Whither foreign policy?

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, Karachi, has a remarkable history. Its founder-secretary, Khwaja Sarwar Hasan, brought the institution from Delhi to Karachi in 1947. Since then, it has had an uninterrupted existence, albeit with many ups and downs, a rocky period being when it was taken over by the Zia government.

The PIIA’s forte has been the research journal, Pakistan Horizon, it has published without break for the last 60 years. Another strong point is that it has served as a forum for scholars, diplomats and public leaders for intellectual discourse.

One such meeting was held last Monday when the speaker was Riaz Mohammad Khan, a former foreign secretary who retired in 2008 not exactly as per routine. The media had then described his exit as ‘sacking’.

I am not personally aware of the reason why Mr Riaz had to leave. But when I heard him speak — for the first time — he struck me as being rational, erudite and statesmanlike. These qualities he has shared with some of his distinguished predecessors. I have always wondered why our foreign policy has been such a failure when so many of the heads of the Pakistan Foreign Office have known their job well.

Mr Riaz spoke on ‘After Osama bin Laden’. With the air thick with rumours, the turnout was impressive. But there was no boast of inside knowledge of events by the speaker who made it clear at the start that he knew as much as we in the audience did. There was no hint of speculation about what must have happened and no grandiose observations on what went wrong.

But the question and answer session yielded some precious gems of wisdom that can show the way forward if we want to move on. What emerged clearly is that military strength will not help us in the post-Cold War era in a world where there has been a paradigm shift to globalisation, technological revolution and knowledge-based societies.

In the international order of today, trade, economic cooperation and people-to-people interaction are the norm. China changed its position in the world not through military confrontation but its economic management. (Mr Riaz Mohammad Khan was Pakistan’s ambassador to Beijing from 2002-2005 and was instrumental in fostering close ties between the two countries at a time when the war on terror had begun to shape the destiny of our country.)

How much sense does all this make to our military which calls the shots and the civilian government that submits to the men in uniform?

It is a pity that the concepts of strategic depth and strategic assets continue to dominate our foreign and defence policies. Needless to say, they rob our government of the capacity to have choices. The former foreign secretary very categorically stated that nuclear assets do create the capacity in us to ensure that others cannot mess around with us, but they do not give us the capacity to mess around with others.

As for the strategic-depth concept, it is offensive to the Afghans. He was right because this concept implies some kind of Pakistani control over Afghanistan, and no government in Kabul with dignity and self-respect would tolerate that.

Very obviously, all this indicates that the Foreign Office — at least in some phases of our history — has not seen eye to eye with the military headquarters. This could also apply to our approach to Kashmir. Mr Riaz Mohammad Khan confirmed that the formula of limited sovereignty had been under discussion between Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris. Gen Musharraf had gone along with this approach. It seems the hawks were not too happy with it.

So what is next on our agenda? There is a lot of talk of reshaping our relations with the US. But it is not clear whose word is to be final and on what terms. The present government has tried to assert its supremacy over the armed forces — a concept that is universally accepted in democracies. After all, as said by the French statesman Georges Clemenceau, war is too serious a matter to be left to the generals. Twice in 2008, the government tried to assert its control over the ISI. In July, a formal notification was even issued to the effect that the IB and the ISI were to be under the administrative, financial and operational control of the interior ministry with immediate effect. Within six hours this order was withdrawn.

Again in November 2008, when the Pakistani government responded to India’s angry reaction to the Mumbai incident by offering to send the ISI chief to Delhi it was duly snubbed by our khakis. Remember the brouhaha that ensued in the wake of the announcement of the Kerry-Lugar bill in 2009 which offered $7.5bn worth of American aid to Pakistan but made it conditional on the civilian government subordinating the military to its control?

Recent events — especially the Raymond Davies incident and the Abbottabad drama — leave no one in doubt as to who is in control. Against this backdrop, one can well ask if people like Riaz Mohammad Khan really carry any weight.

If the army is given the monopoly to decide our security perceptions and therefore has the first say in presenting its financial demands, it is plain that not much is left from our meagre resources to spend on human capital which Mr Riaz implicitly suggested should be our first priority.

7 thoughts on “Whither foreign policy?”

  1. The concluding lines of your column set me thinking. Isn't the monster of extremism and bigotry and resultant militancy the direct consequences of diverting large chunks of money to the army. Had that money been used for education, things would have been different. Or am I wrong?

    1. That is true. The chickens of our failure to take care of our human resources have come home to roost. It is a pity that those being killed are the foot soldiers of our armed forces and the lower ranking officers who are paying the price of the misguided policies of the top brass.

    2. You are right in your conclusion. Only politicians have to come to people every 5 years to keep them in power, so they will listen to people' problems to a certain extent. Army Generals will have their powers till they retire and they are not answerable to people. when army dictates terms in a country, they will take away large amounts of money from the exchequer for their operations and this leaves very little money with the govt. for social spending like providing primary education, basic health services, infrastructure etc. Without employable skills ,the young men get drawn and become pawns of the extremist organizations… That's why extremism is high in Pakistan and other Arab countries ruled by dictators & Generals

  2. Unfortunately, it’s not just the foreign office where Pakistan has golden nuggets, it’s every where from qawwalies to cricket to science. In Pakistan was the only student of Sir Rutherford who did not get a Nobel prize. Dr. Rafi had no problem in competing with the students in Englad when he went to study there. The one who did manage to get a Nobel prize would go to jail for saying assalamo alaikum to a fellow Muslim.
    Most respectfully, I disagree with the claim that Pakistani Military is controling the country. It’s the lack of respect for Law throughout the history of Pakistan. And this lack of respect has been shared by every institution including the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
    Once this country of the most beautiful people and culture learns to respect its Law, things will start changing, whether it comes from the top or bottom. The best starting point in my humble opinion is to have laws that can be abided by. It’s not a secret to any one in Pakistan that the reason why Jinnah wanted Pakistan was to stop Muslim minority in India from being discriminated against – now India is who does not discriminate against its minorities – Pakistan does and constitutionally and legally so.
    How could you expect respect for Law in a nation whose constitution belies the very fundamental reason of its raison de etre?
    Respectfully-

    1. I agree with Aftab. Pakistan has turned out to be a land where 'might is right'. The army being the mighty calls the shots.

  3. What we had sown during the days of Zial ul haq so we are reaping now. Still we have not learnt any lesson from history because we are not aware of the consequences which are still ahead. It is beacuse we have society with very low literacy rate due to low level the horizon of masses is not open. Its right time that we should declare war openly with those elements like Hamid Gul who are really the threat towards the inegrity of Pakistan. these are the people who are still dreaming to hoist the Pakisani flag on Lal Qila and conqurer Kashmir. __Due to the blunders of few elitists where we are standing nowdays. We do not have direction and vision.

Comments are closed.