Tuesday February 27, 2024

What policy?

June 03, 2016

Some recent developments at the international level indicate that our security and foreign policies have again failed. First, the F-16 deal has expired over a row on finances. Apart from US decision-makers who were not happy with our ‘double-dealing’ in Afghanistan, India had also been lobbying hard to frustrate our efforts to get more F-16s.

On the drone attack in Balochistan, Obama has not only not apologised but has also minced no words in making clear that more such attacks may be made in the future. And, third, the US has again demanded we cooperate with India on the Mumbai attacks.

On the Afghanistan front three disturbing developments have emerged, which indicate that Pak-Afghan relations are far from ideal and are likely to remain so for the near future at least. Pakistan’s efforts to install barbed wires at the Torkham border were resisted by Afghan officials and resulted in a crisis spreading over several days. Then, ordinary Joes like us came to know one good day through an ISPR tweet that the Angoor Ada check post had been handed over to Afghanistan. We were further told that this “gesture” would improve peace and stability on the Pak-Afghan border. That’s it.

Why? How? By whom? No questions were asked or answered. Where was it debated? Where was it decided? Was the forum which made the decision constitutionally and legally mandated to do so? We don’t know. All we could find out from toned-down media reports was that Afghanistan closed the Angoor Ada crossing hours after it was handed over – causing immense problems for thousands of people.

And not only that; the Afghan side also claimed 10km inside Pakistan to be theirs. The tribes in the area had protested that by this ‘gesture’ their territory and citizenship has been changed from Pakistani to Afghan. Tension between both countries has further increased by the arrest of six alleged Afghan spies in Balochistan.

Similarly, all efforts at improving relations with India are far from bearing any result. The nuclear arms race between two countries is still on. Reports of Pakistan’s tactical weapons and announcement of their probable use have been followed by anti-ballistic missile tests by India and US support for India’s membership for the NSG.

Let’s have a look at what’s happening in Iran. The Iranian president’s visit to Pakistan was spoiled by reports of an Indian spy using Iran as a base, as well as by an ISPR tweet. Iran is an important regional power. First, it was against diplomatic norms and protocol for an institution like ISPR to issue a statement on what was discussed with the president of Iran. Second, such a statement, if considered that necessary to be made at that particular time, should have come from the president’s office or from the Foreign Office.

Finally, we have India, Iran, and Afghanistan signing strategically important pacts – with US blessing.

A major part of our problems can be resolved by merely restructuring the policymaking mechanism. Some very simple recipes, if taken seriously, can do the magic. One, the right man for the right job. Our way out from this security and foreign policy imbroglio is the right institution for the right job. It’s as simple as that.

Two, our concerned institutions and personalities will have to unlearn the harmful roles learnt during constitutional distortions and give rethink issues to readjust themselves into a new smooth working environment as per the constitutional scheme, which is abundantly clear on the role of different organs of state.

Three, the immediate appointment of a suitable veteran politician as a full-time foreign minister assisted by a similarly qualified minister of state is the way to go. The Foreign Office also needs to be pulled out of the mess it is in today.

Once the restructuring of policymaking is done, our policymakers will realise in no time how continuation of the dangerous policies of the 1980s in a completely changed international environment has been the cause of many of the obstacles in our relations with our neighbours and our ‘mentors’ alike.

Only then will a new framework resetting the priorities and goals of our foreign policy emerge. This new framework will help Pakistan synergise itself with the outside world and work for collective international goals.

The writer is a former diplomat and currently practises law.