Profile of Foreign Policy 2000
By Tanvir Ahmad Khan DAWN (01 January 2001)
Casting a retrospective glance in a short piece on a whole year of any major aspect of national polity has its advantages; it enables one to cut through the clutter of detail and present an overview, even if at the risk of oversimplifying issues of great complexity. For me, the year 2000 was notable for the efforts, though fitful and occasionally self-contradictory, to learn to position Pakistan's foreign policy on the right side of history. As the year ended, there were no spectacular achievements though there were some welcome intimation that the root causes of the country's international isolation had been understood.
Led by a prime minister who was circumscribed by far too many red lines in the conduct of international relations and a foreign minister who, despite being a man of substance, was not from her party but a mandatory carry-over from the ancien regime, Pakistan, at the end of 1980s and early 1990s was woefully unprepared for the tectonic shifts that the collapse of the Soviet Union inevitably precipitated. The bipolar world offered secondary and tertiary actors the luxury of having to deal with, in today's parlance, limited information (old-fashioned data, if one prefers). Pakistan foreign and security policy establishment was simply not trained to deal with the staggering information overload produced by one of the greatest transformations in human history.
An entire lexicon changed but it was no more than hieroglyphics to us. Once the governing code of cold war alignments became redundant, Pakistan stood baffled, if not paralyzed, by the sheer multiplicity of opportunities and perils. Furthermore, its hands were tied at the back by the continuing momentum of its engagement in Afghanistan.
It was not simply a question of a massive redrawing of frontiers and dispersal of sovereignty that revolutionalized the calculus of choices and options. Nor was it a simple emergence of a unipolar world, an assertion of an unchallenged American global empire. The demise of the Soviet Union coincided with a new configuration of political and economic power, with the present European Union, Japan, China and India either ready to take their place at the new high table of eminence and influence or aspiring to do so. The Soviet Union had vanished but an otherwise triumphalist United States still needed to find a response to the challenge of diffusion of power.
Amongst the many strategies it crafted was the relentless technology and capital-driven campaign to create a global economy. It co-opted, virtually the entire high table (Russia, the eighth digit in the notional G-8 turned out to be problematic but still an indispensable partner in the venture) in articulating the new economy. The economy was, in turn, dominated by the multinationals and transnationals, which sought to convert most of the so-called sovereign nation states into components of transmission belts for market decisions and preferences of, to quote an expert, "transnationally-imbricated, private oligarchic or oligopolistic structures".
Pakistan's foreign policy establishment had little knowledge of how to marshal material and intellectual resources to successfully interact with this restless, dynamic and opportunistic new world, especially in the crucial areas such as attracting capital and investment, finding markets for its own products and staking a claim to the kind of hi-tech labour that this new global economy looked for.
By the time the 21st century dawned, Pakistan's already acute diplomatic and economic dilemma had been exacerbated by other telling events. Prominent amongst them were the dramatization of nuclear proliferation by the nuclear tests of India and Pakistan, the Kargil conflict which made it easier to intensify and articulate the Indo-US entente as well as the New Delhi-Moscow strategic partnership, and last but not least, the return of Pakistan to direct military rule. Whatever the internal rationale, the last event happened at just about the most inopportune time. While explaining this rationale to international gatherings, I have been often confronted with the question whether I realized that the Pakistani coup could portend the retrogression and reversal of the much-celebrated third wave of democracy. In addition to daunting challenges to its economy and security, Pakistan now faced the overriding problem of regime acceptance.
The Islamic world has been our sheet anchor in situations of unusual international stress. General Pervez Musharraf visited Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Turkey, Bahrain and Iran between October 25, 1999 and December 9, 1999. His forthcoming visits to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria are part of the same process of ensuring continuity of relations with countries that do not turn internal political exigencies into conditionalities.. Pakistan was inadequately represented at the funeral of President Hafez Al-Asad and it is important to know President Bashar better; Syria remains a major factor in the ultimate settlement of the Middle East problems.
China which has modulated its policies in response to its new international stature so far with minimum possible cost to the traditional friendship with Pakistan came next in mid-January, 2000. Apart from the international conferences that he personally attended, the other notable visits by the general included some ASEAN states, where too Pakistan suffered from a deficit of timely diplomatic initiatives, and the important post-Soviet republics of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. In Central Asia, Pakistan's diplomacy had lost considerable strategic salience because of the pervasive perception that Pakistan was the motive power behind the Taliban's bid for exclusive sway over Afghanistan.
The same factor contributed partially to the resurfacing of Russian interference in Afghanistan and more significantly to a quantum jump in the supply of highly sophisticated weapon systems designed to underpin a new strategic understanding. Not unexpectedly, Musharraf's peregrination brought mixed results but it must be counted as a series of well thought-out initiatives.
While Musharraf, during these visits, encountered only restrained emphasis on restoration of democracy or on the need for calibrating the accountability process to keep it short of vengefulness, the liberal democracies of the West kept a normative pressure for return to democracy according a conditional and somewhat limited acceptance of the ground realities in Pakistan. The most crucial factor, namely the support of the United States, however, confronted Pakistan with a comprehensive agenda that others share but Washington pursued in a totally explicit manner.
Pakistan's campaign to sign the CTBT with the expectation that it would facilitate regime acceptance and the direly needed economic assistance was simplistic. Washington's horizon was much larger and the CTBT was not even its top priority after the U.S Senate itself had refused to ratify the treaty. On January 19, 2000, Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and Strobe Talbott met in London and established a joint anti-terrorist group After Karl Inderfurth's three-day visit to Pakistan, the US State department warned Pakistan publicly on January 27 that the US might brand the country a sponsor of terrorism if the Pakistani military did not end its alleged support of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen.
In a crucial re-configuration of strategic interests, the United States was subjecting Pakistan to various kinds of pressure while greatly upgrading its relations with India, now increasingly cast into a counterweight to China in the ensuing multipolarity of the 21st century. For those who had carefully plotted the course of Washington's separate negotiations with New Delhi and Islamabad on the nuclear question , this was no surprise. The muting of western criticism of India's $ 13.7 billion defence budget announced on February 29, 2000, an increase of 28%, further underscored the nature of the changed chessboard.
Finality to the process was naturally kept back for President Clinton's six-day visit to India which began on March 19 and manifested its true import in the joint Vision statement signed on March 21. The few hours he spent in Pakistan on March 25, dominated by his TV address to the Pakistani nation, were too eloquent to need a reminder. One needs to acknowledge an improvement in the bilateral climate since then though it remains limited and tenuous.
In the new international agenda that accommodates coexistence of cooperation and competition, the dice is heavily loaded in favour of an India-Pakistan rapprochement. It is generally agreed that the absence of conflict-resolution mechanisms increases the risk of armed conflict. Extended low-intensity conflict situations in the periphery are also seen as equally subversive of the grand political, strategic and economic designs of the metropolitan states of the centre. India has raised the stakes by stubbornly spurning Pakistani overtures for the resumption of talks stalled since Kargil.
Only recently have there been signs of recognition in New Delhi and Islamabad of the limits and perils of their traditional policy of confrontation. I have recently argued in this space that a matrix of peace might already be discernible. It hinges on India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir finding a solution that satisfies Kashmiri aspirations and with which the two major subcontinental powers can live in peace. It is possible to devise such a solution provided the parties concerned discover a common discourse free of the myths created during the last half a century.
Foreign policy challenges faced by Pakistan today demand a concerted approach by democratic institutions, the military, the civil society and what the Marxists used to call the broad masses. It is unfortunate that at a time of a momentous transformation of the world, the Pakistan army is again saddled with a lonesome responsibility. If the first year of the millennium is anything to go by, the quality of civilian advice available to the military government of Pakistan leaves much to be desired.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani state is being hollowed out as the ruling elite loses control under pressure of the forces of globalization that appropriate relatively developed sectors to their transnational writ and under the depletion caused by the flight of capital and trained manpower from the country. Time is of the essence if Pakistan is to retain the initiative to reconstruct a consistent and coherent approach to regional and global relations.
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