Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Dilemma

Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Dilemma

Pakistan’s Top Diplomats discuss Pakistan’s challenges and propose a roadmap:

* Peace and constructive engagement is the only option.

* Avoid conflict; stick to stand and principles.

* Washington’s coercive and sometime accusatory and slanderous approach towards Pakistan and its armed forces and security agencies is counterproductive.

* Afghanistan is in a mess not because of Pakistan. It is so because of many other well-known reasons. If anything, Pakistan has direct stakes in Afghan peace/

* To secure a stable Afghanistan, sharp focus needed on its economic and social development.

* Any perceptional problems with Washings should be sorted through existing dialogue channels, not through media or public diplomacy.

China and Pakistan, both sharing border with Afghanistan represent a natural partnership from within the region that can bring about the real change in this volatile region.

Participants at the Second Diplomatic Roundtable organised by the Lahore Center for Peace Research (LCPR) included Pakistan’s Former Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri and several senior Pakistani diplomats including Amb. Shahryar Khan, Mr. Iqbal Riza a former UN Under Secretary-General, Amb. Shamshad Ahmad Khan, Amb. Azmat Hassan, Amb. Javid Husain, Amb. Shaukat Umar, Amb. Shahid Malik, Amb. Rifat Iqbal as well as Mr. Shahid Najam, Vice Chairman Burki Institute and Dr. Sophia Imran, Executive Director LCPR.

The events of 9/11 represented a critical threshold in Pakistan’s foreign policy. It was the beginning of another painful chapter in our history. In the blinking of an eye, we became a pivotal player in another US-led long war in our region. And Afghans are not the only victims of the Afghan tragedy. Pakistan has suffered more in multiple ways in terms of refugee influx, rampant terrorism and protracted conflict in its tribal areas.

This is a reality that even President Obama’s Secretary of State Hilary Clinton acknowledged in a Congressional testimony as Obama’s secretary of state. The Afghan crisis with all its ramifications still plagues Pakistan. Our problems are further aggravated by the complex regional configuration with growing Indo-US nexus that gives India a strategic ascendancy in the region and an unprecedented influence in Afghanistan with serious nuisance potential against Pakistan’s security interests.

Our friends and allies must recognize that Afghanistan is an area of fundamental importance to Pakistan. Afghanistan is in a mess not because of Pakistan. It is so because of many other well-known reasons. Pakistan on its part has always been ready to play its role in promoting genuine Afghan peace. It is in Pakistan’s vital interest to have peace and stability in an independent and sovereign Afghanistan that is free of all foreign influences. The Afghans must also reset their functional mode.

The US in recent years has been targeting Pakistan with military incursions and drone attacks in our tribal areas. It is using Pakistan as a convenient scapegoat for its own setbacks in Afghanistan. This has had an alarmingly adverse impact on Pakistan’s psyche which is already perturbed by America’s indifference to its legitimate security concerns and sensitivities. Coercive and sometime accusatory and slanderous approach towards Pakistan and its armed forces and security agencies is counterproductive.

Any perceptional problems must be sorted out through existing mutual dialogue channels, not through media or public diplomacy. There is no alternative to diplomatic engagement. Because of their respective geopolitical interests, both the US and Pakistan need each other. Both must make a genuine effort to re-fix their troubled relationship and to remove each other’s concerns. Diplomacy from both sides should be aimed not only at averting conflictual situations but also to reinforce mutualities in their relationship by infusing in it greater political, economic and strategic content.

It is indeed time to remake this relationship. The objective must be not to weaken this important equation but to strengthen it by infusing in it greater political, economic and strategic content. It must no longer remain a “transactional” relationship and must go beyond the “war on terror”.

In the context of Afghanistan, it is also important that the regional countries do not use the territory of Afghanistan for destabilizing activities in third countries. Regional rivalries can easily stoke the fires of conflict within Afghanistan as well as in the region. It is necessary to control and contain these regional rivalries. To secure a stable Afghanistan, there is a need for sharp focus on Afghanistan’s economic and social development, including trans-regional development.

China and Pakistan, both sharing border with Afghanistan represent a natural partnership from within the region that can bring about the real change in this volatile region. Both can join together in converting Pak-Afghanistan border into an economic gateway for the region, and as a CPEC linkage of peace and cooperation with Central Asian countries. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) promises vast opportunities of peace and trade partnerships not only in this region including India but also beyond to Iran, Turkey and Europe.

In the fast-changing environment, for Pakistan, there is a need to revive and reinforce its historic multiple linkages with Iran to be able to forge a new regional approach in dealing with common challenges. Both have a shared role to play in building complementarities for peace and security in the region. Speaking of peace, there can also be no two opinions on the need for durable peace between India and Pakistan – the only two nuclear-armed neighbours with a legacy of outstanding disputes and a history of conflictual standoffs.

The people in both countries have suffered for too long as a result of continuing tensions and conflicts and would welcome any new innovative approach towards peaceful solution of their problems including the Kashmir issue.

On its part, Pakistan also needs to put its own house in order. A country remains vulnerable externally as long as it is weak domestically. To be treated with respect and dignity by others, Pakistan has to be stable politically and strong economically so that it can be self-reliant and immune to external constraints and exploitation. For us at this critical juncture in our history, what is important is not what we are required to do for others’ interests; it is what we ought to be doing in our own national interest.

Pakistan’s biggest challenge now is to convert its pivotal location into an asset rather than letting it remain a liability. As a country and as a nation, at this critical juncture in our history we cannot leave ourselves to the vagaries of time or at the mercy of others. We must fix the fundamentals of our state and governance.