Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The threat of isolation, Amina Hassan

The threat of isolation,  Amina Hassan

Pakistan’s government and media have created an artificial bubble for several years that does not allow Pakistanis to realise our low international standing. Few countries have a favorable opinion of Pakistan and even in China only 30 Percent of people have a positive view of Pakistan, according to global opinion surveys conducted by the Pew Foundation. Our passport is ranked as the second worst passport for international travel as it requires a visa for more countries than even a Somali passport.
Commenting on the issue, Husain Haqqani, Former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States told DNA that we are isolated and are perceived as a terrorist incubator but we prefer to live in denial.
Our default response to international criticism is to blame India or Afghanistan for our problems and abuse those who point out our shortcomings and difficulties.
“We are an aid dependent nation that acts as if others do themselves a favor by giving us aid,” said Haqqani adding that we also fail to realise that we lack international support on the Kashmir issue.
Everyone applauded when our PM spoke of Kashmir at the UN General Assembly last year but almost no one pointed out that no other country said a word about Kashmir in the same UN General Assembly session.
Haqqani believes that it is patently absurd to believe that sending 20 special envoys will change how countries around the world look at Kashmir or Pakistan. The exercise will generate headlines at home, nothing else.
He rightly pointed out in a candid conversation with DNA that Pakistan needs to have a realist foreign policy, based on expectations commensurate to our size and economic capacity.
“We must recognise that the advantages we had of being the west’s allies during the cold war, when India was non-aligned, are over.”
Haqqani shared at that time, western nations, especially the United States, helped us advance our arguments at the UN and elsewhere in return for our assistance in anti-communist intelligence gathering or even the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan.
We now need to be realistic in how much, and in what ways, we can compete with India. We need to fend for our security but we should not make opposing India the end all and be all of our existence. We need to prioritise better, have fewer feuds with other nations, end terrorism and our association with it and build our economy and society to make ourselves attractive as friends and allies.
It is not hard to do but it requires realism and analysis that goes beyond patting ourselves on our back and adopting ideological rhetoric as a substitute for policy.
Agreeing with Haqqani, senior PPP leader and Former Pakistan ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman feared there was a strategic storm brewing in this context and there was no focal person senior enough to give it ministerial attention.
“The government has not been taking developments in America seriously. It has disregarded how Washington works, especially after its phased withdrawal from Afghanistan. There is after many decades no lobbyist for Congressional engagement in Washington and no concerted effort to explain Pakistan’s security limits or needs” – Sherry Rehman
“The government has not been taking developments in America seriously. It has disregarded how Washington works, especially after its phased withdrawal from Afghanistan. There is after many decades no lobbyist for Congressional engagement in Washington and no concerted effort to explain Pakistan’s security limits or needs,” she said. Currently, India employs four different lobbyists for its strategic aims in Washington.
Senator Rehman also thinks that blaming India for the loss of the F-16s’ payment was not enough, “but they too employ four different lobbyists and use their influential community at all points.”
Foreign Policy, Foreign Minister
Haqqani was of the opinion that Pakistan’s power structure, with the dominance of the military and its worldview, leaves little room for civilians’ significantly altering foreign policy.
In most countries, elected leaders can make fundamental changes, like Nixon reaching out to China, but in Pakistan’s case the national interest is pre-defined and civilian leaders cannot afford to make fundamental changes in defining what really the best for the country is ‘Handling’ foreign policy within that constraint limits civilian leaders’ ability and their ‘performance’ is similarly constrained. A full time foreign minister would be useful but our international problems will not go away with appointment of a foreign minister.
The PM’s real job should not be conduct of foreign policy but to make major decisions about the country’s direction. The more portfolios he keeps to himself, the less time he has for big thinking, he said.
Senator Sherry Rehman also said that right now Pakistan does not even have a foreign minister, which is an egregious deficit especially at such difficult times,” she added.
US – Pakistan relations
While shedding light on US-Pakistan relations Haqqani shared that relations with the United States changed after 9/11 and especially after May 2011 with the Abbottabad raid.
“Pakistan now lacks the goodwill within US administration and policy circles that it had during and immediately after the Cold War. Our inability and unwillingness to change our policies despite repeated American requests and demands has led to a situation that leads Americans to trust India more than they trust Pakistan,” he said.
The US always sought India as an ally. It offers a bigger market and is seen by Americans as a relatively more open society. The Indian-American diaspora is better assimilated in the United States than Pakistani-Americans. Pakistan’s policies relating to terrorism, in particular, and our inability or unwillingness to help the U.S. in Afghanistan have only ensured that America’s embrace is closer not only with India but also with Afghanistan.
Senator Rehman also feels that Washington was a tough town at all times but the tension over the F-16s was a symbol of worsening ties which will not mend themselves without serious and coordinated effort at a sustained institutional level.
However, Haqqani said that we seem to be putting all our eggs in China’s basket, not realising that we had to reach out to china in the 1960s mainly because our dependence on the U.S. did not fulfill our expectations.
“I am afraid we will lose the U.S. only to realise a few years later that China, too, has interests that do not coincide with ours,” he feared.
Senator Rehman said the public narrative about Pakistan in America after Bin Laden was found there was never great, “but we did keep ties at an even and constructive keel despite onerous security challenges.”
Senator Rehman maintained, “Today I am afraid the government has its own parochial agendas which miss the greater scheme of things. The rising graph of insecurity in Afghanistan will also be laid at Islamabad’s door which may be entirely unfair given the political disunity next door, but I am afraid no one is awake at the foreign policy wheel in Islamabad right now to even be vigilant to protect us from the blame game.”

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