was making up its mind as to what actually happened, the interior minister was raising doubts over whether there had been a drone strike or was some other type of action had killed two persons in a car in Balochistan. By this time Pakistan had officially protested to the US for carrying out the drone attack. The interior minister also questioned as to how the Pakistani passport and CNIC of those killed survived the fire after the attack. The question was understandable as the passport and CNIC issue exposed the interior ministry to criticism.
The disarray in foreign policy is reflected in the statements coming from the top people in the Foreign Office on the Afghan peace process. The statements before the death of Mullah Mansoor indicated that there was hardly any progress in this respect. However, the post-death statements give the impression that the peace process was progressing and had been undermined by the drone attack. There was a meeting of the QCG in Islamabad on May 18. Afghanistan scaled down its representation at the meeting with its ambassador attending it instead of its deputy foreign minister. The meeting did not give any indication on whether the Afghan Taliban were willing to talk to Kabul. A degree of disappointment on the disposition of the Afghan Taliban was reflected in our foreign secretary’s statement. The tone of the Pakistani leadership changed after Mullah Mansoor’s death, creating the impression as if the Afghan Taliban were on board for peace talks. The confusion surrounding Pakistan’s policy towards the Afghan Taliban persists. Pakistan denies their presence in the country. However, after the Mansoor incident, how credible is this denial? The dilemma of Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy is that the US accuses us of extending subtle support to the Afghan Taliban. On the other hand, the militant group and its Pakistani sympathisers blame our government for serving American agenda in the region.
Pakistan’s policy on American drone strikes continues to lack credibility. Since the beginning of the strikes in 2004, we have periodically protested against them but to no avail, although their frequency has declined in recent times. It appears that Pakistan only protests against them to keep its foreign policy record straight and to satisfy domestic political needs. In terms of abstract principles of international law and the notion of sovereignty, we have some options available to counter the drone policy. However, our rulers need to enlighten the people as to the practical options available to them in view of the ground realities of global and regional politics and Pakistan’s dependence on the US in the economic and military spheres. There is a need to conduct a down-to-earth review of Pakistan’s foreign policy parameters, especially with respect to its Afghanistan policy. This calls upon the rulers to pursue a unity of command for foreign policymaking and management.
In contemporary world politics, a credible foreign policy is based on the inner political and economic strengths of a country and the positive relevance of that country to other states, especially its immediate neighbours. Pakistan needs to give high priority to putting its political and economic house in order. The government and the opposition need to work towards building political harmony and trust by cultivating political accommodation and constitutionalism in letter and in spirit. Democracy cannot be a cover for perpetuating socio-economic and political inequities, and corruption and misuse of state resources. A viable economy with minimum dependence on foreign aid increases the foreign policy options available to a country. The aim has to be to improve the quality of life of ordinary people through participatory development.
In addition, we need to control religious and cultural intolerance and terrorism. The military has played an important role in meeting these challenges. The civilian governments should be more forthcoming with the civilian aspects of countering terrorism. Unless Pakistan addresses this issue, it will find it difficult to build a positive relationship with the rest of the world. It can also expand its foreign policy options by articulating mutually rewarding economic considerations. A relationship can be judged by the tangible expansions of trade, investment and cultural interaction rather than giving a countdown of the signed MoUs, which are not always implemented. With the exception of China, there is hardly any significant and concrete expansion of Pakistan’s relationship in the above categories with any country during the last three years.
We face a serious energy crisis, which is adversely affecting our economy. Therefore, we need to get gas and electricity from all possible places in the neighbourhood rather than deciding this matter on the basis of the priority of our rulers. Therefore, in addition to the current energy projects that we are pursuing, we need to obtain gas and additional electricity from Iran as there is no intervening foreign territory for trade and energy transfers from that country. Peace on Pakistan’s borders is an important requirement. Our borders should be breached by roads, railways, pipelines, electricity transmission lines, trade, and people rather than by violent elements, intelligence agents, drugs and illegal human and material smuggling.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2016.