Is Pakistan globally more isolated today than it was in 2018? Are our relations with countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Malaysia, Turkey, Iran, Qatar, Bahrain and others better off today than they were in 2018? Is the international community more sympathetic towards our Kashmir cause than it was in 2018? Do we have more friends in OIC today than we had in 2018? The answer to all the above questions is a big NO. Our foreign policy failures are quite evident. Look at any issue — Kashmir, relations with our best friends, OIC, United Nations, relations with our neighbours — all have deteriorated since mid-2018.
Kashmir is a classic example. For decades since 1947, India accepted Kashmir as a disputed territory. In spite of several wars and dismemberment of Pakistan, India could not change the status of Kashmir. How then could India take the unilateral step of changing the status by making Indian held Kashmir part of Indian Union? The Indian decision took Pakistan foreign office and others in the government by complete surprise.
India was building up its case to annex Kashmir and make it part of Indian Union long before the general elections in May 2019. This was part of the PM Modi’s campaign. And as promised, in early August 2019, the Indian parliament passed the amendment to repeal article 370 and 35-A. Under Imran Khan’s watch, India did what it never dared to do since 1947. Pakistan’s response — a few speeches here and there and that is it.
Among the few countries which supported Pakistan’s case were Malaysia, Turkey and Iran. Instead of appreciating their support, PM Imran Khan did the exact opposite. At the very last minute, Imran Khan decided not to attend the Malaysian summit which was co-sponsored by Malaysia, Turkey and Iran. Pakistan had officially supported and agreed to attend the summit. Imran Khan personally committed to attending the summit.
By supporting the Malaysian and Turkish initiative without taking Saudi Arabia into confidence, Pakistan was already on the wrong side of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Now by withdrawing from the summit at the last minute, Pakistan lost more friends.
Meanwhile, India rather than being on the defensive after its annexation of Indian Held Kashmir took full advantage of our poor foreign policy decision making. This was evident when India was invited for the OIC foreign ministers conference as a regular member of the Islamic community. Pakistan’s PM, Foreign Minister and all those associated in shaping our foreign policy were left in total disbelief at this embarrassing situation.
The CPEC has been the largest ever economic investment initiative in Pakistan. This was a true reflection of our foreign policy success under PM Nawaz Sharif. Pakistan gained immensely as a result — helping improve its infrastructure and power sectors. Billions of dollars were pumped in during the period 2015-2018.
Yet this foreign policy success was made controversial after the present government came in power. Ministers coming with embarrassing statements without having a clear idea of the entire project was a disservice to Pakistan. Efforts were later made to remove the Chinese concerns but did little to restore their confidence.
Our foreign policy has no direction and no clearly defined objectives. That is precisely the reason that we are losing support from the global community in spite of our many advantages including geographical importance. Pakistan has played a key role in international peace over the last several decades. It is another matter that we played our cards poorly resulting in causing damage internally while helping the rest of the world in achieving peace.
Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979 and 9/11 happenings in 2001 are classic examples. On both occasions, we became front line states helping the world in achieving its objectives. In the first instance, the Soviet Union was not only defeated and had to retreat but more importantly, it resulted in the breakup of the Soviet Union and fall of communism.
Pakistan surely was the main contributor to this but it did enough damage to our internal peace and stability. For the first time since 1947, Pakistan was caught in extremism, sectarianism leading to religious fanaticism. From a liberal tolerant society as envisaged by Quaid-e-Azam, it became an intolerant society resulting in the creation of several jihadi groups working outside the mandate of the state — at least in most cases.
If anything was left, it was completed by the post 9/11 events. Pakistani society became more radical than it ever was. Pakistan witnessed the kind of terror that saw more than 70,000 people dead including thousands of our security forces which fought pitched battles inside Pakistan.
In both cases, Pakistan was ruled by military generals who took decisions without any debate which is essential to understand the possible fallout of major decisions. Joining and supporting world peace is one thing but causing irreparable damage to its own internal peace is another matter. General Zia in 1979 and General Musharraf in 2001 were struggling to justify their illegal rule. The events of 1979 and 2001 provided the two dictators great opportunity to extend their illegal rules. Pakistan’s constitutional process and democracy suffered as a result. It is, therefore, a paradox; what would have Pakistan been like if the two major events in 1979 and 2001 had not taken place?
How would Pakistan have been today – both in terms of the society at large and the state of democracy?
Foreign policy is a means of economic development. Poor decisions can contribute towards economic derailment— exactly what has happened to Pakistan in the last 30 years. Compare that with countries such as Bangladesh which remained peaceful throughout this period. On the contrary, we have been struggling to keep our house in order. As recent as last year, FATF related conditions were imposed on Pakistan to ban jihadi organisations. We should have done it on our own but we ignored the negative implications of such organisations which not only played havoc internally but also resulted in isolating us from our friends in the international community.
Not understanding how our friends in the international community perceived us has been our biggest foreign policy disaster.
Have we learned any lessons? No, it seems. The successes of the period 2013-2018 have all been lost and there is little hope that our foreign policy will get back on track — at least not while this government remains in power.