By Durdana Najam
Pakistan’s foreign policy is looked at from two dimensions. One, that it is made in the General Headquarter Rawalpindi (GHQ) and two, each policy is built around the “perceived threat” from India. For the people in the “liberal camp”, both these dimensions have proved detrimental for Pakistan’s international stature, reducing it into a nation that builds relations with foreign entities on the basis of military alliances.
The Indian context, the liberal camp claims, has brought belligerency to the foreign policy marked at times as “Jihad.” The other group, in the “conservative or nationalist camp”, if not okay with the men in uniform becoming the architects of the foreign policy, have no qualms with the bellicose texture the policy has taken to tame India’s influence both in the region and in Pakistan.
For most of its years, Pakistan has been engaged in wars either for self-defence, regional survival or for liberating Kashmir from India. As for regional wars, we have been engaged in military alliances with the US and some Middle Eastern countries. For the wars in Kashmir, our engagement is rooted in the unfinished business of partition, which later morphed into another wound caused by the assistance India lent in the creation of Bangladesh. The war for self-defence is though a recurring process against the domestic enemies that we have been making while fighting for the US and Middle East.
Al-Qaeda and Taliban, once our supporters and dependents, went against us when we allied with the US in the war against terrorism. So did we make Shia Muslims our antagonists by aligning with the anti-Iran ideology of Saudi Arabia?
The Pakistani faction of the Taliban, Tahreek-e-Taliban, grew from the ashes of Lal Masjid (Red Mosque in Rawalpindi) massacre in 2007. That attack was supposedly a pivot in Pakistan’s foreign policy. The world was told, loud and clear, that Pakistan did not support those preaching extremism. This change, however, could not alter the USA and India’s collective perception about Pakistan of an unreliable country supporting terrorism and using it as a foreign policy tool in the garbs of Islam.
Relative to Pakistan’s narrative, rubbishing all these accusations as false and unfounded, the collective narrative of the US and India has been strong. Why is that so?
Because the diplomatic part of our foreign policy has been weaker as compared to the militarization part. This also led to the casting of a suspicious eye on our stance to have an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned solution to the Afghanistan war. Today a majority of the Afghans blame Pakistan for all that has gone wrong with their country, while for India the sentiments are that of a cordial country promoting peace through economic development.
There is no denial of the fact that Pakistan’s Afghan policy has had an Indian context. Pakistan has always demanded a reduced Indian influence in Afghanistan to protect its western borders. Strategically speaking, the demand looks fair. But our preference to use militarization rather than diplomacy to tackle Indian influence has produced anti-Pakistan sentiments that India has since used successfully to damage Pakistan’s position in the eye of the Afghans and the US.
It was this militarization of our foreign policy that needs retrospection, if there really is a change of heart in the echelons of power to move towards a more plural and democratic Pakistan. Experts do not see this happening unless the GHQ cedes its role as the maker and breaker of foreign policy to the government.
Or perhaps, if both centers of power might learn to co-exist in the foreign policy domain. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor is a huge opportunity, using which Pakistan can replace its security paradigm with the one concerning development.
This streak of “India centrality” has also affected our policy towards Kashmir. Our aim should have been to liberate Kashmir so that the Kashmiris were freed from Indian atrocities. We were not supposed to liberate Kashmir because of personal enmity with India.
For the hawks on Kashmir, post East-Pakistan separation, our Kashmir policy is claimed to be no more about liberating Kashmir, rather to bleed India with thousand cuts to avenge the creation of Bangladesh. Many Kashmiris distanced themselves from the culture of gun and said: “foreign militants and those with Pan-Islamist agenda should leave Kashmiris alone.”
Unfortunately, Bangladesh is also included in this string of foreign policy disappointments as well. Since India had played a crucial role in cleaving off Pakistan from its eastern wing in the 1971 war, the area of Pakistan India belligerence has therefore grown wider. Bangladesh considers India a friendly nation, while with Pakistan, the relationship is not only hostile but formed in tow with that of India’s interests. When India refused to attend the South Asian Association for Regional Corporation in 2016 to be held in Pakistan, Bangladesh also refused. Ever since the Shiekh Haseena’s Awami League is in power for the last ten years, the relationship between Pakistan and Bangladesh has been hitched on the issue of apology from Pakistan for the war crimes in 1971.
So far, Pakistan’s efforts to check Indian Influence have remained counterproductive. Had it not been better and more astute that rather than focusing on India, our gaze should have been focused more on building better international relations?
Perhaps time has come for Pakistan to shift its focus.