Pragmatism instead of emotionalism

The envoys moot held in Islamabad to review Pakistan’s foreign policy, especially now that we have adopted a confrontational posture vis-à-vis our relations with the US, has delivered a cautionary message. One of the envoys reportedly said, “We want peaceful, positive and balanced relations with the US based on mutual respect and mutual interest as no relationship can be sustained for long if it is one-sided.” Reportedly, most envoys were in favour of adopting a considered, pragmatic approach rather than knee-jerk reactions. Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh warned that a complete breakdown of Pak-US relations would be nothing less than a blunder given that Pakistan’s economy is heavily dependent on foreign aid, especially from the US. Ambassador Munter has recently given some positive statements regarding bilateral ties and underlined the need for reviving the relationship. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that the final decision on foreign policy was parliament’s mandate. Ms Khar said that neither does Pakistan want to sever relations with any country nor does it want a conflict or war with any state. Prime Minister Gilani said that we want good relations with all countries and no decision will be taken without the mandate of the people. He said that there would be no compromise on the country’s dignity and sovereignty. The recommendations of the envoys moot would now be presented to parliament and the national security committee. So far it seems the government is in favour of what the All-Parties Conference (APC) decided a few months ago and looking towards the recommendations of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC).

As far as the APC is concerned, its recommendations are not directly related to our relationship with the US. Indirectly, though, these recommendations may lead to peace deals with the local Taliban, thereby withdrawing the selective military pressure in the tribal areas. This could affect the peace process in Afghanistan and put more pressure on the foreign forces. When it comes to the DCC’s decisions, so far the NATO supply routes have not been reopened, Shamsi airbase has been vacated by the Americans and a threat to retaliate against any further attacks has been delivered by an unnamed military official. The real issue is that the stakes are very high for both sides. Further misunderstandings, friction and anger are not going to help. The US’s insensitivity after last month’s NATO attack did not help. Whether the attack was accidental, a result of the fog of war, or deliberate, only an investigation would reveal. But if President Obama had called President Zardari and admitted that a mistake had been made, things may have been different. That domestic politics led President Obama to take a hardline position was a folly as it seemed the US was semi-justifying the attack. It was then all but inevitable that tempers would rise in Pakistan.

This anger provided the opening for an orchestrated campaign against the US by the military establishment. Our foreign and security policies are not in the civilian government’s hands in any case, but now the orchestrated campaign to stand behind the military has been successful, as the civilian politicians across the board have endorsed it. If the military has finally hitched the political class to its bandwagon, this leaves little room for dissent. If anything, this makes it even more imperative to examine foreign policy rationally on the touchstone of Pakistan’s interests. Our military is fundamentally imbued with India-phobia and an illusion that a pliant government in Kabul can be implanted through the Afghan Taliban proxies. In fact, such postures would only condemn the country to hurtle down a slippery slope to international isolation and possible disaster. It is in our long-term interests to review our policy of strategic depth in Afghanistan and the military’s obsession with India as a permanent enemy.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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