This week, Daily Times looks to emphasise India's expanding relationship with the US just when Pak-US ties are worsening. Pakistan is also increasingly isolated internationally, with Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Iran all not on the best of terms with Islamabad.
To make sense of the situation, Daily Times talked to Wajid Shamsul Hasan Former High Commissioner to United Kingdom. He is an expert on international relations, politics and militancy and we asked him for ‘quantifiable steps’ that first led to Pakistan's isolation and what will be needed to end it.
Q. For instance, quantifiable analysis of the situation; what led to this level of unprecedented isolation, how India is taking advantage of it, and what steps must Pakistan now take?
The issue for discussion is India’s expanding relationship with the United States in the light of the fact that Pakistan-US ties are worsening. India’s expanding ties and Pakistan’s worsening of relations with Washington seems to have been correlated to each other. This is lack of understanding of factors that play a role in the formation of a country’s foreign relations with others. One must not forget that every country keeps its national and strategic interests as permanent and non-negotiable factors in the conduct of its foreign relations.
Pragmatism is the key word that leads the way. Emotional commitment and high sounding clichés are good for the ears but not in the conduct of foreign policy. Notion of permanent friends does not exist. Interests of a nation are permanent and non-negotiable.
Regretfully Pakistan since the exit of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 has lost its capacity of conducting its foreign relations without differentiating between national interests and pragmatic diplomatic relations
Instead of responding positively to friendly overtures of the Soviet Union soon after our inception, our Foreign Office—run by British oriented bureaucrats and a foreign master who too was wary of rising communism, Pakistan rushed to became most trusted ally of the United States in the Cold War era of fifties and sixties.
It literally bartered its independence for total dependence on the United States. While American approach was pragmatic, ours became totally subjective to their interests. And what was the key factor that made us overly dependent on the Americans was the winning over of our then Army chief by the United States. As a result our military that hooked itself totally on the supply of American arms without realizing long term fall out implications that were to gradually erode Pakistan’s independence.
The mutual defence agreement with United States of 1954 assured arms supplies and all other assistance in case Pakistan was under threat of the rising tide of communism under the erstwhile Soviet Union. Obviously our then rulers (Field Marshal Ayub Khan as Army Chief) did not understand its composite implications that the American weaponry could only be used when Pakistan was under threat of the former Soviet Union while Pakistan needed arms for its defence against India that had refused till then to reconcile with the idea of an independent Pakistan.
This should be read in the context of Pakistan’s India-centric foreign policy from the inception. Although Americans had been clear where their arms were meant to be used, Pakistan, however, basked under the false confidence of its acquisitions. Islamabad deceived itself in believing that those arms could be used as well against India as need be and where ever else required.
Taste of pudding is in eating it. Ayub’s mis-adventure into Indian-occupied Kashmir in 1965 sending his army commandos to ignite a local uprising that never was, ending up in a full-fledged conventional war with India and the instant American embargo on supply of arms and spares to Pakistan, made the taste of pudding not only sour but an eye opener too.
Earlier to it too Pakistan’s becoming apron string of the United States was reflected in President Ayub’s response to the Sino-Indian war of 1962. Chinese with whom we had developed good neighbourly relations on their initiative, tried to do us favour vis-à-vis Kashmir issue with India by telling us to go in and take over the Indian occupied territory while India was on a back foot defending itself against Chinese onslaught. Instead of grabbing the life time opportunity Ayub at the instance of American President John F. Kennedy offered “joint defence against the enemy in the north.”
Ayub realised much too late that Americans just used Pakistan as one of the bulwarks to stem the tide of communism and Soviet expansionism. This is the theme in a sort of protest in his biography “Friends, not Masters”. However, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto—as the youngest minister in Ayub’s cabinet having held key portfolios ending as his Foreign Minister—too laid bare how subservient Pakistan had become to the Americans—in his book “Myth of Independence”. During that decade Pakistan had come to such a pass that American Aid mission in Pakistan would even interfere in the posting of government officials starting from section officers.
Academics in Pakistan had looked forward to the United States as champion of liberalism, freedoms, justice and tolerance. It was music for their ears to recall American commitment in support of democracy as its Presidents such as Woodrow Wilson pledged his country’s role for making world safe for democracy after World War One. So did President Roosevelt. His commitment that “principles must not be sacrificed at the altar of expediency” was heartening too for those seeking democracy as a way of life and state management. It was interpreted that the United States would not support dictatorship ever over democracy.
It has been shocking ever since for those who believed in those pledges as sacrosanct to find successive American Administrations betraying them. Ayub who failed to establish his democratic legitimacy at home, got it from the Americans who fondly called him Asian De Gaulle. So did General Yahya in 1971 despite massacre of his own country people, followed by General Ziaul Haq in 1977 and then General Pervez Musharraf in 1999 –both having jackbooted democracy. All the four generals had no popular legitimacy at home they got themselves anointed by the United States.
Pakistan has been a major recipient of American arms and assistance since fifties—main beneficiary being the defence sector. By now we should have become independent. Regretfully we have not. No doubt we are at the receiving end of terrorism now—different forms of it -- starting from General Zia’s coup and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when Pakistan in collaboration with CIA –American arms and funding—waged an American Jihad, followed by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999 when he took the American diktat to go after those who Americans thought were involved in 9-11.
One would have to regretfully agree with the observation that Pakistan on various occasions for different reasons rendered its army as a proxy war agent. And when GPM introduced non-state actors in the pursuit of his foreign policy agenda- Kashmir in particular, he got pilloried by Washington and Pakistan continues to pay for it to this day.
The overall nature of our relations with Washington to this date was sized up succinctly--perhaps in desperation—when PM’s Foreign Office Advisor Sartaj Aziz said that ‘whenever Americans need us they come to us and when they have no use of us, they don’t.’
Fundamental for of any foreign policy is to secure national and geo-strategic interests of a country. It requires having peaceful, cordial and pragmatic relations with its neighbours. Unfortunately, in the conduct of whatever is called as Pakistan’s foreign policy—none of the basics have been achieved. We have hostile relations with India in the East and not too friendly relations in the West with either Afghanistan or Iran. All of them being our immediate neighbours and with relations as low as we have—there could not be a better word to describe our policy as of preferred isolation.
One can understand the reason for hostility between Bangladesh and Pakistan. It is person specific and soaked in blood of 1971. We did have good relations when Khalida Zia was prime minister. However, Prime Minister Hasina Wajid has reasons to believe that ISI continues to play a negative role in BD’s domestic politics hence her hostility. This impression of hers is much similar to the non-Pashtoon Afghan apprehensions that Pakistan would continue to use Taliban (Haqqani network) until the day it has a client government of its favourites in place to sustain its interests in Afghanistan as its strategic depth.
No doubt we have relations that we emotionally describe as “higher than Himalayas and deeper than seven seas”--with China where such is not the case in reciprocity as Chinese believe in pragmatic conduct of foreign policy subservient to their national interests.
In short, greatest defect that is reflected in the conduct of our foreign policy is our failure to see things as they really are and not what we want them to look through our coloured glasses. This confused state of mind and understanding issues has rendered our foreign policy as neither here no there—whatever it is, it is more reactive in nature when it is required to be proactive to serve and protect national interests.
Q. We're also looking to answer a pressing question: has Pakistan's government given foreign policy the attention it deserves, especially since the isolation began deepening? There's still no foreign minister and there are charges that the government deliberately ceded policy making space in foreign relations to the military.
Ever since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took over as elected Prime Minister in 2013, his government has become conspicuous by not having a full time or even part time foreign minister. Obviously it means that since Prime Minister himself wants to conduct foreign policy hence no foreign minister. He is being helped in running the Foreign Office by his Advisor Sartaj Aziz, who was his Foreign Minister previously and ex-Foreign Office bureaucrat Tariq Fatmi. In normal circumstances such an arrangement should have been enough (irrespective of the fact that both the octogenarian bureaucrats find it difficult to see eye to eye).
However, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is constantly facing criticism for not having a full-fledged Foreign Minister and media thinks that either there is an ulterior motive or he does not trust anyone in the party to conduct foreign policy the way he would like to.
I am not privy to what has been in the mind of the Prime Minister on the issue of Foreign Minister. He was kind to retain me as Pakistan’s High Commissioner in UK for nearly eleven months. My experience as High Commissioner having served the country under four prime ministers for 9 years as its key diplomat to Court of St. James and having seen the working of the Foreign Office very closely, my view is totally different and I see lot of weight and justification for not having full time Foreign Minister.
Although it is a joke but its relevance needs repetition here. During those days when Ayub Khan was in power, Afghanistan’s Railway Minister visited Pakistan. He was received by our Railway Minister who was heading an organization—one of the largest in the world and efficient too. Obviously he could not hold onto his spirit of inquiry and when formalities over—both speaking Pushto—our Railway Minister asked “Yarn, how could you be Railway Minister when you don’t have any railway.” Quick witted counterpart responded to him in the same language “as you have minister for law and parliamentary affairs where there is none in Pakistan”.
This digression is in much similar vein. Why should the Prime Minister have Foreign Minister when foreign policy is made elsewhere than the Foreign Office and he has no control over the conduct of foreign relations with key countries namely United States, India, China, Afghanistan, Iran and Russia. He has apparently no final say in matters relating to India on Kashmir/trade and Afghanistan. It is indeed bold of him to pragmatically acknowledge this diarchy without making a fuss about it. No doubt he visits United States, China, Iran and Afghanistan, conducts himself with great aplomb, cosmetically he almost looks real as the man in command of the foreign policy.
General ® Tariq Khan, former Corps Commander Northern Areas in an interview to a private TV channel recently made a pertinent point when he said that when there is vacuum it cannot remain unfilled, when a civilian government abdicates its responsibilities, army assumes them in the larger national interest. I feel that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif realized it from the experience of the previous elected government how difficult it is to rule when hot air is constantly blowing down the neck in the form of Mumbai, OBL, Memogate, Kerry Lugar Bill and Raymond David’s case that saw the end of Husain Haqqani as Pakistan’s ambassador to United States besides various other hindrances.
One would have thought about it as stretching the matter much too beyond imagination—much as we journalists do—a query that I received from a resourceful quarter that was very keen officially too, to broker resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan- “Delhi wants to know which Sharif they should talk to?”.
Army Chief General Raheel Sharif who has made his lasting impression both within and outside Pakistan as the man who means business in the best national interest—by his frequent visits to key capitals and meetings with foreign dignitaries visiting Pakistan holding meaningful talks—has indeed given an altogether new dimension to Pakistan’s foreign policy
Whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wants to prove himself too clever by half by considering domain of foreign policy as an area where even angels will fear to tread in most challenging currents and crosscurrents, he would have nothing to do with it when time for accountability of failures in foreign policy would come.
Q. India’s expanding role—is it because of worsening of American relations with Pakistan or anything else?
India has been lucky that it had stability and continuity in political leadership with no interference from its armed force. As such it evolved its foreign policy on sound foundations of pragmatism and no compromise on national issues unlike Pakistan where individual interests of military dictators had greater premium than national.
Like Pakistan’s founder Quaid-e-Azam Mohmmad Ali Jinnah and his Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan believed in neutrality, peace within and peace without as the cardinal principle of state’s foreign and domestic policies, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru too had similar agenda but it had socialistic over tunes with greater potential of closer affinity with the then Soviet Union and later People’s Republic of China especially when Pakistan’s Prime Minister chose to go to Washington rather than Moscow.
While Nehru took to neutrality and joined non-aligned movement, Pakistan showed preference to be part of American Secretary of States John Foster Dulles’ Pactomania to oppose Soviet Iron Curtain. In India democracy gained from strength to strength with each passing year, Pakistan after the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan, sunk deeper into military-civil bureaucratic quagmire—a fact that keeps lingering on to this day.
We were members of American Baghdad Pact later CENTO and SEATO. In 1965 Americans embargoed supply of arms of spares that crippled our defence as we were overly dependent on American hardware. Though India too was embargoed but it was least affected as its armed forces had diverse sources of supply and were not totally dependent on United States. United Nations ordered ceasefire was a sort of saving grace when we were on the verge of collapse having exhausted all our gun powder. Soviet Union brokered a deal in Tashkent and as the critics say that amounted to losing Pakistan’s advantages gained in the battle field on conference table.
In 1971 the situation was different. Our sovereignty was infringed by India when it supported the scenarists in East Pakistan. Although situation in that part of Pakistan was fluid for some time, India could only invade East Pakistan when it signed Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty under which it received military aid and huge Russian helicopters to transports its troops to areas encircling East Pakistan.
While Russians went whole hog in their support to India, Pakistan tied to the apron string of the United States through various pacts and mutual defence treaty did not receive any assistance but found crippled by American arms embargo and promise of American aircraft carrier having set afloat to help us that remained marooned in the Malaccan Bay much after surrender of the largest Muslim army in the history.
New foreign policy dynamics emerged after the breakup of the Soviet Union. India realized much too soon that the United States was the only uni-polar power yet it would need sooner than later a decisive Indian role in South Asia to counter rapidly growing economic might of China and its single mindedness as the major player on its own on the global chess board of rival strategic interests.
General Zia’s decision to sell out Pakistan for American certificate of legitimacy to deny his own people democratic rights and the fallout of Pakistan’s involvement in American jihad subsequently emerging in the shape of Taliban—rendered Pakistan into a no win situation later compounded by General Musharraf’s policy of running with the American hare and hunting with the Taliban hound
Having burnt our candle at both ends, India got recognition by successive American administrations as the regional power in South Asia. Now Americans are building it up to counter China as the emerging super power that would eventually one day pose a threat to Pax America. Indeed, time and tide wait for no one. While we have frittered away our strategic advantage by playing our cards badly, India has done well to the extent without having any direct business in it, it has become a player in Afghanistan supported by Washington and London.
Q. Pakistan's alliance with its most important partner, the US, especially since it impacts all other alliances, is Pak-US equation permanently altered after the war on terror and is India America's principal US ally in the region?
No doubt Americans are conceding more and more space to India in view of China’s emergence as a greater physical threat in the region as well in the global economic market. Americans have legitimate fear that the day is not far when Chinese Yuan will challenge American dollar. While India has moved step by step to become US ally in the region, Pakistan regretfully has played into its hands by sticking to some of its unattainable objectives.
Pakistan should wake up and redo its foreign policy into a proactive mode. It cannot cut off its deep tentacles with the United States unless its returns Washington its pound of flesh by letting go Afghanistan as its pipe dream of strategic depth. When American repeatedly ask us to do more, they just want that we should stop playing both the sides and give up running with the hare and hunting with the hound.
A neutral Afghanistan with friendly relations with Pakistan on the basis of equality, sharing common heritage as well having played a role in educating three generations of Afghan children in Pakistani camps, intermarriages, common language, economic opportunities, transit trade etc- in the longer run would make the two countries more dependent on each than the strategic depth the two countries need to protect their interests.
Those in the Foreign Office and in Aab Para—must realise that British in the 19th century, Soviet Union in the 20th Century and Americans in this century of terror have not succeeded in subduing the Afghans. We must learn lesson from them and be on our own by devoting whole heartedly our energies and resources to revive Quaid’s dream of converting Pakistan into an egalitarian state as opposed to garrison
Be it United States, China, Soviet Union, India or Central Asian states—Pakistan is sitting at the mouth of the Gulf and as long as it is there, not occupied or balkanised --its strategic position cannot be altered. Can Foreign Office be on its own, making country’s foreign policy—yes why not! Restore it the glory it enjoyed under the leadership of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto—it would change for the good of the country.