Wednesday August 17, 2022

The first line of defence

July 20, 2020

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

Pakistan is one country out of the 193 countries that are members of the United Nations; the Holy See and Taiwan are not members of the United Nations. Collectively, they comprise the bulk of the international community. There are also affiliated and specialized banks, funds and organizations; regional financial institutions; regional cooperation organizations; security alliances etc which comprise the international community.

Pakistan’s interface with all these entities and their activities comprises the external aspect of its national policies – in other words, its external or foreign policy. The practice of it is called diplomacy. A practitioner of diplomacy is a diplomat. In an age of nations and diplomacy, a diplomat has been wryly defined as “one who lies abroad for the good of his country!” This play on words is a somewhat cynical and zero-sum view of diplomacy. But neither is it far from reality.

The French Revolution gave rise to the prevalence of nations and nationality as the basic constituent of the international community. German romanticism gave rise to the idealization of the nation, of which Prussia which unified Germany was the embodiment. The nation, both legally and morally, could do no wrong and a citizen’s primary obligation was to the state, nation, the 'volk' etc.

After the horrors of World Wars I and II, including the Holocaust and the use of nuclear weapons, an attempt was made to transcend the ultimate primacy of the nation by developing international law based on the charter of the United Nations Organization as well as several conventions emphasizing the inviolability of fundamental human rights around the world. However, the retention of the name 'nations' indicated that the primary constituent of the international system remained the nation.

Moreover, the development of international law remained, in largely part, an exercise in international power politics. The scourge of world wars was replaced by the assumed stability of the nuclear deterrence of a global cold war. This cold war did not even last half a century. The West won a pyrrhic victory which has led to an emerging global chaos in which the Doomsday Clock is closer than ever to striking midnight. This has been the world in which Pakistan was born and has survived – in its current shape – for the past 73 years.

Pakistan was, of course, a product of a thousand-year interface between two great religious civilizations which ran the gamut from peace, harmonious and productive co-existence to conflict, mutual exclusion, visceral antipathy and, ultimately, the assumed impossibility of becoming a viable political community. The separation was accompanied by one of the largest and bloodiest transfers of populations that ensured an abiding collective loathing of each other.

Pakistan was new, smaller and a question mark. India was established, larger and a fact of history. Pakistan was assailed by a welter of challenges but full of excited confidence and a sense of possibility. India was traumatized and truncated, and utterly unable to reconcile itself to the legitimacy of Pakistan. But India had the advantage of an able, stable and independent leadership espousing a democratic and secular ideology that had a ready world audience especially in the developing and colonial world.

Pakistan, in contrast, soon lost its founder-leader, and other than asserting its Muslim identity and seeking security assurances against India was unable to project an independent, progressive and reformist image. Instead its feudal, militarist and bureaucratic elite dependence on Western powers, that were unpopular within the Muslim and much of the developing world, put it at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, Pakistan was able to elicit significant Western economic and security assistance that initially gave it a deceptive economic advantage over India’s corrupt and inefficient economic management which, nevertheless, laid the basis for its future industrial and technology development.

However, three events changed the course. The Sino-Indian border conflict of 1962, the Indo-Pak war of 1965, and the Sino-Soviet split during the decade of the 1960s. Later, the defeat and dismemberment of Pakistan at the hands of India in 1971 completely undermined the image and strategic weight of Pakistan. This was compensated for a while by the dynamic if destabilizing governance and diplomacy of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, which turned out to be the last gasp of the democratic experiment in Pakistan. Ever since, Pakistan has been ruled by the military, either openly or furtively, causing enormous damage to the development of Pakistan as an inclusive, institutionalized and stable democracy, and an economically independent and viable entity.

It is in these circumstances that questions are often asked of the foreign policy and foreign service of Pakistan. Why do Pakistani diplomats enjoy paid-for luxury holidays abroad without doing much for the country? Why can't the Foreign Office project a more positive image of Pakistan? Why has it failed to convince the world that India is threatening the peace of the region because of its illegal and provocative oppression in IOK? Why did the FO assure the government that India would not cross the international border in 1965? Why is India’s nuclear weapons capability less controversial than that of Pakistan?

Why is Pakistan blamed for the failure of the US in Afghanistan? Why do more Afghans prefer India to Pakistan? Why has Pakistan failed to develop a closer and more cooperative relationship with Iran? Why does China not give greater support to Pakistan on Kashmir? Why can't Pakistan get off the FATF grey list? Why is Pakistan subject to more US sanctions than India? Why is Arab political support on Kashmir more formal than real?

Why is Pakistan considered a source of global terrorism? Why was Pakistan blamed for Mumbai, Kargil, Pathankot and Pulwama? Why was Pakistan unable to foresee and prevent the US attack on Abbottabad? Why is our security intelligence considered more troublesome than its counterpart in India? Why has Pakistan not been able to sufficiently isolate India despite the latter's genocidal policies in Occupied Kashmir? Why have Pakistan’s sacrifices on behalf of the 'war on terror' not been properly appreciated and recompensed? Etc.

Many diplomats will consider such questions conceptually unfair and factually incorrect. But the Foreign Office is not expected to defend itself too emphatically, lest it upset the powers that be who find it convenient to have scapegoats for their own deliberate and egregious errors. Seniors in the FO tell juniors that such criticisms “come with the territory.” In the media, both print and electronic, the Foreign Office is of course a safe if not plausible target of criticism.

The reality is ignored – that no Foreign Office or foreign service makes foreign policy. It is expected to provide professionally sound input into the making of foreign policy decisions. To do that it has to be competent, insistent and sufficiently secure to articulate the longer-term policy perspective and consequences, even if such advice is unwelcome to political 'superiors'. The 'political culture', including the political leadership, however, abhors such 'babu' assertiveness despite the grave costs Pakistan has paid for short-sighted domestic and external policies.

Needless to say, the Foreign Office and the foreign service have their limitations and shortcomings. But they are, nevertheless, the country’s 'first line of defence' in minimizing risks, conflicts and costs, while maximizing opportunities, leverage and benefits over the longer run. The foreign ministry does not wield power – but it is a treasure house of experience, insight, foresight and an indispensable measure of wisdom for the security and development of the country. Its unvarnished professional advice is ignored by fragile egos at the country’s peril.