Wednesday April 24, 2024

Devoid of foreign policy cohesion

By Shireen M Mazari
June 30, 2016

Had the latest Modi statement on Pakistan not coincided with Sartaj Aziz’s attempted redemption-seeking press briefing with journalists, after the rather visible and destructive policy drift, one would have been able to blast Modi for what one could term his usual anti-Pakistan tirade.

Sadly, though, Modi’s lament as to whom India should talk to in Pakistan in terms of policy issues was given a damaging legitimacy by Sartaj Aziz when he declared that Iranian President Rouhani was correct in saying that Kulbhushan was not discussed in his meeting with General Raheel Sharif. So effectively Sartaj Aziz was terming the ISPR head’s tweet a lie! Is this how we conduct our intra-governmental affairs and policies?

What Aziz made clear was the existence of different foreign policy decision-making centres with no coordination – reaffirming what many of us have been saying repeatedly. Far worse, he made official this disconnect to the whole world.

Clearly the foreign policy issue area under the PML-N government is a complete mess, in a state of uncertainty and confusion with no clarity of anyone being in charge within the political leadership. Just a few key absurdities bring this point home with distressing clarity.

For instance, the government is still stuck clarifying the drone attack in Balochistan when it should have been moving proactively on other issues that have arisen since. That it took too long for an official response in the first place should not be forgotten, but having got bogged down on this with the US we have failed to respond to further critical developments coming from Washington. There was the scrapping of the F 16 deal and Congressional cuts on aid to Pakistan; there was the US active support for India’s entry into the NSG and there was India’s actual entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which we failed to move diplomatically on, to prevent.

Because China is not a member of the MTCR, another critical suppliers’ cartel (not an international treaty – a point that should be emphasised), Pakistan simply let India’s case go be default. Our total reliance on China to safeguard our interests in supplier cartels has exposed the paucity of our own diplomacy.

This will have serious repercussions on Pakistan’s long term missile capabilities because it gives India access to dual use technologies in the missile field where India is already developing a Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system in cooperation with the US and Israel. Now many sensitive technologies on the MTCR control list will be accessible to India. So why didn’t our government pursue any diplomatic campaign to counter India’s membership request for this cartel?

Pakistan had already suffered at the hands of the MTCR when in September 2001 the US decided to impose sanctions on China and Pakistan for allegedly supplying and receiving missile components, respectively. The sanctions were levied under the MTCR. Since, as in the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG), decision-making in the MTCR is on the unanimity principle, any hope of Pakistan gaining access to the MTCR and sensitive state of the art missile technology becomes non-existent.

Moving on to the NSG, the government has claimed success for keeping India out of the NSG due to its diplomacy – which is absurd because our diplomacy comprised a few phone calls made from Aziz’s office! The real reason for India being denied NSG membership at the NSG Plenary in Seoul was because China took a firm principled position that a state that has not signed the Non Proliferation Treaty cannot become a member of the NSG and a number of other states committed to non-proliferation stood by the Chinese position.

However, while the NSG considered India’s membership, Pakistan’s membership application was not even on the agenda and the US has stated its intent to work towards getting India into the NSG by the end of this year. Where is our diplomacy at a global level to counter this? Nowhere. We are relying totally on China, which has proven to be a firm ally; but surely we should be shouldering some of the burden ourselves? On the NSG we failed earlier also when the previous government did not oppose the NSG waiver for India that allowed India to sign civil nuclear deals with a host of countries following the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Beyond nuclear issues, Pakistan has failed to frame a consistent and firm response to the US despite a plethora of negative statements flowing from Washington.

Richard Olson blithely stated that Pakistan should focus on fighting terrorism instead of “overestimating” India’s role in Afghanistan! We remained silent instead of rebuffing such a ridiculous and threatening statement from the US special envoy – especially given how this statement has been followed by the start of a US bombing campaign along the Pak-Afghan international border which may also target Pakistani territory as the US gets ever more desperate for ‘peace’ in Afghanistan.

Olson also painted the Indian role in Afghanistan in a positive light despite the fact that India has been using Afghanistan to carry out a low-intensity conflict (LIC) in Pakistan, especially Balochistan. Sadly, our government has done little to counter such attacks from Washington despite the serious repercussions these have in terms of actions on the ground by the US and its allies in our region.

Nor has the government formulated any clear Afghan refugee policy and even on the issue of border management there is confusion about who is in charge of formulating and running the policy – if there is a cohesive policy on this. The Angoor Ada issue showed the intra-government disconnect at a very public level.

With the Kashmiris challenging the Indian forces in Occupied Kashmir and India responding by threats to Pakistan, the silence of the government on these latest tirades from New Delhi again begs the question: what is our Kashmir policy beyond the hackneyed rhetoric that occasionally comes forth from different power centres?

Have we abandoned the Kashmiri people in their internationally UNSC-recognised struggle for self-determination? Which brings up the crucial question of India: what exactly is our India policy today? Where is our diplomacy to expose India’s aggressive designs enshrined in the Modi government’s words and actions?

Sartaj Aziz may try to give any spin he wants in his interaction with the media, but the reality on the ground reveals a complete void of foreign policy direction, cohesion and proactive diplomacy beyond phone calls from his office. Where once we made up in international diplomacy what we lacked in economic and military power, we have now been reduced to a defensive mode, unable to have the courage of our convictions.

But then perhaps we have no convictions we truly believe in anymore, with a leadership that over the years has developed a mindset either fearful of challenging the more powerful or having too many self interests tied to these external forces – from the US to our aggressive neighbour India.

ZAB’s ‘Myth of Independence’ never had so much relevance as it does today for a Pakistan dominated by a leadership suffering a psychological confidence deficit.

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