The foreign policy of a nation is the face that it wears to the outside world.
Shamshad Ahmad Khan, Pakistanís former foreign secretary and veteran diplomat, is now a leading political analyst, who through his writings and lectures frequently expresses his views about the problems and challenges facing our country. In a recent lecture arranged by World Times on Pakistan foreign policy and relations with foreign world at Superior University, Lahore analysed various aspects of Pakistanís foreign policy, by quoting relevant examples from the past 63 years of our history. The main points of his lecture have been summarised below.
Generally speaking, the foreign policy of a nation is the face that it wears to the outside world. It is the sum total of its cherished values and its own national interests that it wants to protect. Our foreign policy is inspired by internationally recognised principles governing inter-state relations, our desire to promote our economic and political stability and preserve our freedom and territorial integrity.
Our geographical location at the junction of South Asia, Middle East, Far East and Central Asia has significantly increased our strategic importance in the international community. In fact, if our rulers had been wise enough, they could have transformed our strategic geographical location into our greatest asset, but in most cases, they did the opposite and sold out our national interests and even compromised on our countryís sovereignty.
Thus, after the 9/11 attacks, instead of getting some real benefits for the country, Musharraf grasped the opportunity of getting his own legitimacy as a ruler and offered to the Americans much more than they had actually demanded from him. Far from condemning the drone attacks, he continuously told the lie that these attacks were being carried out by our own air force. Contrary to this was the attitude of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who carried out nuclear explosions despite huge American pressure and even Americans were forced to negotiate with us afterwards as a sovereign nation.
Our geographical location at the junction of South Asia, Middle East, Far East and Central Asia has significantly increased our strategic importance in the international community.
Anyhow, due to our geographical location and role in the region, we had to face all sorts of realities whether pleasant or unpleasant, the hope of ensuring our socio-economic stability and territorial integrity. Besides numerous security concerns and threats, our persistent economic and political instability, lack of good governance and flawed leadership have also seriously undermined our foreign policy.
Since independence, our foreign policy has been dominated by four major factors. 1. Our quest for security and survival as an independent nation. 2. As a result of our longstanding and unresolved conflicts with India, our foreign policy has often been India-centric. 3. Our excessive reliance on the West for our economic and military strength and stability. 4. Our unflinching support for various Muslim causes.
At the time of independence, our country consisted of two parts between which there was a thousand miles territory belonging to the hostile India. The world itself was divided into two mutually antagonistic blocs known as the communist and the capitalist blocs. It was a decisive moment in our history because our future direction had to be decided. Unfortunately, most of the people who were at the helm of affairs at that time had enjoyed friendly ties with their former western imperialistic rulers during the colonial period.
They, therefore, felt a natural inclination to join their block in that crucial phase of the Cold War. Thus, rejecting an invitation from the former Soviet Union, our first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan went on a visit to the United States in 1950 and spent three weeks there. Later, we joined the Western security alliances such as CENTO and SEATO, with the hope that our allies and partners would come to our aid at the time of conflict with our arch rival India. But our experience did not match with our expectations.
Thus, we were virtually left alone by them during the 1965 and 1971 wars that led to the dismemberment of our country. Later on, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto attempted to widen the scope of our foreign policy, but he was removed from power as the Americans wanted to make him an example for others. It is interesting to note that whenever Americans have needed our support in their own military conflicts, they somehow or the other remove our democratic rulers and bring military dictators to power. Our relations with the US have been at their best during military rule and whenever we have had some sort of democratic governments, they have imposed sanctions on us on one pretext or the other.
Thus, in the 1960s, when Ayub Khan was in power, we were enjoying very cordial relations with the West when it was engaged in the Cold War against the former Soviet Union. We believed this relationship to be friendship without realising the fact that there is no concept of friendship in international relations which are always based on the national interests of the countries.
The Western nations used us for their own interests and left us when we needed their help. They had decided a long time ago to use our country as a battleground for their last and decisive war against the former Soviet Union which they described as the evil empire. By creating instability in Afghanistan in the 1970s, they deliberately encouraged the Russians to invade it and once the Russians entered Afghanistan, the western powers used our military dictator Zia-ul-Haq for their own interests. He deliberately created the myth in our minds that Pakistan would be the next target of the former Soviet Union and, therefore, urged us in the name of jihad and our own security to join the Afghan War which was, in fact, a part of the Cold War.
Our religious institutions or Madrassas which have never been associated with violence and militancy were converted into breeding grounds or incubators of jihadis. The war ended with the defeat and disintegration of the former Soviet Union and the collapse of the Berlin Wall further strengthened Western Europe and the whole Western Bloc. But we got nothing from this war except drugs, weapons, refugees and thousands of jihadis some of whom are now destroying our country.
Even now, we are fighting a prolonged war on our soil for the sake of Americans. The whole country is suffering and no one knows for how long this war will continue.
However, it is extremely unwise and unrealistic to condemn or blame the Americans for this whole situation. They are sincere in pursuing their countryís long-term strategic interests. The fault is that of our own corrupt, selfish and opportunistic rulers, who again and again compromise on our countryís interests and act like puppets in the hands of Americans.
Our people are also partly to blame because they have become insensitive and passive, instead of doing something to get rid of the corrupt rulers and to put the country on the path of progress, prosperity, dignity and honour. A countryís standing in the comity of nations is directly related to its political, social, economic and strategic strength.
But unfortunately, throughout its history, Pakistan has gone through traumatic experiences which have left us politically unstable, economically weak, socially fragmented and physically disintegrated.
Pakistanís biggest challenge now is to convert its pivotal location into an asset rather than a liability. We must extricate ourselves from the forces of extremism, violence and intolerance. Pakistan must be seen as a source of strength and stability in the region, rather than as an exporter of religion-based extremism and terrorism.
As stated earlier, a countryís foreign policy is inextricably linked to its internal conditions. Eversince independence, Pakistan has been confronted with dilemmas, difficulties and crises of a stupendous magnitude. They include an un-ending struggle for power within the country, long spells of military rule, inefficient political leadership, weak institutions, widespread corruption and the absence of the rule of law.
All these problems are deeply rooted in our domestic failures and have nothing to do with the foreign policy. But on account of these problems, our standing in the international community has been severely undermined. No country has ever succeeded externally if it is internally weak and crippled. The example of the former Soviet Union is quite sufficient to prove this phenomenon. It collapsed despite its huge military strength, only due to its domestic problems.
In order to project ourselves as an honourable, independent and sovereign state at the international level, instead of condemning Americans, Jews or Hindus, we must ensure our domestic consolidation based on genuine democracy, supremacy of the constitution and independence of law.
There should be no more compromise on our strategic interests, no more surrendering of our sovereignty and no more begging or borrowing. Instead of depending on the so-called friends of Pakistan, we must go towards self-reliance because friendships at the international level are always based on national interests of the countries.
To sum up then, it can be said that the foreign policy of a country is a reflection of its domestic condition. If the body of a person has become weak and hollow due to cancer, it would be quite evident from his dull and pale face. Similarly, if a country is internally hollow and weak, it can never hope to have an independent and honourable foreign policy.
We on the other hand are a divided nation without any sense of national identity or unity. We love to humiliate and disgrace our talented people. We showed no respect to the Nobel-Prize winning scientist Dr. Abdus Salam only because we considered him to be a non-Muslim.
But Dr Abdul Qadeer is a Muslim by all standards but our rulers changed him from hero to zero. If our rulers have no respect for law, same is the case with our common people. While travelling on the Motorway, all of us are law abiding, but the moment we leave the Motorway, we forget all the traffic rules. In such a dismal situation, how can we project our positive image abroad? Musharraf sent Kashmala Tariq and some others with some fine videos to show to the world that everything is normal in Pakistan.
But they were condemned wherever they went because everyone in the world is aware of the actual conditions prevailing in our country. As long as we do not strengthen ourselves internally, we cannot hope to be given any respectable position in the community of nations.
The writer is a former foreign secretary.