What shapes Pakistan's foreign policy?

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 22.06.16

In the wake of recent developments on the foreign policy front, there has surfaced loads of
criticism on the absence of a full-time foreign minister of Pakistan, and on residing the
powers of foreign minister in the incumbent Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif. Perceivably,
it may not be that critics are the clever clogs around, whereas the PM is unaware of the
importance of the portfolio of foreign affairs. However, the situation is more solemn than it
appears to be.

The date was May 25 and the year was 1997 when Pakistan’s then foreign minister, Gohar
Ayub Khan — who happened to be a retired army officer — announced the recognition of
the Taliban government in Afghanistan. This was done reportedly on the directions coming
from the army circles conveyed through a colonel and facilitated by the late General
Hameed Gul. The move took place without consulting and getting approval of the then PM
Sharif — during his second stint in power from February 17, 1997 to October 12, 1999 —
who remained flabbergasted and annoyed at the announcement. The incident is mentioned
in detail in the book
How we Missed the Story: Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and the
Hijacking of Afghanistan
, (first published in 2008) written by Roy Gutman. In this way,
Pakistan became the first country, followed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,
to recognise the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Instances such as this must be the
reasons why this time — during his third stint in power since June 05, 2013 — PM Sharif is
keeping the portfolio of foreign affairs in his own hand, and why the army feels frustrated
and challenged in this regard.

It is commonly said that input from the army is important, especially in the matters of foreign
affairs and defence, two areas where the civilian government and the army coalesce their
policies. However, in this case involving Ayub, it was observed that instead of giving any
input, the army imposed its decision on the elected civilian government through its man in
the political ranks. Retrospectively, if Pakistan had not recognised the Taliban government
in 1997, Pakistan would not have been the victim of the US threat of annihilation in 2001.
The event of 9/11 brought humiliation for Pakistanis across the world, and the green
passport lost its respect. Pakistanis are now considered either terrorists or supportive of
terrorists. In the region, Pakistan has lost parity vis-à-vis India, and Pakistan is now
bracketed with Afghanistan. One wrong decision taken by the army by bypassing the
civilian government jeopardised the future
of Pakistanis.

Even afterwards, Ayub was found resorting to issuing hostile statements against India,
especially after Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in May 1998. Eventually, on August 7,
1998, Ayub was assigned the job of heading the ministry of water and power, while the then
finance minister, Sartaj Aziz was made the foreign minister and was assigned with the task
of lowering the intensity of antagonism with India. Despite PM’s infuriation with Ayub,
handing over another ministry to him showed how the then government was hell-bent upon
pleasing the man representing the army in politics. Just after a few months, another crisis
appeared when, in October 1998, the then chief of army staff (COAS), General Jehangir
Karamat called for the existence of a National Security Council to provide the army a say in
national political and diplomatic decision making. This demand was bereft of any input. At
that time PM Sharif also held the defence portfolio. Instead of discussing the issue with him,
the then COAS aired the demand publicly, the act that invited public sentiment into it.
Resultantly, the COAS had to resign from his post. However, the civil-military relations got
so strained that, despite having the defence portfolio, PM Sharif is said to be unaware of
the decision to initiate the Kargil war, until there was an international outcry. It is now known
that the then COAS General Pervez Musharraf sought no formal permission from PM Sharif
to launch the Kargil war of 1999. In brief, one of the main consequences of the war was the
strengthening of the US-India strategic partnership at the expense of Pakistan.

In Aziz, like the previous government of Sharif, this government also finds a man who can
be assigned with the task of fostering friendly relations with India. This point explicates the
significance of Aziz in foreign affairs, and the importance of Pak-India relations in the eyes
of the government. This point leads to the next situation. During his four-day state visit to
the US in 2015, at the press conference immediately after his meeting with Barack Obama
on October 22, PM Sharif expressed his intent to develop Pakistan’s amicable ties with
India. He said that he did not know which country — Pakistan or India — had first violated
the sanctity of the Line of Control by resorting to firing in May 2014 when he visited Delhi
for attending the swearing-in ceremony of the PM of India, Narendra Modi. In this way, PM
Sharif did not submit to the averment or contention coming from the army that India opened
the fire first, and that Pakistan was necessarily a victim of Indian aggression.

Moreover, this statement clearly indicates the point where civil-military relations stand
today. Nevertheless, the way Pakistan government has handled the post-Pathankot phase
of allegations and investigations, the government has become able to assert its decisions
on the eastern border of Pakistan, whereas the western border is still burning under the
decisions imposed by the army, both in the past and the present.

Though the entry of China in the national scene has invigorated the army to outdo the
civilian government, both the civilian government and the army are jostling for having a final
say in matters related to foreign affairs and defence. The past indicates that by dictating
the civilian government its decisions, the army has engendered more problems than
solutions.

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