For a long time now the ‘intellectuals’ and ‘commentariat’ of Pakistan have faulted us for looking at all or most of Pakistan’s foreign policy and security issues through the Indian prism; and rightly at that. Pakistan has let many an opportunity of blossoming into a true welfare state go by, held back by its ‘India problem’.
What could have been – and is not – is because of this one issue that sits at the core of why our policy formulation remains befuddled, and why we remain plagued by institutional dissonance.
Perhaps, this should have come at the end of this piece as a concluding thought, but is no harm in saying up front that for as long as India had a ‘Pakistan problem’ and remained stuck with it, it too remained stuck in a groove, failing to carve its own path to realising its potential. It was during the Rajiv Gandhi years that it deliberately broke away from its Pakistan overhang and forced a rethink of forging its independent path.
Pakistan would remain a foreign policy issue, perhaps on top of the pile for other reasons, but not all issues had to be seen in the light of satisfying India’s Pakistan obsession. India has since built on it and worked wonders carving its place in the international community. Pakistan is sadly lost in the maze of its own undoing in a fast changing world.
This in diplomatic terms is called ‘liberty of action’ – finding the necessary space to do a lot more than simply being obsessed on one issue and losing time. Time too is space, only measured. Pakistan remains obsessed with India and continues to waste precious time and resource on it. As a consequence, our relations with Afghanistan, Iran, and the US have only deteriorated, for in each case we were only willing to view our relations through the Indian prism. We remain held back by inaction even as the march of time beckons. Somewhere along the way we forgot 195 nations make up this world.
Since India has a rising profile in the world, the world sees in it a great advantage and is willing to help India on the way. Pakistan’s profile is stuck, stagnated at best if not deteriorating, forcing the world to see little benefit in giving it greater attention. That in crass terms is why the world prefers India over Pakistan. Add to it the various other socio-economic factors that add to the Indo-World relationship and the basis for any gripe by Pakistan only becomes lame.
Pakistan can match India by raising its profile with its immense resident potential but that needs ingenuity and channels of expression with a sound leadership. For the moment, such attributes escape our leadership portfolio. India is going places, and is being sold well to the world. Pakistan neither has the product, nor a selling strategy, and thus lies by the wayside. The biggest conspirators against Pakistan sit in Pakistan, though some of them may have their redoubts abroad. No one talks to a nation whose leadership is perpetually abroad, or has become hopelessly irrelevant to a fast moving world.
But let us move over to the NSG and what is happening there as an illustration to the above model of varying treatments for both Pakistan and India.
When the US declared its intent of signing the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2005, its primary aim was to sell India its nuclear reactors. India had sufficient honey in its pot and was willing to spend around $150 billion over the next ten years in this field. As the US warmed up to the prospect, India asked for a transfer of technology to feed its defence and security needs. It soon elevated its price for strategic support to the US with a membership of the prestigious NSG and other security and economic groups engaged in global policy.
This quid pro quo is cleverly thought out and feeds India’s strategic direction. Modi, on his recent visit to the US signed to induct six reactors; and the US, just last week, practised war manoeuvres with Indian ships in the Philippines Sea next to the South China Sea. If Pakistan sells itself short, that is Pakistan’s problem, not of other nations.
This arrangement with the US also enables India to close the Indian Ocean to China, somewhat. India also wishes to checkmate China’s rise to unprecedented strength and to restrict China to the South China Sea. India’s alliance then with the US can only be a happy confluence. Pakistan becomes an implicit consequence in this arrangement, and no more.
But then came the CPEC. Implicitly, there will be benefits that will accrue to Pakistan too but here both India and Pakistan are on the two opposing ends of the strategic spectrum. The US, India and there various allies want to contain China; Pakistan is offering it an escape to breakout. This fact in itself places both India-US and Pakistan-China on two opposing ends. India is supporting the US’s strategy and accrediting its own objectives; Pakistan is opposing the US’s strategy and garnering its own benefits.
Is it any surprise then where lies American support? These are stark facts, however specific to a particular geopolitical scenario, but there are many others where better conception and application can mitigate the negatives. We lag there too sadly, and quickly tie ourselves in hardnosed positions. Diplomacy needs space; we close space on ourselves.
Pakistan has a perfect story to sell on the NSG and the related Council of Disarmament issues; better than that of India. But we have been weak at selling it. The world cannot live with such defeatism for too long. All our effort has been to gripe about India’s proposed elevation. Had we instead sought a cooperative rise to the mantle, the world would have been far more accepting. A few telephone calls by ailing senior diplomats, sans the prime minister, is terrible diplomacy.
Again no one knows who is primarily responsible to fight Pakistan’s corner – the SPD that would just not let anyone else in its secret vaults, or the Foreign Office which only depends on what it is told to say. We remain a divided house and continue to lag – conspiracy and gripe our only recourse.
The writer is a retired air-vicemarshal, former ambassador and a security and political analyst.