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Old Tuesday, December 10, 2013
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Default An incoherent foreign policy

An incoherent foreign policy


THE landmark agreement between the US and its allies and Iran on the nuclear issue is a regional and global game changer.

A new world alignment appears to be emerging that places the US and other western powers on more or less the same platform as China, Iran and India.

The world of eyeball to eyeball confrontation with fingers on the nuclear trigger ended with the Soviet Union’s collapse. Thereafter, the US attempt to act as the sole superpower ended with the Iraq and Afghanistan fiascos. Realising that a multipolar world has emerged, the US appears to have more or less set aside the containment policy with regard to China and opted for a policy of ‘competitive cooperation’ instead.

A fundamental rethink also appears to be under way in the US Middle East policy, which has over the last eight decades been guided by the West’s energy security needs. Israel was planted in the region exclusively for that purpose.

However, technological advances have enabled the US and Canada to tap shale oil and placed oil self-sufficiency on the North American horizon.

Freedom from dependency on Middle Eastern oil is likely to allow the US to loosen itself from half-a-century-old policy pegs and venture into new directions. The brusque manner in which Israeli and Saudi concerns regarding Iran have been brushed aside may indicate the shape of things to come.

These fundamental changes imply that Pakistan too may need to rethink its regional policy parameters. From the 1950s, Pakistan trapped itself in a ‘surrogacy syndrome’ and accepted US patronage, which reached its peak during the 1980s under Gen Zia, and continued under Gen Musharraf.

Over the last decade, however, Pakistan-US ties have lost their sheen. Pakistan now appears to be seeking a strategic shift towards China as a counterweight to the US.

The fact is that Pakistan’s foreign policy has now lost all semblance of coherence or direction. Its foreign policy has been completely India-centric and managed on parameters fixed in concrete. It is like a boxer whose feet are glued to the ground and who, as a result, cannot make the moves to tackle the oncoming punches.

Having abandoned, de facto, the demand for a plebiscite in Kashmir, Pakistan no longer has any Kashmir policy other than to try to bleed India; a policy that has failed to hurt India, but is bleeding Pakistan instead.

Rather, its policy of patronising and using terrorist proxies as foreign policy tools has made it suspect in the eyes of almost every government (including that of most Muslim countries) and lost it respect. This includes Iran and, to an extent, even China.

Pakistan may claim to have made sacrifices for Afghanistan, but Pakistanis are detested by almost every segment of the Afghan population. On account of their post-2001 betrayal, even the Afghan Taliban do not trust Pakistan anymore. Pakistan stands friendless regionally and globally.

Pakistan’s foreign policy establishment has always been divided between the Foreign Office and GHQ, with the former playing more of a post office role and ISI upstaging GHQ on occasion.

Now, it has become even more disjointed with the likes of Chaudhry Nisar, Imran Khan, Munawar Hasan and Fazlur Rehman trying to ramrod a Sultan Rahi-Maula Jat style of foreign policy, particularly with respect to America. Fuel to the fire is added by a section of retired military officers and religious parties, America’s darlings in the 1980s and who now feel jilted.

Meanwhile, the US appears to have lost all trust and confidence in Pakistan. While an ally in the ‘war on terror’, many top Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban leaders have been netted or killed in Pakistan. They include leaders nabbed from the residences of religious political party leaders and the Al Qaeda chief himself who was traced to within a mile of the Kakul cantonment.

More recently, an Afghan Taliban leader was murdered in the outskirts of Islamabad and other senior Afghan Taliban military commanders were killed in a US drone strike in Hangu. That these gentlemen did not have a visa to enter a sovereign nation does not bother the Sultan Rahi-Maula Jat brigade.

While Pakistan’s surrogacy of the US was always deplorable and many faults can be found in the US treatment of its surrogate, the hysteria directed against the US smacks of gross immaturity.

The US-Iran rapprochement is a wake-up call and Pakistan’s foreign policy establishment units — military and civilian, formal and informal, in offices and on the streets — need to read the writing on the wall. Failure would mean that Pakistan would be treated as an irresponsible, lawless, tantrum-prone child and left out of the regional equation.

The US-Iran rapprochement has significant implications for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran shares a long border with Afghanistan and the US is building a modern highway to link Herat near the Iranian border to Kabul via Ghor province in south-central Afghanistan.

It is likely that the Iranian ports emerge as major Afghan transit trade routes, costing Pakistan’s economy dearly. It’s also likely that the US will begin to deal with Afghanistan politically and militarily largely through Iran, bypassing Pakistan.

As such, if Pakistan thinks that it can hold the US hostage vis-à-vis Afghanistan, it may be mistaken. There is a possibility of a US-Iran-India-Afghanistan grouping emerging, and if Pakistan is isolated today, it may be in danger of becoming even more isolated.

The reliance on China is like standing on thin ice, particularly vis-à-vis the US. China has effectively abandoned its traditional support for Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir and now supports the Indian stand — bilateral negotiations; a shift that has gone unreported in the Pakistani media.

As such, China may be unlikely to stand by its traditional alliances for long if Pakistan continues its obstructionist role in the region. Given the tectonic shifts taking place in strategic alignments, it is imperative that Pakistan reviews its policies to date and adopts a policy based on rationality.

The writer is a researcher.
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