Friday June 14, 2024

Realpolitik and Kashmir

By Javid Husain
December 25, 2020

Global politics is governed primarily by power rather than morality. Moral values do play a role in influencing the thinking of statesmen/women guiding the destinies of nations.

But when it comes to strategic issues of war, peace and security, moral values take the back seat, allowing power calculations or realpolitik to determine the decisions by world leaders. The nature of global politics is therefore vastly different from politics within states where there is rule of law reflecting social and moral values and the weak are afforded a degree of protection against transgressions by the powerful through the system of justice.

Power bestows enormous advantages on its wielders in an international system suffering from the weak character of international law. In such a system, states seek security in power rather than merely in the provisions of international law and morality which can be violated by powerful states with impunity. So, the most important objective for a state to safeguard its security and legitimate interests in the current international system is to accumulate power. States which fail to do so allow their opponents to exploit their weakness at the expense of their security and economic prosperity. Powerful states can do so through coercive and non-coercive ways bilaterally and in combination with their allies. US sanctions against Iran on the nuclear issue are a case in point. As they say, the powerful do what they wish while the weak do what they must.

There are less direct ways also in which powerful states can take advantage of weaker ones. As an example, powerful states can set the agenda and the rules of international politics to suit their interests. In other words, they not only decide which game will be played at the global level but also the rules of that game so that their victory is assured even before the game has begun. This makes the role of the powerful states in the international system decisive. It also makes the job of new emerging powers in challenging their hegemony that much more difficult.

This factor explains the constant refrain by the US and other Western countries, which have been dominant on the international scene since the end of World War II, that China – whose dramatic rise has posed a growingly potent challenge to their hegemony – should operate within the framework of the current so-called rules-based order. However, since this global order in security and economic fields was established by them in the post-World War II era precisely to guarantee their continued hegemony, China would naturally demand adjustments in it to accommodate its legitimate security and economic interests as its political, economic and military power grows.

Since such adjustments in the global order will be at the expense of the US-led West, the latter is likely to resist them generating tensions at regional and global levels and raising the possibility of even local conflicts in some cases. The growing competition between China and the US-led West will primarily determine the shape and direction of major political, economic and security developments at the global level in the 21st century.

Powerful states, while demanding from weaker states conformity with the rules designed to ensure the former’s hegemony, can themselves get away with the violation of those rules with impunity. There are several examples in recent history. The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 on false pretexts and without any sanction by the UN Security Council was a blatant violation of the UN Charter and international law. But because of its powerful position internationally, the US was able to get away with this transgression without any censure by the international community. Since the declaration of the Monroe Doctrine, the US has been often guilty of gross interference in the internal affairs of various Latin American states, destabilizing and overthrowing their governments. The world is also well aware of the American involvement in the overthrow of Iran’s Mossadegh in 1953 through the clandestine operation Ajax.

Thus, the US walks on thin ice when it lectures others on the need for conformity with the rules of the prevailing world order. Nevertheless, the harsh reality is that most powerful states historically have not desisted from violating established rules of inter-state conduct whenever it suited them. This practice is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. The moral for Pakistan and other states with similar status in the international system is not to rely on international law and morality alone in the conduct of their external relations. Instead, they should give due consideration to power calculations or realpolitik over and above legal and moral arguments in dealing with weighty issues of peace and security.

The foregoing discussion has important implications for such disputes as Kashmir and Palestine. Palestinian and Arab leaders relied primarily on moral and legal arguments, reflected in innumerable UN resolutions supporting the Palestinian cause, to win their case while neglecting the need to strengthen themselves politically, economically, technologically and militarily, leading predictably to disastrous results. With the passage of time, their position has gradually weakened. This has allowed Israel, with American support, now to virtually dictate the terms of a settlement. The growing trend in the Arab world towards recognition of Israel without any progress on the Palestinian issue shows that the Arabs have been virtually bludgeoned into submission because of their weakness.

Pakistan also needs to draw appropriate lessons from the Palestinian experience and recognize the critical importance of national power in extending support to the Kashmir cause. Of course, we must present our political, legal and moral case on the issue to the international community. But we must not ignore the harsh reality that ultimately it will be the balance of power between Pakistan and India over and above the steadfastness of the freedom struggle of the Kashmiris which will determine Kashmir’s destiny. The last thing we need for a just settlement of the Kashmir dispute is a politically fractured and economically weak Pakistan, lacking a sound strategy.

The writer is a retired ambassador and president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.