The world is in a state of flux. Two giants, USA and China, are facing-off for preeminence in the world. The US is still the mightiest military power in the world but, the current Sino-Russian alliance make the two, jointly, a formidable military power that even the US cannot afford to take lightly. Furthermore, Chinese economic growth is soon likely to take it distinctly ahead of any competitor.
Consequently, few countries, like Russia, can currently afford to pick a side. All others are forced to straddle the fence, since none can afford to alienate either global competitor. The resultant situation resembles the Cold War era. Since both global competitor cannot afford a war with the other, proxy wars have reemerged.
These are now being fought across all land and sea boundaries, in South Asia, Middle East, Africa, and fringes of Europe. Since the nature of wars has changed, not all are being fought militarily. Even those fought militarily are either Hybrid Wars or employ non-state actors. Non-military wars are being fought economically, through trade, media, and even the medium of electronic/space.
In this environment, the global geostrategic and geo-economic significance of Pakistan has reemerged. There is no doubt that, for the first time, through CPEC, our location might bring us its fruits. However, our geographic vulnerabilities of elongated flanks east and west and little depth, north-south, we are vulnerable to inimical forces on our flanks.
Our own variation of democracy seems to have been established. Two consecutive, democratically elected governments have completed their tenure and, for the third time, peacefully handed over to a different political party. Furthermore, in recent times, Pakistan’s military achievements to break the back of terrorism have been quite spectacular. And yet, there is considerable work to be done, in this regard.
There are still fissiparous forces at work within us which are being used by inimical forces to create a hybrid war. But, not only is our economic situation precariously poised but our pillars of state and even most organs of state are neither harmonious nor efficient. Comprehensive overhaul and reforms of almost every state organ appears essential.
It is reassuring to note that the government is aware of this fact and has instituted a committee under an Adviser on Institutional Reforms, Dr. Ishrat Hussain.
In view of the foregoing, no really independent policy, least of all one on foreign affairs could succeed without positive and comprehensive steps to set our own house in order. No policy can be aggressively and confidently pursued by a nation which is not united and strong within itself.
Suggestions/Recommendations of the RT
Some Cardinal Principles
Every national policy of every nation must seek to guard its own national interests. This, otherwise obvious aspect needs to be stated again unequivocally because, since we joined the US GWOT, Global War on Terror, we have frequently acted as if US interests were, in fact, our interests. These occasions have cost us dearly. And, despite Pakistan being the country that has suffered the most in these eighteen years, we are considered to be responsible for US’ own defeat in Afghanistan.
Circumstances might still, occasionally, force compromises upon us but, even if and whenever they do, we must seek never to compromise our national interests.
With a hostile India threateningly poised on our eastern flank, we can ill afford our western flank also to be threatened. If, therefore, we have to go the extra mile to befriend our western neighbors, we should do so willingly.
Despite the Sino-Russian challenge to US’ global preeminence, US is still militarily the mightiest global power. As the largest consumer market of the world, as well as the largest economy; economically, too it cannot be ignored. Furthermore, US influence over global donors and institutions is formidable. Judging by its current policies, a US recovery to the preeminent position it held till the last decade is unlikely. Whether China succeeds in replacing the US’ preeminence or not, no nation can afford to alienate US for some considerable time to come. Its military and economic power can still be devastating.
The recent global realignments have also brought US closer to India in its China containment and Asia-Pacific policies. In this context, the general consensus is that, in the US’ view, its relations with India are now strategic while, those with Pakistan are, transactional and/or Afghanistan-centric.
If that be so, why shouldn’t our relations with US also be transactional and based on the current issue? While recommendations on our policy with Afghanistan will follow, but the relevant point here is that our relations with Afghanistan need not be governed by what US wants to happen there but, on what Afghans want, and is in their best interests.
The US is unique in that the Congress has a considerable say in foreign policy. And its foreign policy is also affected by major think-tanks, academics, media, and last but not the least, lobbyists. Most countries that seek to influence US foreign policy have built their presence in all these spheres over the years. The most powerful influencer of US foreign policy is Israel but India is not far behind. So much so, that there is now considerable Indian-origin representation even among US policy shapers.
But, Pakistan is virtually absent in this sphere and, where there is Pakistani representation, it is virtually ineffective. Pakistani presence and outreach must increase in all these circles. It will take time but, to get there, it must start earliest possible.
Finally, our diplomatic representatives in Washington must be of the highest order and consist of skilled diplomats. Diplomacy is an art honed by practice. Dispatching novices who are cohorts of the PM can be disastrous, unless the individual is unusually capable.
Post partition our relations with Afghanistan were never very cordial. Kabul rejected the Durand Line and supported the “Greater Pushtoonistan” movement among Pakistani Pushtoon who sought to unite with Afghanistan. Moreover, the Pushtoon residents astride the Durand line crossed to and fro at will, intermarried and generally were not even conscious that they were residing in different countries.
Ironically, it was the Soviet invasion that resulted in bringing the people of the two countries closer. Not only did Pakistani Pushtoon tribals fight alongside their Afghan kin and brethren, Pakistan fronted for their aid with Saudi funding and US weapons. And Afghan immigrants were welcomed in Pakistan. Although this Pakistani contribution resulted in the influx of drugs, deadly weapons, and increase in Sectarian violence due to the Wahhabism that accompanied Saudi funding but, Pakistan’s housing of millions of Afghan refugees for almost four decades brought us great goodwill among Afghan Pushtoon—almost destroyed by our recent Afghan Refugee Rehabilitation policy.
President Ashraf Ghani started well but circumstances and mistakes by Kabul and Islamabad resulted in deteriorating a rocky relationship. US participation in building this animosity in Kabul cannot be ignored. However, Afghanistan is landlocked and, therefore, dependent on either Iran or Pakistan for access to the seas. Of the two available options, both US, which is dependent for its GLOCs on us, And Afghanistan, for numerous reasons, prefer Pakistan. Since Afghanistan is also the transit country for our access to Central Asia, there is a certain mutual interdependence.
The following are suggested:
- Foremost, Pakistan must treat Afghanistan as an equally independent sovereign nation and not as a lesser ally. Our slogan seeking “strategic depth” from Afghanistan has never sat well in Kabul and is still quoted frequently, as an example of our arrogance.
- Our Afghanistan policy must seek to be people-friendly and humane. Afghans have long been dependent on education, medical treatment etc. on us. However, our recent more stringent rules on refugees have forced many to look to India; which is willingly cooperative. Even at some risks to security we should ease their access and encourage their dependence. In this context we could construct some hospitals and quality schools/universities close to the border and give Afghans willing access to them.
- We should offer Kabul commercial transit facility without any tax on commerce and encourage them to join CPEC. The north-south commercial transit between India and Afghanistan is a subject that merits closer scrutiny. However, east-west commerce should be encouraged. It is in the interests of both. And, the more we encourage their dependence, the better off we both will be.
- There is still considerable mistrust of Islamabad in Kabul. But between the Pushtoon tribes that border Afghanistan and Afghan Pushtoon there is still considerable understanding. If we begin to view our FATA initiatives and our Afghan policies as mutually supportive, Tribal Pushtoon could be harnessed in our aid to support improving relations.
- Our leverage with Taliban might not be as much as it used to be but, whatever there is should be used to further a peace process which involves US, Kabul, Taliban and, is simultaneously accommodative of including [or holding a separate process with] China, Russia, and Iran.
Iran and the Middle East
Iran was the sole neighbor friendly to Pakistan when this country was born. In both our wars with India, in 1965 and 1971, Iran stood firmly as our supporter, and in fact, voluntarily provided us the strategic depth that, in later years, we mistakenly sought from Afghanistan. Not only did we fail to condemn Iraq for invading Iran in 1979, for fear of impacting our relations with US and the Saudis, we have still failed, for the same reason, to complete the IP, Iran-Pakistan, gas pipeline project, though we are fully aware that Tehran would be grateful for the gesture.
If the other one third of our western flank has to be friendly, now is the time to do more for Iran. The IP would be a good beginning. In this context, by the inclusion of Iranian representation in the meeting of four intelligence chiefs in July this year, the groundwork has been done. Now Pakistan must make every possible effort to recover the Iranis abducted recently.
Iran is also a natural geographic partner in CPEC. Massive Chinese and Russian investment in Iran testifies to this fact. And China had established a rail link with Iran a couple of years ago. Moreover, China signed the largest oil deal in oil history, for 470 Billion US Dollars, with Russia, a couple of years back. But China is still oil hungry and Iran is the most logical possibility. An oil pipeline flowing back along the CPEC route either through Afghanistan or Pakistan would be cheapest.
The Middle East has been coerced into a conflictual situation, where countries have to pick sides between the Saudis and Iran. Many countries are already aligned. Sooner or later, Pakistan might also have to do so. If and when we do, it is hoped that the decision will address our interests. For the moment, however, we need to straddle the fence as we best can. Even as we straddle, we must be conscious that our tilt is towards our immediate neighbor.
Relations with India have been turbulent since our inception and, while Modi and/or his ilk remain in power, there may be no hope of improvement. Kashmir is the most sticky bone of contention. But, India is intent on the use of force and state sponsored terrorism to break the back of the Kashmiri rebellion and, blame Pakistan for all that results from its own actions.
In this environment, while constantly seeking peace with all nations and providing Kashmiris increasing moral and diplomatic support, our conduct with Delhi should be more dignified. Our PM has made his initial overture of seeking friendship. No more is required. No more repetitions. Nor should any Pakistani official continue to remind the world that we are a nuclear power. Each time any official representative makes such a comment, it is viewed as a threat and we appear to reconfirm that we are not sufficiently responsible people to possess nuclear weapons.
The following are recommended:
- While maintaining a dignified indifference to Indian verbosity and supporting the righteous struggle of Kashmiris, continue asserting our desire for peace and a peaceful resolution of all issues, including Kashmir. However, conscious of our history, every step towards any kind of peace must be based on reciprocity at each step.
- Among the Strategic Agreements that the US was offering to Delhi in its effort to employ India as a counter to China in the region, LEMOA, Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, and DTTI, Defense Trade and Technology Initiative, have been inked. If implemented in letter and spirit, these could have far reaching implications in helping India become a regional power. These agreements must be analyzed and a constant effort continue to remain aware of their progress.
- On improving bilateral trade. Transit trade with Afghanistan is a matter for deeper analysis and must be considered under strategic considerations for their impact on security. However, all other bilateral trade should not be rejected out of hand. Items like pharmacy, even bicycles and motorcycles etc. may be considered, only where our interests, including cheaper goods for the poor, are served. After all, bilateral trade between China and India has increased manifold but the balance is vastly in favor of China.
- From the start of the indigenous struggle for freedom in IHK in 1989, Pakistan’s Kashmir policy has been flawed. Our efforts to control it and turn it into a movement which is pro-union-with-Pakistan have been counterproductive. We must realize that our assistance must seek to “assist” not convert the Kashmiri struggle, or we will merely alienate the people of IHK further.
China and Russia
China is our economic and strategic ally. In fact, as precariously poised as our teetering economy is, CPEC is our sole hope for a better economic future, at the moment. Our concerns about CPEC were not complaints of Chinese exploitation but of the ineptitude of our leadership. After all, if our leadership leaves numerous areas of vacuum, the other side, however honest and friendly, is forced to fill these. However, these concerns are now being willingly addressed by the Chinese.
Russia is now strategically allied with China. These two traditional enemies have found common ground and a commonality of interests which both countries know is not going to be short lived. The two are acting in unison in our region, Africa, Middle East, and Europe. Russia’s attempt to link with mainland Europe via Ukraine is, like our CPEC, is also being subjected to a hybrid war manipulated by US. However, Russia’s life long search for access to warm waters is likely to be realized by its joining Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, BRI; of which CPEC is the flagship but, there are other significant portions of BRI that link China and Russia to Europe, Africa, and even Canada.
In its endeavor to find markets for Russian goods and military hardware, it discovered Pakistan independently. Russia’s alliance with China, resulted in further cementing its relations with Pakistan and we now have numerous deals for import of Russian materiel and military assistance. This by no way implies that Russia will turn down deals with India and their deal on S 400 SAMs with India shouldn’t perturb us.
The fact that the secret meeting between four intelligence chiefs held in Islamabad, on the subject of Afghanistan, was later made public by Russians is a very clear message. Even without a public alliance, it clearly implies that, like China, Russia too considers Pakistan and Iran of primary importance to its future.
Our future should primarily be linked with these two. But we also need to diversify our common interests with other countries as well. This outreach could be collective, with the countries of common interests or individual. If individual, our relations with other countries should not adversely impact our relations with those where our primary interests lie.