Pakistan's major foreign policy challenge

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 15.06.16

In 2016, the major foreign policy challenge Pakistan is beset with is reduction in its
conceptual size, both regionally and internationally. The challenge is emanating from
certain grievances that can be divided into three parts. The first part is against India, the
second part against the US and the third part against the world.

Against India, Pakistan’s first grievance is that India is overplaying the terrorism card, as
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did on June 8 while addressing the US Congress, and
by doing so India has superimposed the issue of Mumbai attacks that took place in 2008 —
blamed on non-state actors of Pakistan — on the issue of Kashmir lingering on since 1947.
Second, India has made a deliberate attempt to counterbalance the port of Gwadar
strategically by helping Iran financially develop its port of Chabahar, also located in the Gulf
of Oman. Third, India has penetrated Afghanistan’s economy at the expense of Pakistan by
investing in Afghanistan’s reconstruction. Fourth, on May 15, India has tipped the regional
balance of ballistic-missile power in its favour by successfully test-firing its anti-ballistic
missile in the Indian Ocean. Collectively, India has made efforts to dwarf Pakistan
regionally, and it has been encircling Pakistan from the southwest.

Against the US, Pakistan’s first grievance is that the US does not respect Pakistan’s
sovereignty, and misses no chance to violate it, especially by resorting to drone strikes.
Second, the US has not yet appreciated the sacrifices given by Pakistan’s soldiers, officers
and civilians in making the military operation Zarb-e-Azb against the Taliban as part of war
on terror successful. Third, by killing the head of the Afghan Taliban Mullah Akhtar Mansur
in Balochistan on May 21, the US has sabotaged Pakistan’s efforts to promote peace talks
between the Afghan Taliban — many of whom have taken refuge in Pakistan — and the
Kabul government, sponsored by the world. Fourth, the US deliberately avoids drone
strikes on the head of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Mullah Fazalullah who has sought
refuge in Afghanistan, and who controls the hordes of terrorists wreaking havoc on
Pakistan. Fifth, the US has disturbed the balance of power in South Asia by offering
defence cooperation facility to India. Sixth, the US has supported India in the nuclear
sphere and not Pakistan. Collectively, the US has enhanced the vulnerability of Pakistan.

Against the world, Pakistan’s first grievance is that the world values Pakistan’s relevance in
the region just in the context of Afghanistan. Second, the world has not yet sympathised
with Pakistan on the discovery of Kulbhushan Yadav, a serving Indian naval officer, caught
in March in Balochistan on spying charges. Collectively, the world has left Pakistan on its
own.

The package of these salient grievances poses a major foreign policy challenge to
Pakistan. The thread common in these grievances is that these are related more to the
military half than the diplomatic or civilian half of Pakistan. The military half seems to have
overwhelmed the diplomatic half as far as Pakistan’s foreign policy and the ensuing
challenges are concerned. To put it straight, either the foreign office is irrelevant or it is
dysfunctional. It is apparent that Pakistan seems to have taken to heart the grievances
reflecting reduction in its perceived size regionally and internationally. The worst side of the
argument is that, in response to these grievances, Pakistan is in the process of imposing
isolation on itself, instead of reaching out to India, the US and the world. These grievances
seem to have exhausted the nerves of Pakistan, which has now taken refuge in the lap of
China.

In response to the drone strike of May 21, on June 9, China had to ask the “international
community to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The statement
exuding solemn intent issued by China is replete with six serious implications. First,
Pakistan is not an independent country that has to bank on external help to safeguard its
sovereignty and territorial integrity. Second, after more than 60 years of its formation,
Pakistan has not reached the stage of maturity from where it can make other countries —
whether they be India or the US — listen to it. Third, Pakistan’s relations with the US are
now onward less bilateral and more multilateral subject to China’s approval. Fourth, in case
of the next drone strike or any interference from across the Afghanistan border — or any
other border — interpreted as the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity
would be tantamount to provoking China directly into the consequent attrition or
confrontation. Fifth, Pakistan has brought China to counter the US and its international
allies in the region. Sixth, Pakistan is no more tolerant to the war on terror spearheaded by
the US and backed by the world at large. This is a very serious turn of events.

In principle, Pakistan should not have asked China to issue such a statement, or China
should not have jumped into the foray, as this was a hide-and-seek game going on for the
past 12 years — exposing often the complicity of Pakistanis despite all hue and cry — and
was taking the last breath. Afghanistan is a complex war theatre, and the Pak-Afghan
border is quite intriguing to understand and equally difficult to predict. Whereas the
statement foists permanence, the ground situation is in a state of flux. On June 11, a 14-
minute audiotape of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri has surfaced online pledging
allegiance to the new leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Haibat ullah. It means that al-
Zawahri is alive and can be found sooner or later. On June 12, Pakistan and Afghanistan
exchanged fire at Torkham border. Hence, today, Pakistan’s major foreign policy challenge
is how to avoid confrontation with the US and its allies, even if India is excluded from the list
of US allies. The civilian half of Pakistan must interfere in this development and make
arrangements to retract the statement.

Back to columns in 2016