Moments after penning-down a piece on US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson’s upcoming visit to Pakistan, I scanned through my Twitter timeline. Unsurprisingly, my optimism about betterment in the ‘transactional’ nature of ties between Islamabad and Washington soon died down when I read a tweet which said: “Tillerson is not welcome in Pakistan.”
The tweet was retweeted, quoted and liked by a good number of people. While many may subscribe to such emotional enunciations, there is little room for these quirks in high-level diplomacy. Unfortunately, not only ordinary citizens like the author of the tweet but the too is afflicted with the tendency of conducting diplomacy through instincts and emotions.
Days after ticking all the right boxes in his maiden campaign at the UNGA, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi boisterously asserted that Pakistan is not dependent on the US for meeting its defence requirements, something that is not within the purview of this piece. Abbasi’s assertion fit well with Pakistan’s defiant response to Trump’s strategy address in which he berated Pakistan for its support to inimical elements which are challenging US war-efforts in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s unified response given mainly through the National Security Committee has, thus far been based on two factors. First, Pakistan and other observers believe that the US is losing its leverage over Islamabad. Second, Pakistan firmly believes that its Chinese allies will help it amid mounting US pressure.
While there is a strong case for policymakers to ‘borrow courage’ from allies, especially China, there is a need to understand the nuances of international relations. States pander to their national interests in an anarchical world order. China is doing – and will do – the same. But this was lost on most Pakistanis who felt betrayed when the Xiamen Declaration was passed last month in which China, much to the delight of Delhi included the names of Kashmiri militant outfits in the list of those which have plagued the region of terrorism. Though, there was nothing outrageous in the Brics statement, China made one thing absolutely clear: it doesn’t want any hurdles in its OBOR initiative of which CPEC is an important project.
Those who were talking about pulling the plug on ties with the US by eliciting Chinese support were shocked as to how and why China, despite being recently embroiled in a tiff at Doklam, could agree to include an Indian version on terrorism in the Xiamen Declaration. However, the despondency was soon supplanted with a renewed wave of chest-thumping when China lauded Pakistan’s for its efforts against terrorism while agreeing to its idea of a political settlement of the Afghan imbroglio.
The problem that Pakistan faces in conducting inter-state ties is due to its constricted appreciation of the nuances of international politics. Stuck at zero-sum diplomacy, Islamabad fails to engage states at multiple levels. The détente that looked possible after Abbasi’s deft diplomacy with the US during the 72nd session UNGA seemed untenable after General Mattis said that CPEC passes through the ‘disputed’ northern areas of Pakistan. Seen as blatant support for the Indian narrative, the statement forced Pakistan to call upon the US to stop looking at the multi-billion dollar project through the prism of India.
Mattis’ statement again drew a great deal of ire from all quarters in Pakistan; social media was filled with anti-US diatribes. The wrist-slitting ended when Pakistani forces acted swiftly upon actionable intelligence provided by the US and rescued the Coleman-Boyle family. The ensuing bonhomie is positive but again it is being wrongly perceived as a precursor to the establishment of strategic ties with the US.
However, let’s make no mistake about one important thing: Pakistan and the US are not strategic partners; in fact, they never were. Stints of friendliness were followed by those of open disregard. In the cold-war era, both countries gained a lot from the partnership – the details of which merit another essay. Beyond the world of social media activism and chest-thumping, there is a great room for deft and assiduous diplomacy.
Writing for another publication, I stressed:” Tweets and video messages are by no means tantamount to the resolution of thorny issues. Whether we like it or not, our arch-nemesis in India has positioned itself in a way that it fits in the US’ strategy for the region. The US can continue to praise and court Pakistan while pandering to Indian strategic interests; this is perfectly in line with the cruelty of international politics. It is upon Pakistan to broaden its worldview and get out of its long-held belief about zero-sum diplomacy.”
Jingoism is inimical to the very concept of patriotism, especially when embedded in state policies. Indeed, the US is not in a position to browbeat Pakistan. However, Pakistan must not entertain thoughts on riding on a high horse on the behest of allies. Diplomacy thrives on creating chances to pushing forward interests. Let’s use this ‘week of goodwill’ to impress upon the US to address Pakistan’s legitimate and veritable concerns in the region.
The writer is a research analyst and sub-editor at the Global Village Space.