Feb 21, 2011

Where’re we headed?

More than sixty years after our independence, we’re still struggling to adopt a dynamic foreign policy

By Salman Abid

Pakistan’s foreign policy has always remained very critical to our political discourse because of lots of contradictions. We seem to be stuck at one point -- our relationship with India and the United States. In Pakistan, public sentiments are always very high with regard to the US. After 9/11, people are closely watching the American and Indian actions relating to our country.

Government officials have admitted evidence of international intervention in Pakistan. Ex-Interior minister, Rehman Malik, admitted Indian intervention in Balochistan. At the international front, we have not been able to raise the issue effectively. Some sections of our society have serious reservations about the “US’ intervention” in Pakistan’s foreign policy issues -- Raymond Davis’ case is one example.

People also understand the current democratic set-up which has come into being through considerable international support and involvement. That proves that the country is still undergoing a transitional period.

US’ engagement with Pakistan is not just linked with international politics but also reflects our national policies and actions. When democratic forces take any action or decision for the larger national interests both the establishment and some political forces try to influence national agenda.

As a matter of fact, the major crisis is between the international forces, especially the US and our democratic set-up and the ‘establishment’. They all have different interests and do not understand and realise the problems being faced by the country at the national level.

There is pressure is on our government and military leadership for carrying out military operation in North Waziristan. At the moment, it seems we are trying to understand our own position in the war against terrorism. Is it that we have a major trust deficit with the US and other foreign powers?

The international media also criticises us and trying to prove that the militants have the major strength or the strategic assets in Pakistan. The country has played a very vital role and became a strong ally of the US in the war against terrorism and extremism.

The US does not seem to have appreciated our struggle against terrorism. Leading American intellectual and expert on South Asian politics, Stephen Cohen also acknowledged in a seminar “Future of Pakistan” that most of the American policies towards Pakistan were flawed, discriminatory and unrealistic and needed to be corrected such as by offering to talk to Pakistan on a nuclear deal like it did with India.

The perception in Pakistan that only religious forces criticise American policies seems to have changed, especially after the incident of Raymond Davis in Lahore. The US is still insisting that Davis has immunity and Pakistan should release him as soon as possible. Polarisation in the country is further dividing the society in the larger context.

Some educated and liberal sections of society have also held protests against Raymond Davis and that brings into focus the issue of drone attacks. Another important point relates to the Indian view of Pakistan. The Indian state and government still do not realise that Pakistan itself is facing extreme terrorism. We should understand that both the countries are facing similar crises of terrorism and religious extremism. Why we do not sit together to develop a joint strategy and mechanism to deal with elements of terrorism?

At the same time, we should know that we are also part of the problem when it comes to militancy and extremism. That is why we continue to pay a heavy price. We have at one time supported militant groups and facilitated them in creating trouble for others.

The element of extremism is isolating the country in international politics. Why do we not accept that the crisis of militancy and extremism has resulted from our own policies and actions of military command and political leadership in the past? We have failed to engage international players, including America and India in a constructive dialogue.

Before blaming it all on the US we should first admit our own faults. We should come out from the denial mode and accept our own mistakes in creating instability in the country through our actions. In this backdrop, one may ask where are we headed?

This is a major dilemma faced by us based on our internal crisis like religious and political extremism, poor governance and economy, and failure of the institutions, etc. If we remain internally weak other forces would very easily fill the space created by disharmony and economic collapse.

Ideally, political forces take strength from people’s empowerment and mobilisation on national agendas. But, unfortunately, we emphasise more on maintaining relations with international forces, especially the US.

So, our political players, common people and other groups have the right to take the US and Indian to task but only after criticising ourselves first. Without good relations with regional countries, including India, how can we bring prosperity to our people?

We all know that Pakistan has three immediate challenges: militancy, extremism, and forming good relations with other countries. Are we prepared to take the first step?

The rest of the world should see Pakistan not as a failed state but a state with weaker structure and institutions. On our part, we should build and strengthen national political institutions. This should be the time for political leadership to realise the situation and try to redefine and re-structure of foreign policy options to be discussed in the parliament.

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