Let us briefly look at Pakistan’s main external relationships. Pakistan is fortunate to have a strong relationship with China. It is the world’s greatest success story. It is the only great power willing to invest in developing a strategic partnership with Pakistan. CPEC, in the context of the BRI, offers Pakistan huge opportunities to economically transform itself if it can break with the dependency syndrome it has become accustomed to for seven decades
China cannot transform Pakistan. China will not go to war for Pakistan. But the US and India are compelling China to deepen its relations with Pakistan. This places a responsibility on Pakistan to become a reliable and feasible strategic partner despite the pressures of China’s rivals. Unfortunately, the dysfunctional political system in Pakistan curtails the possibilities to develop a full-fledged strategic relationship with China.
As for the Uighur problem, this is a matter for Pakistan to consider within the context of its essential relations with China and not as part of an anti-China and US and India-led narrative which is less concerned about the Uighurs than in pursuing a cold-war-cum-containment strategy against China. If China’s security concerns are addressed there is no doubt it can offer all its non-Han citizens the best alternative for their economic development and cultural self-expression. If the US prides itself on being a multi-ethnic society why should it seek to prevent China from developing in a similar direction? Pakistan is itself a multi-ethnic society which has yet to become a multi-ethnic polity.
India, of course, is the biggest challenge for Pakistan and its foreign policy. The relationship has become so deeply set in mutual animosity that a fundamental improvement appears almost impossible. There are reasons for this, and India is primarily responsible. It opposed the emergence of Pakistan. It subjugated and incorporated the larger part of Jammu and Kashmir in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and the wishes of the majority of the Kashmiri people. It invaded East Pakistan to bring about its separation from Pakistan even though, it must be admitted, Pakistan’s utterly brutal and stupid policies were primarily responsible for that tragedy.
Pakistan has continued its short-sighted policy in Balochistan which has afforded India opportunities to fish in troubled waters. Moreover, India uses the situation in Balochistan to counter Pakistan’s criticisms of its repressive policies in Occupied Kashmir. The world, by and large, is critical of India’s policies in Kashmir. But it has also tended to cite Balochistan to question the moral consistency of Pakistan’s denunciation of India’s violation of Kashmiri human rights. This has hamstrung Pakistan’s Kashmir diplomacy. Moreover, refusing to talk to India is no policy as India-Pakistan relations are the number one nuclear flashpoint in the world today. Let India do the refusing.
India cannot eliminate the insurgency in Kashmir through either political gimmickry or conventional military and police repression. It has effectively denounced the Simla Agreement by unilaterally changing the situation in Occupied Kashmir and, accordingly, it has also denounced the LOC thereby rendering the ground situation explosive. The world is critical of India. But it wants Pakistan to accept the unacceptable situation created by India in Kashmir. If Pakistan does so, it would render its own legitimacy questionable in the eyes of its own people and most certainly the Kashmiris. Nevertheless, Pakistan is yet to formulate and implement a credible Kashmir policy.
New policy approaches are required. Pakistan's Kashmir policy seems to be exclusively based on high decibel and sterile diplomacy abroad and empty posturing and sloganeering at home. That can never deter India from intensifying its current repression in the Kashmir Valley towards possible genocide as feared by Genocide Watch. India has indeed sullied its reputation abroad. But that does not translate into any benefit for the Kashmiri Muslims or for Pakistan. The people of Kashmir appear to be moving in the direction of preferring 'Azadi' or independence. Article 257 of the Pakistan constitution which has the potential of marrying the Pakistan option with the independence or Azadi option should, along with the UN Security Council relations, become the centrepiece of Pakistan's Kashmir diplomacy.
Afghanistan is the one country with which Pakistan should have no problem. Afghanistan’s initial hesitation with regard to recognizing Pakistan and its encouragement of 'Pashtunistan' has to be understood in the context of the British carving up of Afghan Pashtun lands as part of its strategic containment of Tsarist Russia. Afghanistan has long since accorded de-facto acknowledgement to the Durand Line.
What is important is that Pakistan must not allow itself to be caught in an Afghan-Indian diplomatic pincer. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy has largely been in the hands of those who have little understanding of either Afghanistan’s history and culture or the character and outlook of the Afghan Pashtun. Many unnecessary provocations can be avoided with a little more understanding and empathy. This would vastly reduce India’s scope for mischief against Pakistan from Afghan territory. Pakistan’s support for the Taliban has always amazed educated Afghans since they know Pakistan would never tolerate Taliban rule in Pakistan. Moreover, the Taliban have never forgotten how they were sold down the river after 9/11. As a result, Pakistan has leverage without influence or goodwill in Afghanistan. This can be corrected if the elected government can become the driving force it was elected to be.
The US is the mightiest country in the world. But within this decade China will overtake it as the largest national economy by all measures. China is also challenging the US in cutting edge technologies including, eventually, military technologies. Moreover, at a time when US soft power has plummeted due to its aggression and arrogance China’s soft power has been boosted by initiatives such as the BRI and its regional off-shoots such as CPEC, its Regional Comprehensive Economic Pact (RCEP), its technological feats such as bringing back rock samples from the other side of the moon and, especially, its brilliant management of the Covid-19 pandemic in stark contrast to the miserable US mishandling of it.
Nevertheless, Pakistan must seek as good and dependable a relationship with the US as possible. This can never be a strategic partnership because the US has chosen India as its strategic partner against China which is Pakistan’s only potential strategic partner. Under Biden, the US may deepen its cold war with both China and Russia and bully Pakistan into making choices that could drive a wedge between it and China. It will use India and possibly Afghanistan as well as international financial and counterterror institutions such as the FATF for this purpose.
If Pakistan cannot fashion a credible Kashmir policy in response to India’s policy of slow genocide, how will it fashion a credible response to these pressures? Pakistan can no longer delay clear answers to such questions without undermining itself at home and abroad.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
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