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Opinion

July 3, 2018

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Is foreign policy possible?

The comprehensively corrupt and heartless governance of the recent past is being publicly exposed. But is this really a crusade to rid the country of a lethal political evil? Or is it the usual power play within an elitist and degenerate status quo?

NAB is led by a dedicated former justice. However, the priorities of the proverbial powers that be may shift from battling financial and political corruption should a more congenial government get elected.

Elected governments in Pakistan are generally repelled by the very idea of accountability. It is called “disrespect” for the popular vote. Unelected institutions and governments are even more hostile to public accountability. So, which party, when elected to govern, will support NAB’s mission to ruthlessly pursue the corrupt and the derelict? None.

Will the nation ever know the truth about the fate and actual number of ‘missing persons’? Will the Abbottabad Inquiry Commission Report on the American assault on Abbottabad in May 2011 be placed before parliament? Will parliament ask for the report to be placed before it? Will the ‘nationally-elected leader’ as the leader of the house even want that to happen? Who will the elected parliament represent: its donors and sponsors? Or those who voted for it? Can there be any doubt about the answer?

In such a degenerate system, all institutions, ‘leaders’ and policies are degraded. There are no exceptions. All elected leaderships have been morally, financially and politically corrupt. Unconstitutional and unelected ‘doctrine of necessity’ national leaderships have been even worse. Recommending specific policy measures in such a political milieu is meaningless because it falsely assumes leadership decency and sincerity. Foreign policy cannot be an island of excellence in a political cesspool.

In more genuine democracies, elections are a choice between representatives of the people. In fake democracies, they are a choice between ‘leaders’. Democracy assumes that people are free. ‘Leaders’ and ‘guardians’ feast on the unfree. There is palpable rage among a deceived people. They know that they are infested by political fakes posturing as ‘leaders’ and ‘protectors’. They know that Pakistan’s much-vaunted private charity is a substitute for their right to good governance and doesn’t restore their broken and stolen lives. They vote for ‘leaders’ as they would for film stars who merely act out their dreams.

Some such actors/leaders will win the elections. Alone or in coalition,

they will form a government. According to the form book, within six months the government will lose all legitimacy. Long before that, it will abandon any pretense of doing anything unwelcome to the institutional status quo. It will settle, instead, for the goodies of governing the status quo. That is the reality. But hope springs eternal.

Pakistan’s foreign policy will unfold within these internal parameters. Externally, the parameters are largely set by the US. The degenerate Trump is not an American aberration. He is an American reality. His baleful impact on relations with Pakistan is the American policy. However, to be fair, the responsibility for the state of US-Pakistan relations must be shared with political ‘leaders’ and policy intruders in Pakistan.

China may be a godsend for Pakistan. But it will not accept responsibility for the fate of Pakistan. It will not be its iron brother’s keeper. It needs Pakistan. It values Pakistan. But China cannot guarantee Pakistan against its own follies.

The broad contours of what Pakistan’s foreign policy should be are clear. The details are important. But specific and disparate policies are provided overall coherence, credibility and direction by unwavering political commitments that answer to the aspirations and needs of the people. Pakistan’s major bilateral relationship is with India. The state of relations with India tends to influence the priority and urgency of external and strategic ‘equalisers’.

India-Pakistan relations are, accordingly, Pakistan’s biggest foreign policy challenge. Fundamental improvement in this relationship will critically increase Pakistan’s diplomatic options and enhance the potential of Pakistan’s other vital relations. Kashmir is a core issue for Pakistan. Its formal stance on the dispute is historically, legally, politically and morally impeccable. But there are questions that need honest answers.

Can Kashmir be resolved through regular or irregular military activity? Can the human and political rights of Kashmiris be secured through confrontation and conflict? Is a settlement that alters the territorial status quo likely? Are there any acceptable solutions available in the short run? Is the world interested in imposing a settlement that is unacceptable to India? Can Pakistan exhaust India without first exhausting itself? Can Pakistan’s international advocacy of the Kashmir cause be separated from its international credibility? Do Kashmiris see a politically and economically dysfunctional Pakistan as an asset for their freedom struggle? Is Kashmir a lost cause?

The answer to each one of these questions is an emphatic ‘no’. So, why do we lie to our own people? A principled and just solution to the Kashmir dispute is, indeed, possible. It requires patience, sincerity and wisdom. It will be a principled compromise settlement that is acceptable to the people of Kashmir, especially in the valley. This requires uninterrupted engagement with India – even Modi’s India. UN resolutions are relevant. But they cannot deliver a settlement.

An appropriate environment for engagement with India will need to be developed. Given the morbid hostility of India today, this will not be easy. Nevertheless, if Pakistan plays its cards right, India will sooner or later feel the need to engage Pakistan for a viable settlement because its Kashmir policy is ultimately untenable. Pakistan has played to its gallery instead of having an honest and realistic Kashmir policy. If and when Pakistan emerges from its political mess, India will have to review its Kashmir policy.

Towards Afghanistan, a generous, understanding and respectful approach will inevitably minimise its inclination towards an allegedly pro-India and anti-Pakistan approach. Anyone in Pakistan who has the slightest knowledge of Afghanistan and its people knows this instinctively. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s Afghan policymakers, by and large, have no such understanding. This phenomenon seems to be part of the broader East/West of the Indus Syndrome (EWIS), which compromises policy coherence and credibility in Pakistan. This unnecessarily opens the door to Indian influence over Afghanistan’s Pakistan policy.

Regaining Afghanistan’s trust is easy, provided our ‘leaders’ and ‘protectors’ learn to respect it instead of fearing and despising its elected leadership. Pakistan is a much larger and more powerful country. But history teaches us to never try to force an Afghan to make a choice that he does not like. Similarly, never adopt an attitude of superiority and contempt towards him. It is unnecessary and it is profitless. Moreover, it has costs. It plays straight into the hands of India.

Currently, most educated Afghans see Pakistan as demanding gratitude in the form of compliance because of its critical assistance to them in their hour of peril under the Soviet military occupation. This impression, mistaken or not, needs to be removed, not just as an act of common assurance but as a commonsense foreign policy.

All the specifics of Pak-Afghan relations – even if they are complicated with the passage of time and through mutual suspicion – can be satisfactorily worked out once the Afghans are comfortable with their perception of Pakistan’s policies towards them.

To be fair, Pakistan can draw up a list of grievances against Afghanistan from Independence onwards. But how would that help Pakistan? It will only help India. Will the forthcoming elections bring about the required sea-change in our policy towards Afghanistan? If it does, it can fundamentally impact the Afghan elections of 2019 and Afghanistan’s policies towards Pakistan.

Pakistan’s foreign policy emanates from the faultlines in its political and power structures. A rational foreign policy will require fundamental structural reform in order to overcome the ‘no war, no peace’ practitioners. Is this a likely prospect? Some recent high-level statements seem hopeful. If they are not, Pakistan will not have a foreign policy.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

Email: [email protected]

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