For a coherent regional policy
For a coherent regional policy
By Javid Husain
IN my last article on the state of Pakistan-US relations, I emphasized the need for Pakistan to adopt a coherent regional policy as the central element of our overall foreign policy. I would now venture to add that since the end of the Cold War, the absence of a well thought-out regional policy has been one of the fundamental weaknesses of our foreign policy.
Following the end of the cold war, Pakistan was faced with the serious challenge of coming to grips with the new international and regional scenario with a view to safeguarding and promoting its national interests.
The emerging global scenario was characterized by the victory of democracy and market economy, the trend towards regionalism as evidenced by the growth of the European Union and other regional organizations, the weakened bargaining position of the Third World nations, and emergence or anticipated emergence of new centres of power like the EU, Japan, China, Russia, India, Brazil and the Asean, and the growing importance of such global issues as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, human rights and the environment.
At the regional level, India propelled by economic reforms pulled far ahead of Pakistan in economic and military terms as the latter suffered from endemic political instability and the termination of US military and economic assistance. The India-China detente gathered speed as their relations developed, particularly in the economic and commercial fields. Afghanistan became embroiled in a civil war after getting rid of the Soviet occupation.
The Central Asian Republics and Azerbaijan, besides Afghanistan, joined the Economic Cooperation Organization to broaden their foreign policy and economic options and to reduce their dependence on Russia. Iran began the process of recovery from the ravages of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war together with a gradual process of reforms to provide a modicum of economic and cultural freedom to its people.
The Iraq-Kuwait war and the subsequent developments that brought Iraq down on its knees, further entrenched US power and influence in the Middle East, strengthened Israelís security by eliminating Iraq as a possible threat, tightened the US stranglehold on the vast oil and gas resources of the region, and opened up possibilities for the US to give a new political and ideological orientation to the Middle Eastern countries. Indiaís political, economic and cultural relations with the Gulf countries gained considerably in strength.
This was the global and regional setting in which Pakistan had to steer its foreign policy during the 1990s and beyond. Let us see how good a job our policymakers did in dealing with these challenges.
At the global level, we failed as a nation to appreciate the importance of the growing trend towards democracy and the primacy of economic strength. Consequently, the 1990s were marked by political instability culminating in the military takeover of October 1999. The recognition of the primacy of economic strength basically would have required us to allocate a much higher proportion of our budgetary resources to economic and social development than to military expenditure. During most of the decade of 1990s, we did exactly the reverse according to the latest issue of the Pakistan Economic Survey.
On the average, during the 1990s, the government allocated 5.6 per cent and 4.7 per cent of the GDP respectively to defence and development expenditure. During 2004-05, the development expenditure amounted to only 2.9 per cent of the GDP. This was obviously the result of a misconceived national security policy which over-emphasized its military dimension at the expense of the political and economic dimensions.
We alienated ourselves regionally and internationally during most of the 1990s because of the mishandling of our Afghanistan and Kashmir/India policies. These policies, which were out of sync with the global environment, lacked any grand strategic design, vision or far-sightedness. The demands of these policies far outstripped our resources presenting us with the classic situation of a strategic overstretch. We were also faced with the danger of being branded as a terrorist state. The simultaneous pursuit of activist policies on both Kashmir and Afghanistan was obviously imprudent making these policies untenable in the long run. It was, therefore, just a matter of time before the force of circumstances would force us to change these policies.
Our pro-Taliban policy was particularly ill-conceived with disastrous consequences for Pakistan both internally and externally. Internally, this policy brutalized our society by promoting the klashnikov culture, encouraged obscurantism and tore apart the social fabric of the country by fomenting religious extremism. Externally, it damaged our relations with Iran and most of the Central Asian Republics besides creating misgivings even in China.
Interestingly, the pro-Taliban policy was partly justified on the basis of our desire to promote trade and economic links with the Central Asian Republics, precisely the countries with which our relations were being damaged by that policy. The Talibanís policies tarnished the image of Pakistan. The process of regional economic cooperation launched through the expansion of the Economic Cooperation Organization in 1992, which looked so promising at that time, was virtually stalled during most of the 1990s primarily because of the clash of the Afghan policies of Iran and Pakistan.
The mere fact that the Taliban regime was recognized only by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE was sufficient to establish our isolation at regional and global levels. Our pro-Taliban policy was, therefore, not sustainable. However, our policymakers single-mindedly pursued it in total disregard of wiser counsel and strategic compulsions until they reached the precipice of 9/11. It was only then we brought about a U-turn in our policy to avert the impending disaster.
Our regional policy must be based squarely on a dynamic analysis of the power realities of the region within the framework of the prevailing global environment. Two considerations should reign supreme: we should never again allow ourselves to be isolated at the regional level and we should prevent the emergence of a situation where a regional country or group of countries can pose a threat to our security or our economic well-being.
In short, we should learn to build up alliances and coalitions at the regional level to counter an existing or emerging threat to our security instead of relying exclusively on the support of non-regional powers which in any case has not proved reliable in the past.
As long as our disputes with India are unresolved and its quest for regional domination continues, it would remain a potential threat to Pakistanís security. We should neither exaggerate nor minimize the nature of this threat. In the past, our India policy has swung from one extreme to the other.
While Kargil reflected one extreme, the current unrealistic euphoria is another. An economic union with India, as some scholars suggest, would mean the loss of economic independence for Pakistan and may presage even the loss of political independence for the country. For a change, we should practise some moderation in our India policy.
We should definitely continue our policy of defusing tensions and undertaking confidence building measures with India (including trade on the basis of a level playing field) to reduce the risk of outbreak of an armed conflict and to build up a climate of mutual trust necessary for the resolution of outstanding disputes. While we should keep on pressing for an early settlement of these disputes, it would be unrealistic to expect that a satisfactory final settlement of the Kashmir dispute is around the corner. In fact, since the present power realities favour India and since the dispute carries heavy emotional and historical baggage on both sides, we should adopt a two-stage approach.
In the first stage we should aim at improvement in the human rights situation in the Indian-occupied Kashmir, demilitarization or withdrawal of the bulk of the Indian forces from the territory as the level of insurgency goes down and granting autonomy to its people. In the second stage covering a longer time frame, we should go for a final settlement of the dispute.
Friendship with both Afghanistan and Iran is a strategic imperative for Pakistan. In the case of Afghanistan, we should resist the temptation to get involved in its internal affairs while extending support and cooperation to it in the restoration of internal peace and in the gigantic task of economic reconstruction.
Iran has been a source of support to us in the past on critical occasions. We should not fritter away the friendship with this important brotherly country. In the present context, we should oppose any military action to deal with Iranís nuclear issue which must be resolved through peaceful means. While our relations with the US have their own unique importance, we should, to use an American term, dehyphenate them from our relations with Iran. The Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project which is in the interest of all the three countries should be pursued vigorously by us despite Washingtonís reservations.
Generally speaking, Pakistan and Iran should develop their cooperation in all fields. It is true that the two countries are competitors in some areas. But they should not allow this competition to be transformed into confrontation, a mistake they committed in Afghanistan during the 1990s.
China has been Pakistanís steadfast friend since the 1960s. It is difficult to exaggerate the critical importance of this friendship for Pakistan. While by and large this relationship is still sound, our economic and commercial relations with China compared with those of India are relatively weak and need to be developed further. We must build bridges of understanding and cooperation with Russia, which is an important player in our neighbourhood, besides developing relations with the Central Asian Republics and the GCC countries where we have lost ground to India during the past few years.
In keeping with the global trend toward schemes of regional economic cooperation, Pakistan must also engage itself in this process. At present, Pakistan is a member of both the ECO and the SAARC. But we need to be clear about our priorities where these two organizations are concerned.
The experience of the EU indicates the following conditions for the success of the process of regional economic cooperation and integration: economic complementarities, geographical proximity, cultural affinities and the absence of serious disputes among the member states. Out of the ECO and the Saarc, only the ECO fulfils these conditions. For Pakistan, therefore, the ECO should be the organization of choice for the purpose of regional economic cooperation and integration. It must, however, remain engaged in the Saarc but for more limited economic objectives.
The recent admission of Pakistan as an observer into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was a welcome development because this will help us promote mutual understanding and strengthen our friendship and cooperation with China, Russia and the Central Asian Republics.