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Old Tuesday, November 12, 2013
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Default Evaluating Pakistan’s foreign policy

Evaluating Pakistan’s foreign policy
By Dr Maleeha Lodhi

Much of Pakistan’s experience – and present predicament – has been shaped by a complex interplay of internal and external factors. A book waiting to be written is about how this intersection between domestic and foreign policies helps to explain both the multiplicity and intensity of challenges that Pakistan faces today.

External developments have had an important influence on the country’s fate and fortunes. But internal dynamics have also driven Pakistan’s foreign policy alignments and entanglements. The two have been so closely intertwined in the country’s history that often it has been hard to establish the source and direction of causation – what is driving what. A comprehensive analysis of the intersection between the two would be a rewarding study.

The available literature consists of studies that either have an exclusively domestic or foreign policy focus. Abdul Sattar’s review of Pakistan’s foreign policy from 1947 to 2012 falls in the latter category. Its recently published fourth edition, like earlier ones, will be a useful introductory guide to students of international relations and those interested in regional politics. It remains a good primer on foreign policy along with S M Burke and Lawrence Ziring’s historical analysis and Shahid Amin’s more recent appraisal.

Sattar brings forty years of experience as a practitioner to his book as well as thoughtful reflections on key developments. The new edition adds chapters that, for example, take into account the crisis that rocked Pakistan-US ties in 2011 and drove relations to near rupture.

The book is more history than analysis. It reflects the author’s interpretation of events, many of which he participated in. This makes, for example, Sattar’s narration of negotiations that yielded the 1971 Simla agreement very insightful. Thematic treatment of issues including terrorism and nuclear matters provide a basic introduction to complex policy areas. But as with the rest of the study, these chapters do not offer much detail. But then the book seeks to only provide ‘a concise history’.

The foreword by Agha Shahi, among Pakistan’s most respected practitioners and foreign policy thinkers, places the predicament of the newly independent state in sharp perspective. “Idealistic in inspiration”, Pakistan’s foreign policy had to quickly “come to grips with the reality of the challenge to its right to peaceful coexistence”. The failure of its own efforts and of the UN for settlement of disputes in the wake of partition “illustrated the tyranny of power disparity in the region”, he says. To ameliorate that tyranny Pakistan looked “outwards” for friends and allies. That is until 1971, when the war, India’s intervention and the failure of allies to come to Pakistan’s assistance, urged the country’s leaders to embark on developing a nuclear capability.

Sattar describes the formative period in Pakistan’s strategic thinking and how, given Delhi’s conduct, Pakistan’s foreign policy was “moulded in the crucible of its interaction with India” even as it was imbued by the idealistic vision of its founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah to seek good neighbourly relations and resolve differences through “logic and law”.

With India intent on imposing “unilateral preferences by “exploiting the power disparity”, the contours of Pakistan’s foreign policy came to be shaped in those formative years by the “desperate need for arms” to secure the new state and funds to finance its economic development.

This led to Pakistan’s prolonged pursuit of a strategy of external balancing, although Sattar does not use this expression in describing the country’s “search for alliances”. He gives a rundown of the period when Pakistan became America’s ‘most allied ally” and refers to early engagement between Pakistan and Washington that produced several false starts. Subsequently both countries had second thoughts about their close embrace. Pakistan was aware of the costs of its ‘policy of alliances’ yet stayed that course for what seemed the only counterweight to India’s hegemonic impulses.

The book depicts 1962-63 as the turning point in the strategic environment, and for Pakistan’s foreign policy. Pakistan’s growing relationship with China and Washington’s increasing lurch toward India led to significant realignments. US warnings were cast aside that Washington would re-examine relations with Pakistan if it built relations with China.

After 1965, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto elevated Pakistan’s shift – distancing from the West and opening to the East – into a doctrine. But Bhutto’s role in the post-1971 geopolitical reorientation of Pakistan’s foreign policy – towards the Middle East and west Asia – is for some reason not mentioned even though that was a watershed in the evolution of policy.

The book does however identify several turning points in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Other than the first three mentioned above, the fourth was the 1971 war that led to a “reversal of Pakistan’s policy of nuclear abstinence.” The fifth came with the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the sixth followed 9/11 and its transformation of relations with America.

In recounting the post-9/11 period, when Sattar was, for a time, foreign minister, he counters the impression that Pakistan “totally acquiesced” to US demands. In fact the decision taken in the wake of 9/11 was to “indicate a generally positive disposition and negotiate details later.” This ‘yes-but’ approach aimed to allow “tactical flexibility” and later seek modification of US expectations of Islamabad. And he is emphatic in stating that “Pakistan did not participate in US military action in Afghanistan.”

In several places Sattar acknowledges policy blunders made at various points of Pakistan’s history. Wrong calculations in 1965 for example. And Kargil in 1999, which he casts as the consequence of “misconceived policies”. This not only left Pakistan internationally isolated but also “gravely damaged” the Kashmir cause. He cites Pakistan’s recognition of the Taliban in 1997 as another case of not being able to foresee how this would lead to the country’s diplomatic isolation and the failure of its efforts to “moderate” the Taliban.

Reading Sattar’s retrospect on foreign policy leaves one with the impression of significant continuity in official thinking even as the world transformed in consequential ways. From this history I see two paradoxical themes to have punctuated the country’s foreign policy behaviour. One, the sense of internal weakness that drove successive governments – irrespective of political complexion – to seek outside support to compensate for that weakness. Not surprisingly, this goal was to prove elusive. And two, foreign policy was sometimes conducted with little regard for its domestic ramifications. Pakistan’s protracted Cold War engagements capped by its role in the war to eject the Red Army from Afghanistan are prime examples.

The first generated a syndrome of external dependence, which the country’s rulers found hard to escape, but was deeply resented by the people and eroded the nation’s self-esteem. The constant search for external means to solve internal problems also meant that the primacy of domestic issues was never fully established. Nor did a culture of self-help take root among the governing elites, much less one that looked ‘within’ to craft indigenous solutions.

This is illustrated by the kind of economic management practiced by successive governments for much of the country’s history. This viewed external financing made available because of the country’s foreign alignments as a substitute to mobilise domestic resources or undertake much-needed reform. This approach was not just unsustainable but compounded Pakistan structural problems, which in turn retarded the country’s economic progress. What was supposed to address the sources of internal weakness ended up doing the very opposite.

The second theme requires less elaboration: the pursuit of foreign policy goals while failing to anticipate their domestic cost or consequences. The most obvious example is of course the country’s prolonged entanglement in the Afghan war in the 1980s and beyond. The deadly blowback and destabilising consequences were not only poorly anticipated but also ineptly managed by ruling elites blindsided by short-term goals and self-preservation.

Therefore, the book that should be written is one that objectively evaluates how the confluence of internal and external policies has contributed to Pakistan’s present challenges.Abdul Sattar, Pakistan’s Foreign Policy 1947-2012: A concise history, Third Edition, Karachi, Oxford University Press, 2013.

The writer is special adviser to the Jang Group/Geo and a former envoy to the US and the UK.

Twitter: @LodhiMaleeha
"Nay! man is evidence against himself. Though he puts forth his excuses." Holy Qur'an (75:14-15)
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