Thursday, 28 November 2013
Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Challenge
The strategic environment around Pakistan is evolving and changing rapidly. Unfortunately Pakistan’s internal environment remains unchanged and, if it is evolving, then so far there are no signs that it is evolving in the right direction. So while the strategic environment warrants an adjustment of foreign policy to take advantage of the changes or at least remain in sync with them the domestic scene does not support such an effort. Pakistan does not have a foreign minister and many embassies await ambassadors. The world is moving on and it is doing so without Pakistan on board.
The elimination of the late TTP leader and the fragmentation and in-fighting it caused should have been a game changer for Pakistan and a spark for decisive action. Instead there were endless discussions on martyrdom and, surprisingly, even divided opinion on whether a friend or an enemy had been taken out. It was stated repeatedly that the drone strike had scuttled a peace dialogue — a dialogue that had not even started. The protests against US drone strikes have gained momentum and a political party has taken upon itself the task of blocking NATO logistics through Pakistan. Public opinion, already against the US, is being stoked to new heights by political leaders seemingly unaware of ground realities. The bottom line that will eventually prevail is that while Pakistan must strongly protest drone strikes on its territory it must take advantage of the consequences and keep in mind the economic compulsions that underpin its foreign policy.
The Iran–US Intermediary Nuclear Deal has altered the scenario. Israel protests because it has to for political reasons. The Arab world that supports the Sunni faction of Islam worldwide is silent so far and the reason is that they are realists and understand that they have to now realign attitudes and policy in line with the changing environment. There has been a surge in Sunni-Shia confrontation in the wake of the ongoing war on terror and the violence in the Middle East. There are fears that a resurgent Iran will support the Shia faction strongly as it did after the US invaded first Afghanistan and then Iraq giving Iran a decided advantage till the sanctions kicked in with real bite. Much will depend on how both sides manage their policies in the future. Pakistan has excellent relations with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries and Turkey. Iran is Pakistan’s neighbor with a shared land border in its restive province of Baluchistan –the scene of much external meddling. Pakistan should see a decided advantage in the improving Iran-US relationship and Iran playing its role in the region. This should shape a trend in foreign policy that leads to excellent bilateral relations. A delay in the right overture could forfeit all likely advantages. Pakistan needs Iranian political and energy support just at it needs the support of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
The US-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement has been resoundingly approved by the Loye Jirga and, President Karzai’s timeline notwithstanding, it is likely to become operational. This will mean US troops presence in all the nine bases in Afghanistan. Afghanistan will also need at least 4 billion dollars per year to maintain its security forces. India, Iran, Central Asian States, Russia and China all have their own interests and are likely to be supportive of the US-Afghan alliance and the resulting environment. Should the peace efforts with the Taliban fail and should the TTP continue its violence in Pakistan then there will be a situation where the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan needs the TTP and in return the TTP will expect support in their insurgency against the Pakistani state. This scene will give a boost to militancy and terror within Pakistan and beyond. There will inevitably be an opportunity for Russia and China to assert themselves in pursuit of their interests and the states that are not comfortable with the Iran-US thaw and US presence in Afghanistan may look to them for improved relations. Pakistan needs to figure out how it wants to respond to this evolving situation.
Pakistan faces new and complex foreign policy changes. It needs internal stability and strength to pursue its foreign policy interests. This is not the time to create internal instabilities. This is the time for internal harmony so that the government can govern.