Thursday April 18, 2024

Directionless and dangerously adrift

By Shireen M Mazari
February 25, 2016

At a time when the flames of the fire in West Asia (Middle East for the West) drift ever closer to our region, one sees the government directionless and seemingly adrift on two critical fronts: foreign policy and internal security policy.

There is a complete lack of any cohesive long-term foreign policy – and all we see are disconnected actions that have fallouts which do not seem to have been calculated at all. For instance, there is the continuing mystery of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) led military coalition or alliance; the government has so far failed to say with certainty what that is. Despite this, Pakistani troops have been sent for, ostensibly a military exercise of this alliance/coalition, while the government continues to justify participation in this exercise as part of a bilateral military agreement between Pakistan and KSA.

Is this a deliberate ploy to confuse us, or is the government itself confused? Either way, it bodes ill for Pakistan because the exercise not only sends the wrong signals to Iran but also to KSA itself, given that KSA has now committed to entering the Syrian anarchic battleground with not just air power but also ground troops.

For Pakistan, the issue is whether we will be dragged unwittingly into a war we should stay out of, especially as the enemy lines between the participants become more blurred – particularly amongst the external participants. Some are fighting Daesh, some are fighting the anti-Assad ‘moderate’ rebels and some are fighting the Kurds, while others are assisting the Kurds against the Turks. Others are fighting with Assad; but all of them are killing Syrian civilians and there is no clear roadmap yet for ending this bloody conflict.

This is not the only pitfall for Pakistan, as it gets drawn into a military alliance/coalition. There is also the Yemen war, which the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states led by KSA are spearheading with no end in sight – just a horrendous devastation of Yemen and a burgeoning humanitarian crisis. Pakistan’s National Assembly saved the country from being drawn into the Yemen mess, but will this government simply slip into a different mess as a military exercise expands into something more lethal? So far the government has simply no clarity on these issues at a time when clarity of policy is needed.

On Afghanistan too, there is doublespeak and a disconnection between actions and words. What exactly is our Afghan policy at present? We support the quadrilateral talks and we are committed to bringing the Taliban to the dialogue table with the Afghan government. However, are we in a position to make good this commitment when the Taliban are becoming ever more factionalised?

In its long-term Afghan policy, the government has no definitive roadmap for the return of the Afghan refugees despite this issue being one of the components of the counterterrorism National Action Plan (NAP). There are also issues of land trade routes; India’s use of Afghanistan to carry out low intensity conflict (LIC) in Balochistan and the safe havens for terrorists on both sides of the international Pak-Afghan border.

Then there is the growing absurdity of our relations with India. They demand and we oblige; only to have more demands hurled at us and no movement forward on the Composite – now renamed by India as the Comprehensive – Dialogue. Modi’s visit to Lahore with his NSA and other key decision-makers was farcical at best as they were received by the Sharif family rather than Pakistan’s key decision-makers. Not much happened beyond the Indians being entertained by the Sharifs at their family wedding celebrations.

Pathankot brought pressure back on Pakistan and we have been feeling the heat ever since – but not a word on Samjhota Express has escaped the Sharif government’s lips as India demands all manner of actions on the Pathankot terror incident. Meanwhile the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum adviser-special assistant duo on foreign policy have been joined by the NSA. He is a smiling whiz at photo-ops but has still to bring some clarity over what policy is being operationalised and through which strategies with regard to the restoration of the dialogue process with India.

While we continue to fumble over formulating a long-term India policy – in fact we do not have a short-term policy either besides covertly allowing India increasing financial and trade inroads into Pakistan with no reciprocity – India revs up the ante against Pakistan in the US over the sale of 8 F-16s. However, it is not just an issue of F-16s, but of the impending nuclear summit, for which Pakistan should have done its diplomatic homework by pushing for NSG waivers and NSG membership but so far little seems to have moved on that front also. India is building up a counter-narrative on all fronts relating to the nuclear summit and the NSG question.

In all this it is hardly surprising – although extremely disturbing – to find the government at a loss over what Kashmir policy it should be pushing. Meanwhile the Kashmiris continue to struggle against Indian occupation but the Hurriyet leadership and the new generation of Kashmiris fighting Indian repression have effectively been left to their own devices even on the diplomatic and political front. More political support for Kashmiris has come from Indian activists than from the Pakistani government.

That we are adrift today in terms of our foreign relations was also reflected in our hesitation in lifting the Iran sanctions. It took us over a month to move on that front and we are still evasive about the IP pipeline lest we upset the US, which does not want us to opt for this project and keeps pushing us into alternatives like TAP, which have no hope of realisation till peace is restored in Afghanistan.

Yet these are dangerous times to be adrift and directionless as we have serious threats in the form of multiple layers of terrorism where the internal and external dynamics are enmeshed. Our NAP has moved only on the military action front and even here there is a major roadblock of Punjab. Other components of NAP remain dormant – from the reform of the criminal judicial system (there is a sunset clause to the military courts) to Fata reforms (how can we continue to inflict the draconian colonial FCR on Fata if it is an integral part of Pakistan?) to control of hate speech and material and all the other actions that the civilian government was to take.

Worse still, our government is in a state of confused denial over the presence of Daesh in Pakistan despite evidence, including literature being distributed in different parts of the country.

The IB chief says Daesh is here; the normally dormant Foreign Office contradicts this with an outright denial; but perhaps the most representative official response was that Daesh is here but does not have a structured presence in Pakistan. Sadly, it is absurdities such as these that reaffirm that we are directionless and adrift, and devoid of clarity of policies in the most dangerous of times.

The writer is DG of SSII, a private think tank, and a PTI MNA. The views expressed are her own.