The inexplicable foreign policy of Pakistan
By Rajesh Kumar Sinha
Pakistan has long prided itself as among the most important of Islamic countries. It is not that the country has had an enviable track record of economic, technological or scientific progress. Politically or militarily too, the country is not reckoned as among the important powers, either in Asia or the world.
The one reason that is often cited by Pakistanis for projecting their nation among the front-ranking nations is based on the idea that it is the only Islamic nuclear-powered nation. Among so many countries that follow Islam, Pakistan is the only country that formally possess nuclear weapons-making capability and that is one reason, most Pakistanis believe is a big reason to be proud of.
The country has a gullible political system that is almost the entire part has been dominated by the powerful Pakistan Army. Even during the brief periods of supposedly democratic governments, the establishment has never dared to take any decision that has not been acceded to by the military. To top it all, military coups have been frequent and army Generals have been found to be running the nation, explicitly or otherwise.
The current establishment is led-by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party of Imran Khan Niazi, a former cricketer who once had an iconic following in the country. There have been many reports and suggestions that the elections that PTI won in July, 2018 was a rigged election and that the current PM is more a ‘selected PM’ (by the Pakistan army) than an elected PM. Two and a half-years later, in the midst of growing economic, social and political crisis, a substantial part of the electorate in the country too, do not have a very positive opinion of Imran Khan, the 22nd PM of Pakistan.
Domestic politics apart, it is the foreign policy of Pakistan Imran Khan-led PTI government has followed that has been strikingly different from one that had been its foundation for decades. The Pakistan of today, is in the midst of unprecedented economic crisis and its foreign exchanges at $12 Billion are a critical low. The country on account of non-compliance with various suggestions of global financial bodies, has failed to attract international investments, either for different projects or government grants or aids.
Pakistan’s continuation on the FATF grey list since June, 2018 has not changed except that it has very painstakingly missed, joining the notorious black list in the company of nations like North Korea and Iran. And that has directly made an impact on the severe economic crisis that it is engulfed with. No new private or governmental financial investments are coming in, except of course from China.
A state is expected to pursue a foreign policy that protects and promotes its national interest. Talking of the incoherent and hyperbolic foreign policy followed by the current government in Islamabad, its failures are evident in all spheres. The Pakistan government’s foreign policy continues to stuck in a time span, Kashmir. While the Kashmir issue remains politically dividend-paying and appealing to all political parties in Pakistan, its overuse to the extent of losing its relevance globally has hit the country, politically, diplomatically and economically.
To ensure that the part of Kashmir valley that is Indian-administered remains volatile and under global spotlight, Imran Khan Niazi-led government continues to harbour, support, train and arm a number of terrorist outfits including, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Al-Badr and many others. Though terrorists continue to fight the Indian security forces in the Kashmir valley amidst the Pakistani calls for ‘right of self-determination for Kashmiris’, its own track record in its backyard within the Pakistani-controlled Kashmir as well as in Baluchistan, Gilgit-Baltistan has been highly questionable.
Pakistan’s support for terrorism, emanating from its territory and state agencies, especially ISI and its reputation as a terrorist-friendly nation has been a major factor in its continuation in the FATF list. That has adversely affected its economy substantially along with its foreign relations with most of the major powers, including the US, UK, France and most of the western Europe.
If it was not enough, the way Pakistani top government leadership stooped criticising Emanuel Macron, the French President further indicated its slide towards radicalism. From PM Niazi to its top ministers, ruling party politicians and the National Assembly led the country to the vitriolic anti-French comments and demonstrations that further strained its relations with France.
The Arab world, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE were Pakistan’s constant political and financial supporters for long. In its questionable wisdom of challenging them over financial and political bonhomie with India, it went beyond the diplomatic etiquette. Foreign minister Qureishi explicitly challenged the so-far unquestioned leadership of Saudi Arabia over Kashmir issue, further enraging it. Within days, it forced Pakistan to partly repay its loan that was supposed to be a soft loan to be paid over a long period of time, exacerbating its finances critically. The Pakistan-Arab relationship probably has been at its lowest ebb since long.
The relations with India under Imran Khan has deteriorated to almost a point of no-return. Beginning with the outrageous terrorist attack on security forces, claiming 40 lives in Pulwama in Kashmir valley and the way Imran Khan refused to condemn it and subsequent, despicable below-the-belt incessant personal attacks on Modi, the Indian PM has further shown the clumsiness of Pakistani foreign policy.
With the USA, its only relationship that has evolved over the years is one of reaching out with regular complaints against India. Pakistan’s foreign policy has failed to grow and develop its relationship, based on promoting mutual interests. Instead, its utility value for the west, including the US has remained as access point to Haqqani and other globally despised, terrorist networks in Afghanistan. No wonder, western governments see the country as pivot to peace in the region only due to its proximity to terrorists.
However, Pakistan’s foreign relations have improved under Imran Khan regime. With Erdogan’s Turkey and China’s Xi Jinping and especially with the latter, the relationship has grown so much that many analysts tend to describe it as servile for Pakistan. With Turkey, the one-point agenda that has brought Khan closer to autocratic, orthodox and unpopular Erdogan is the support on Kashmir. However, strictly from the perspective of national interest how much that will help Pakistan in becoming a stable, prosperous, politically and militarily strong nation is really comprehensible.
On China, Khan seems to believe the saying that my enemy’s enemy has to be my friend, and so Pakistan has to be the its’ iron brother. That is why, the Chinese debt diplomacy is at crude display through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project. The promised US $62Billion investment remains a far cry but more than investments, it is the gradual control of strategic, financial assets in Pakistan that should have caused concern.
From Gwadar Port near Karachi to use of Skardu airbase, hydroelectric projects, railways and highways, even supply of buses for Lahore Metro Bus project to locomotives and coaches for Lahore Metro, all equipment, supplies and contracts have to be Chinese. The level of servility that has become normal for current Pakistani government can be seen in that Chinese workers, executive and mangers working in Pakistan are being paid much higher salaries than Pakistani people at the same level. Recently, there had been huge protests by Pakistani employees at the Lahore Metro for this reason.
The tragedy of current foreign policy of Pakistan is that it has become India-centric. Unlike previous governments who used Kashmir issue to keep their electorate happy while trying to maintain and balance the economic, cultural and strategic relations with Arab world, Iran, Europe, China and the US simultaneously, here the government has thrown caution to winds. Taking a leaf out of China, it is imitating a wolf diplomacy with India, Arab world and Europe.
By putting all its fortune in the brotherly relationship with China that previously has compelled it to cede a part of Kashmir, called Aksai Chin and furthering its expansionist designs on other parts of Pakistan, taking over Gwadar Port, Karachi Stock Exchange and other strategic and commercial assets on lease/stake and taking huge loans on unsustainable commercial terms, it’s quite possible that the country will be in a debt trap soon. And going by examples of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Laos, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Angola and others, Pakistan too being forced to cede its territories to China could be a real possibility. And that will be a real tragedy for the whole of Pakistan that started out in 1947 with great dreams and aspirations to carve out a niche position in the world.
Rajesh Kumar Sinha, MA, MLISc, MPhil, PG Diploma in Journalism is a serving Librarian with the Indian Railways, Ministry of Railways. He has worked in print and web media for seven years and writes for Foreign Policy News (US), South Asia Journal (US), Eurasian Times, OPEN Journal and Rail Journal (India).