Was the visit a success?

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

IT IS interesting and instructive to observe how President Pervez Musharraf’s recent odyssey to the West was assessed in this country. It speaks volumes about our national mindset and our exaggerated perception of the country’s standing in world affairs.

First the assessment. Depending on which side of the political/ideological divide they came from, many viewed the economic deals — especially the writing-off of the one billion dollar debt and the offer of three billion dollar aid in five years to Islamabad — as a major triumph of diplomacy. Others were critical of the quantum. They felt that this sum amounted to being peanuts in view of the support and cooperation Pakistan was extending to America in its war on terror — the sum of 10 billion dollars was bandied about as the right compensation for the losses suffered in the Afghan war.

Another issue which emerged as a litmus test for the success or otherwise of the Musharraf visit (and even other aspects of our foreign policy) was Kashmir. Did the president manage to impress on the Americans the need to deliver the disputed state to Pakistan? Has Mr Bush promised to push Mr Vajpayee towards a dialogue with Islamabad to resolve the outstanding dispute on our terms? There were some from the opposition camp who even suspected a sell-out. The criticism went to ridiculous extremes. For instance, a PPP leader said that the general’s body language indicated that he “had done a dirty deal on Kashmir”, whatever that was supposed to be.

Defence equipment — that is how much we can obtain — was another key determinant which has attracted considerable attention in Pakistan. For instance, many grudged the fact that the coveted F-16s could not be acquired after all. These warplanes have emerged as some sort of a status symbol in Pakistan’s military ties with the US. There were others who found solace in the reports that 1.5 billion dollars from the aid package will be spent on arms, including C-130s, P-3C Orions and Cobra helicopters.

And of course sycophants were ecstatic over the fact that the president was one of the very few world leaders to have been invited to Camp David. They gleefully rubbed in the point that Prime Minister Vajpayee had not enjoyed a similar honour.

But these considerations are really not the stuff that goes into the making of a successful foreign policy. These reactions also reflect the simplistic and shallow worldview and perceptions of international politics that very often find expression in this country. The propensity to view everything in terms of black and white is another factor that distorts our perspective. It is time this was rationalized.

It is important that Pakistan should realize that the international power structure is changing. The world is now moving beyond the post-cold war era. The United States continues to be not just the sole superpower of the world but has emerged as a hyperpower — and a very arrogant and irrational one at that. This holds three lessons for the smaller states of the Third World. First, no small country should unnecessarily attempt to challenge the hyperpower in a show of cocky independence.

Secondly, this also means that a Third World state, such as Pakistan, should shape its foreign policy in such a way that it is not forced to depend on the US for the successful implementation of its foreign policy goals.

Thirdly, it must define the pattern of its external relations on the merit of each issue confronting it and not in the light of the United States’ worldview.

The reason why President Musharraf’s visit to the US cannot be applauded unconditionally is the fact that it has further tightened the American noose round our neck. The economic and military aid, which is clearly linked to our continued good behaviour in the war against terrorism, only reinforces the begging bowl image which has stuck to us since Pakistan emerged as an independent state in 1947.

Can we ever aspire to emerge as a self-reliant and independent state in the community of nations not tied to the apron strings of a big power? This seems unlikely given the mindset Pakistan has traditionally displayed. It is not more aid but more trade that we should be trying for. Just look at India. Unlike us, it has moved in the other direction. It has told 22 donor countries that it would not accept any more aid from them once the on-going projects are completed. This covers an amount of $600 million, which account for a quarter of the foreign assistance India receives every year.

The problem is that Pakistan has not made a move at all to change its foreign policy, which continues to be pegged to Kashmir. What has this failure to move with the times brought in its wake?

It has made the country hostage to the jihadi groups. They have been given a licence to operate freely. With the exception of only those which are directly linked to the Al Qaeda and are therefore anathema to the Americans, the others are under no constraints since they are the ones who can stir trouble in Kashmir. Without them our Kashmir policy would have reached a dead-end. The militants keep the Kashmir issue alive and give rise to the hope that India will be forced to loosen its stranglehold over Kashmir.

The operations of the jihadi groups cannot be confined only to Kashmir or be manipulated at will. They are striking at the roots of Pakistan’s domestic stability and integrity, having developed the strength to manipulate the political forces and intensify divisiveness and schisms within the country. The sectarian incident in Quetta on Friday in which over 50 people were massacred points to the implications of the activities of these terrorist groups for the country’s peace and stability.

The escalation of jihad activities gives the US greater space to fish in the troubled waters of Pakistan’s domestic politics. That has also enabled it to make demands of all kinds such as the recognition of Israel and the dispatch of troops to Iraq. These are issues that Islamabad should have considered on their merits and not on Washington’s insistence.

The fact is that Pakistan has become overly dependent on the militants for attaining its goals on the “core issue” of Kashmir. With the initiative having passed on to the them, how much room does Islamabad have to make compromises in its policies without which no solution is possible?

By remaining rigid vis-a-vis Kashmir, Pakistan is driving itself into isolation. The changes that are taking place in international affairs have yet to register with our policy- makers. One wonders if they have noted the thaw that is setting in on the India-China front. Differences on Sikkim and Tibet, the two key irritants in their border dispute, have been tacitly sorted out during Mr Vajpayee’s recent visit to Beijing.

India’s role in South East-Asia has also been growing while in the Middle East and Afghanistan its economic and political ties with the states in the region are pretty substantial. While our ties with the region are based on sentiments drawn from historical bonds of friendship and a common religion, India’s relations are rooted solidly in tangible economic and political factors, which in the end prevail.

On the world scene, major realignments are taking place and the blocs that are emerging have enough economic and military clout to act as countervailing forces if not actually as a challenge to the US. Europe is moving in the direction of further integration and enlargement with ten East European states set to join the EU next year. Its new constitution, its common foreign and security policy and the growing strength of the Euro give the European Union not only a big-power status but also the capacity to influence international affairs.

This of course will not dramatically transform the international equations immediately. But these developments are like straws in the wind and point to the changes in the political climate taking place at various levels. That will change the context in which we have become used to operating for decades. The fact is that Pakistan has followed a Hallstein Doctrine of sorts in respect of Kashmir and India.

Those who lean even slightly towards India’s point of view on Kashmir are written off by us. This worked to an extent in the days of the cold war when the world was divided neatly into two camps. But now when the configuration is more ambiguous we only isolate ourselves by making Kashmir the touchstone of our foreign policy.