Pakistan's foreign policy challenges in 2017

Daily: Pakistan Today
Date: 21.06.17

Every year unfolds its own intricacies. The year 2017 seems to have ensnared Pakistan
into six main foreign policy challenges.

First, Pakistan is a victim of the illusion that by joining the 41-nation Islamic Military Alliance
(IMA) formed in the Middle East (ME) against terrorism, not only would Pakistan’s
international size increase but Pakistan would also acquire a larger role to play in the ME.
However, Pakistan is now fast realizing the fact that it was beguiled into the alliance through
its ex-army chief who was made the commander of the alliance the now-declared intentions
of which are having the potential for spilling over the sectarian conflict of the Arab world into
Pakistan. Unfortunately, Pakistan is overlooking the fact that its huge workforce in the ME
does offer a size and role of a subaltern state and not a leader state. Pakistan is coming to
grips with the challenge of its true size and role in the ME.

Second, Pakistan is a victim of another illusion that Pakistan is generous with the world for
fighting the war on terror and that the world be beholden to Pakistan for the same.
However, at the Riyadh Summit held in May this year, by not extending any gratitude to
Pakistan for its anti-terrorism efforts, US President Donald Trump signaled that the US
considered Pakistan part of the problem and not part of the solution. Pakistan is
overlooking the fact that the war on terror was primarily launched against al-Qaeda the
founder of which was found in May 2011 hiding in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Consequently, several countries think that Pakistan is not fighting any war on their behalf
but for its own sake. Related to this point, the foreign policy challenge is that Pakistan has
been left of its own accord to confront the specter of terrorism. Nevertheless, the attendant
dilemma is that, on the one hand, Pakistan is fighting the war on terror at home while, on
the other hand, Pakistan has got readily embroiled in the Middle East affairs where another
war, along with all its repercussions, awaits Pakistan.

Third, in 2017, Pakistan is still faced with the challenge sprouting from the allegation of
perpetrating and perhaps perpetuating terrorism in the region. Whereas the signing of US-
India nuclear energy agreement in October 2008 brought US and India closer to each other
on the cooperation front, the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 brought US and India
closer to each other on the anti-terrorism front. Similarly, Afghanistan’s obstinate censure
of Pakistan on every bomb blast exploded in Kabul has disparaged Pakistan. In June 2017,
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s demand through the Kabul Process to have an
international pact with Pakistan to end “cross-border terrorism” further undermines Pakistan’
s credibility as a reliable peace-loving neighbour. Nevertheless, it often seems that the
escalation of conflict on the Pak-Afghan border has some sort of consanguinity with the rise
of clash on the Line of Control part of the Pak-India border.

Fourth, in 2017, Pakistan has been facing the challenge of volatility coming from two
corners. The first is India where Narendra Modi is ruling over the country whereas the
second is the US where Donald Trump is holding the reigns of the country. If the Modi face
of India is pugnacious, the Trump visage of the US is also belligerent. Pakistan is getting
overly leaning on China and by extension on Russia at the expense of its tilt towards the US
despite the fact that Pakistan has enjoyed a long term defence relationship with the US.
Pakistan is not taking seriously the meaning of the cold shoulder the US is offering to
Pakistan. Such lack of understanding offers Pakistan a foreign policy challenge.

Fifth, in June 2017, Pakistan’s attaining the full membership status of the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization (SCO) beckons another challenge. Pakistan thinks that the
economic prosperity that would be brought along with the China Pakistan Economic
Corridor (CPEC), an extension of the SCO, will outstep or perhaps outrun terrorism. If
poverty and terrorism are assumed two distinct issues (and which actually are despite all
perceived correlations), the SCO or the CPEC offers a solution for poverty and not for
terrorism. Here, Pakistan is overlooking the fact that it has to eradicate terrorism on its own
even for the sake of the success of the CPEC: the eradication of terrorism is a pre-requisite
for making the CPEC successful to wipe out poverty. For bringing the scourge of terrorism
under control, military operations to retrieve South and North Waziristan are insufficient.
Instead, Pakistan has to revisit its Afghanistan policy as a foreign policy challenge, as
peace in Afghanistan is a precondition to yielding the dividends of peace on Pakistan.
Nevertheless, Pakistan’s joining (and persisting with) the IMA is an anti-thesis to reifying the
concept of brining economic prosperity to the country. Instead of preparing for enjoying
peace and prosperity through the CPEC, Pakistan is actually knocking at the door of
another conflict to bring it home.

Interestingly, Pakistan’s joining the IMA has laid bare an intra-state reality that the civil-
military dissonance festers. The first clue is that without seeking a formal permission coming
through the parliament, the army thought it permissible to send its former chief and about
five thousand serving army men to join the alliance. The elected government could not
have accorded him the permission to head the IMA by circumventing the parliament, if the
government had not been mired in the Panama leaks. Certainly, in the ongoing post-
Panama leaks phase, the army has found an ample leeway (vis-à-vis the civilian elected
government) to assert itself. The second clue is that on the DAWN leaks, the army (through
the ISPR) denounced publicly through twitter the implementation of the findings of the
relevant inquiry report coming from the PM house. The third clue is lately when the army
has announced an Umra performing offer for the members of Pakistan’s cricket team
winning the Cricket Champion’s trophy against India in England. Taken together, all these
three clues offer a sense of parallelism fashioned by the army in Pakistan.

The civil-military relations are no doubt Pakistan’s internal matter but these relations have
the potential for affecting the contours of Pakistan’s foreign policy. For instance, while
joining the IMA Pakistan was thinking that it would take upon itself the task of striking a
balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, after joining the IMA, Pakistan has found
itself confronted with a new challenge: how to correct the recently surfaced Saudi-Qatar
imbalance in the ME. Pakistan finds itself helpless in plummeting acerbity between Saudi
Arabia and Qatar – not to say of reducing bitterness between Saudi Arabia and Iran. To its
dismay, Pakistan has found that the ME is impermeable to the diplomatic finesse Pakistan
has been cherishing over the years: the rancor is peculiar to the ME. Above all, abruptness
and authoritarianism with which the fellow Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, are
castigating and chastening Qatar, there are lessons for Pakistan to learn about its own
actual size and role. Though joining the IMA was more an army’s initiative than of the
civilian government, both are now feeling the heat of the blunder. How to come out of this
morass honourably is the sixth foreign policy challenge.

Back to columns in 2017