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May 4, 2019

A roadmap for strong diplomacy


May 4, 2019

International diplomacy is an enduring exercise of doing politics without being dubbed political about the immediate interests of one’s own country. From an academic perspective, diplomacy looks more like an abstract idea of international relations but in practice it is a set of concrete steps, roles and actions enacted through a formal institutional mechanism. Institutions are rational entities which are designed to establish universal principles and standards to govern the roles and actions of individuals.

In the case of international diplomacy, state institutions define the overarching guiding principles and policy framework for diplomats and statesmen which in turn defines the fundamentals of diplomatic engagement withthe international community. That is why a change of governments and their diplomatic functionaries does not affect the major contours of foreign policy and priorities of international diplomacy of a state.

The foreign policy framework of a state is founded on institutional priorities which also reflects the nature of the power structure of a state. The institutions of a democratic state will define the larger public interest as the primary objective of international diplomacy, barring global economic empires. For instance, the Scandinavian states have always pursued an inclusive, welfare-oriented and non-expansionist international diplomacy for these are the only social democratic states in the unipolar neo-liberal world. Contrary to this, the US follows a belligerent, expansionist and exclusionary approach in its global diplomatic engagements. China’s foreign policy has been driven by an introverted, business-oriented, pragmatic and nonviolent economic expansion as the key principles to protect and promote the national interest.

Countries ruled by military dictators have always followed a docile and subservient international diplomatic approach because they lack political legitimacy in the international community. Contrary to our perception of strong men, military dictators usually work as proxies of international powers to prolong their rule, which is why they position their diplomatic standing as power brokers. That is why undemocratic countries have always had weak and subservient foreign policies to appease the global powers which helps consolidate their control over domestic politics. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are examples of following subservient international diplomacy. In real, a strong state is not one which has strong institutions for the citizens. 'Strong men' always use international diplomacy for personal aggrandizement and glorification of the powers that be rather than promoting the public interest.

Diplomacy is not about boasting about what you are good at, it is more about packaging your weaknesses as potential strengths. Diplomacy is not about hypocrisy, it is about engaging the world for the benefit of your people who have chosen you to represent them. Beneath all those big theories of international diplomacy, there lies a simple cross-cutting fact – all diplomacy is geared to make your political entity inevitable for others. It is not that easy to assert the position of political inevitability as a poor nation in the global political community. But good leaders always find strategic ways to establish the inevitable position in the global system.

Nobody is interested to know how many trees you can plant in your country as a political leader because it does not make you an inevitable global player, it only shows you as an introvert nation. It also effects your international political standing because strategic gains are not output driven. There is a huge difference between running an output-driven organization and governing a nation of 207 million people. Even if you are hell-bent to enumerate your internal political achievements on an international forum then you must not get the facts wrong. Why should I work with you if you are full of self-propelling propositions? What is my stake and why should I waste my time pursuing your agenda? This is what happens among all material relations until they enter into a bizarre spiritual domain. Even those spiritual domains do not live longer unless they are buttressed by the concrete and material reasons of affiliation.

When we deal with international relations, diplomacy becomes a means of cementing together national political priorities and objectives of the foreign policy. A good foreign policy is always a reflection of national priorities, citizens’ aspirations and the long-term goal of nation-building in a volatile international environment. On international policy forums, if a head of government submits to a unilateral diplomatic narrative he/she tends to lose opportunity to offer a comparative edge to the global leadership.

For decades, the Pakistani leadership failed to create a positive diplomatic impact on the thinking of the international community vis-à-vis its key strategic national goals including the Kashmir dispute, war on terror, international trade and nuclear non-proliferation etc. One of the most visible diplomatic failures of Pakistan is the inability of its leadership to make a convincing political case to address the Kashmir dispute in line with the resolutions of the UN. The failure partly stems from the confusion and lack of commitment to address the complexity of this dispute to the satisfaction of its own people.

The protracted conflict between India and Pakistan continues to shape the political, economic and security paradigm, and a mutually exclusive diplomatic narrative over the Kashmir dispute. For the Indian federation, the domino effect of losing Kashmir through a plebiscite may lead to national disintegration in addition to weakening the political control of the right-wing BJP. For the secular Congress Party, giving away Kashmir on religious grounds is a challenge for Indian secularism while for the BJP a burning Kashmir provides political millage by whipping up the anti-Muslim sentiments of its voters. Whoever comes to power in India as a result of the current general elections, the Kashmir dispute is not going to find any political breakthrough. The secular foundations of constitutional democracy in India are under threat with the rise of Hindutva, which is also reflected in the country's belligerent international diplomacy towards its neighbours.

Pakistan has not raised the Kashmir dispute on international forums beyond some sporadic protests and petitions or some diplomatic platitudes in the UN General Assembly sessions. The plebiscite in Kashmir does not necessarily mean accession to Pakistan or India as the people of Kashmir can opt for an independent state.

Another question that one may want to ask is: what is the status of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan as 80 percent people in Gilgit-Baltistan do not consider themselves as part of the Kashmir dispute? In the wake of the forthcoming CPEC investments, it is vital that the status of Gilgit-Baltistan is determined either by decoupling the region from Kashmir or by giving it provisional autonomous status till the resolution of the Kashmir issue. Both India and Pakistan must come up with a set of options for resolving the Kashmir issue.

On other diplomatic issues too, Pakistan has not effectively been communicating its national priorities to the international community perhaps because they have not been fully defined yet. The constant state of political uncertainty, slow pace and reversals in the journey of the democratic transition, and continued dependence on international financial institutions, have multiplied the challenges faced by Pakistan.

The writer is a social development and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @AmirHussain76

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