Not many choices for Pakistan’s foreign policy

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By Amb Shamshad Ahmed Khan-

For seventy years now, we have followed a foreign policy that we thought was based on globally recognized principle, and which in our view responded realistically to the exceptional challenges of our times. But never did we realise that for a perilously located country, externally as vulnerable as ours, and domestically as unstable and unpredictable as our successive rulers have made it, there could be not many choices in terms of external relations.

At this painful year-end, it is time we did some soul-searching no matter how agonizing it may be to look upon ourselves and see what we have done to our country in our own lifetime. Whether we accept it or not, we do present a pathetic picture, politically as well as economically. We see a mastless country looted and plundered by its own rulers, left with no dignity or pride. We also see a nation debilitating itself spiritually as well as physically. We are not even ashamed of what we have done to ourselves.

A country’s standing in the comity of nations always corresponds directly to its political, social, economic and strategic strength. Foreign policy of a nation is nothing but an external reflection of what you are from within. No country has ever succeeded externally if it is weak and crippled domestically in political and economic terms. Even a super power, the former Soviet Union could not survive as a super power only because it was weak domestically.

Our domestic failures have not only seriously constricted our foreign policy options but also exacerbated Pakistan’s external image and standing in the comity of nations. To have a foreign policy of our own, we need domestic consolidation, politically, economically and socially. To be treated with respect and dignity by others, Pakistan also has to be self-reliant so that it can be immune to external pressures and exploitation.

For us, it’s no longer important who makes our foreign policy or who runs it. Traditionally, however, with a generation of self-serving rulers always feeling insecure, a civil-military conflict has been an integral part of our body politic. If there have been instances of military interventions in the past, it was only because the civilian set-ups were invariably devoid of requisite strategic vision or talent in their political cadres leaving a vacuum to be filled by whosoever had the power and strategic proficiency.

At least during the last decade of civilian rule, the army has remained steadfast in its constitutional role giving every opportunity to the elected rulers to do their job. It in fact held them by hand in doing good things. The disgraceful Memogate and now the surreptitious mishandling of the civil-military equation reflected in the Dawn Leaks only show how weak and insecure the political cadres continue to feel.

What should be clear to them by now is that on vital security-related issues in a perilously-located country as ours, the pivotal role of so-called ‘establishment’ is indispensable for the preservation of the state’s independence and integrity on which is predicated their rulership. The vilification campaign against the army must stop. It’s our army that we need for our country’s security and survival. Politiciens should be looking at the country’s armed forces as their strength, not an adversary.

Pakistan cannot afford any more institutional clashes. They weaken the state. Vested foreign and local interests exploit the situation. For us at this critical juncture in our history, it is not important what we are required to do for other’s interests; it is what we ought to do to serve our own national interests. To be at peace with others, we must be at peace with ourselves. Peace, as we know by now, is much more than the absence of war. It has come to mean more than the end of a military conflict; it now means peace and harmony within nations.

It is this peace and harmony that we as a nation need in Pakistan. We badly need domestic cohesion and mutual confidence among the state institutions. Instead of walking into the traps, we should be joining together in reinforcing the elements of our nationhood. It is also time our mainstream media instead of playing to the tunes of vested interests owned its national responsibility by upholding our national ethos and defending the country’s independence, security and national integrity.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

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The Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI) is a nonpartisan, independent policy research institute based in Islamabad. Our goal is to undertake in-depth analysis of challenges and choices confronting Pakistan. We aim to help policymakers and public better understand the world, region and Pakistan-specific challenges and opportunities. We make efforts to engage government, civil society, private sector, media, academia in open debates and dialogue on the most significant developments in national and international affairs. We envision contributing to policy-making through periodic policy-papers putting forward policy-recommendations developed in collaboration with experts and stakeholders in each area. IPI takes no institutional position on policy issues.

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