Isolation and Foreign Policy Paralysis

Narendra Modi  Xi JinpingPakistan’s unfortunate state of growing international isolation is one of the hottest topics of discussion lately. Think tanks and talk shows increasingly point to various issues such as the power of the Indian lobby compared to our own lack of lobbyists in major capitals, absence of a Foreign Minister, and the increasing role of the Army in controlling every aspect of decision making. While this is a new topic for mainstream analysts, those on the cutting edge have been trying to warn of this problem for years. Now, it is reported that the Foreign Office is trying to do something about the crisis. However, is there really any change in the works, or is it more of the same? Reports are not encouraging.

While the envoys and the Foreign Office top brass brainstorm on the problems and strategy for climbing out of isolation, it is likely that fundamental issues causing paralysis in foreign policy functioning — the absence of a full-time foreign minister, duality at the top in the FO hierarchy, diminished role of the foreign secretary, and the military’s involvement in decision making and implementation — will not be discussed, Dawn earlier reported.

We have finally come to a point that we can no longer deny our growing isolation, but fundamental issues are still off limits. What is most concerning though is that the fundamental issues which are off limits do not even include the truly fundamental questions of revising failed policies themselves.

We have reached a historic point that at least there are mainstream voices willing to admit what has been obvious since long: Our foreign policy apparatus has failed to protect or advance Pakistan’s interests. Unfortunately, it seems that we are still unwilling to do the needful to fix it.

Pakistanis Not Welcome

visa denied

Pakistan’s global isolation continues to settle in as even our Muslim brothers are now shutting the gates to Pakistanis due to concerns about our role in exporting terrorism. Yesterday, Gulf News reported that Kuwait has barred Pakistanis from entering the country due to security concerns.

The minister, Shaikh Muhammad Al Khalid, had issued instructions to the Citizenship and Travel Documents and the Immigration departments “to work in coordination with the Ministry of Interior and the hotels sector which can also engage in the process of issuing all kinds of visas to Kuwait — commercial, tourist or family.”

However, security sources told local daily Al Rai that the new rules do not extend to nationals from Iran, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan who have been barred from entering Kuwait.

It should be noted that the six countries excluded from Kuwait’s visa regime are all nations known to be centers of regional and global terrorism. Our inclusion on such a list is sad reflection on Pakistan’s current situation.

Washington Summit: Ships Passing In The Night

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meeting with Barack Obama at the White House

Before he left Washington, a journalist friend in America wanted to speak with the Prime Minister to get his thoughts on how he thought the high-level meetings had gone. He was turned away, though, told that the Prime Minister was very busy and didn’t want to be disturbed. Through a cracked doorway, though, he could see the PM sitting alone and thinking, a somber expression on his face. He looked not like a man who had just engaged in political talks of global importance, but a businessman who had just left a meeting where he was told that his partners were no longer interested in doing business with him. My friend left the Prime Minister with this thoughts.

One wonders if Nawaz Sharif dreaded the visit from the very beginning. After all, his visits with American Presidents as Prime Minister have not been comfortable, historically. His last visit was in 1999 when he landed with a desperate request for President Clinton to save us from the Kargil disaster that eventually landed him in exile as overly ambitious military officers once again played the coup card against the ‘bloody civilians’. As his plane took off from Pakistan last week to carry him to Washington while bullets flew along the Line of Control, did the Prime Minister have a sinking feeling of deja vu?

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NATO Invitation a Sign of Success

DCC Meeting

The announcement that an unconditional invitation was extended to President Zardari to attend the NATO summit in Chicago next week represents an important success on the part of the nation’s military and civilian leadership and demonstrates how institutional cooperation and effective negotiating around mutual intersts can result in a ‘win-win’ for both Pakistan and the US.

In the latest rounds of negotiating, neither side got everything they wanted, but each side is getting some of their original demands, and, most importantly, it looks like a new approach to Pak-US relations is finally being put in place. Ambassador Sherry Rehman explained this in an interview with Dawn.

We want this relationship to be grounded in realistic expectations, respect for each other’s sovereignty, appreciation of each other’s legitimate security interests and understanding of each other’s redlines. Similarly, both sides need to be aware of each other’s limitations and constraints.

The Ambassador is not just speaking for herself, either. Media reports that none less than former Presidential nominee US Senator John McCain told a Washington think tank this week that good relations with Pakistan are in America’s interest, but that they must “take a totally realistic approach” and that “we can’t force the Pakistani government and people to change their ways”. He even termed the Pressler Amendment which cut ties with Pakistan in the 1990s as “one of the gravest mistakes in recent history”.

Of course, not everyone is pleased with the government’s success. Ahmed Quraishi is upset that we may lift the blockade on NATO supply routes. As usual, his complaint is baded more on emotion than reason. He never explains what we would have gained from continuing to block NATO supply routes. He seems to want to block NATO routes just for the sake of blocking them. At the same time, he completely ignores what we could have lost by being defiant instead of being smart.

I would kindly request Ahmed to consider the recent column by Ejaz Haider – a real analyst – about where Ahmed’s “strategy” would have taken us.

What are Pakistan’s choices? Near-zero. The state’s legitimacy is challenged from inside; the state’s ability to influence events in the region has dwindled to almost nothing; the state has no capacity to project its narrative; the rightwing is working against it by isolating it from the rest of the world; the left-liberals consider it a security state that needs to be reshaped in line with the narrative that comes from the outside.

And now, the commitment trap. If the US doesn’t apologise, GLOC won’t be opened. The US won’t. Pakistan won’t get invited to the Chicago summit. Neither side wants it to get worse. Both are committed to their courses of action. The US has more choices. It can now go solo in Afghanistan and also coerce Pakistan. Pakistan’s strategic assets, geography etcetera, are now its liabilities.

Even The News – no supporter of the government itself – agrees that the government has played its hand deftly and developments have unfolded in Pakistan’s best interests.

The closure of the Nato route across our land has been the catalyst for a range of changes. One which will require careful handling is the closer engagement with parliament in the determination of the direction of foreign policy; with specific reference to the USA but, in broader terms, perhaps reading across to all foreign policy making. It is not that the military is any less engaged in foreign policy making, but that the civilian government is more engaged than hitherto; a shift of emphasis rather than power. Then there is the issue of revenue. There has been talk, but no detail beyond some very optimistic figures, of putting in place a per-container levy which would be a welcome income stream for a hard-pressed exchequer. Many thousands of trucks will pass through every month, and if Nato pays a premium for the privilege then so much the better. Any ‘deal’ without such a component would be a poor deal indeed. There is also the issue of back payments to the Coalition Support Fund (CSF). The US has always been dilatory in paying its dues to the CSF, and ceased altogether when the convoys were halted. We need the money if the coming budget is to be anywhere close to balanced and regular CSF payments must also be a part of any agreement.

Politically the reopening without the imprimatur of parliament is somewhat fraught. The opposition parties have all voiced varying degrees of anger at the possibility of a resumption of supplies, but at the end of the day the government probably had little choice but to reopen the roads. There will be some opposition of that there is little doubt, but once the point has been made pragmatism (and vested interests) will in all likelihood prevail. Internationally the Chicago conference and our place at the table is timely indeed. Thus far we have been either sidelined or simply ignored by the Americans working on the post-conflict scenarios in Afghanistan — but it is crucial that we are closely engaged.

After months of hard fought negotiating based on an insistence that taught the Americans that Pakistan was not going to roll over on our own interests, we are beginning to see signs of success. The US knows that it cannot abandon Pakistan to its fate, and it seems that the Americans recognise their past mistakes and do not intend to repeat them. We, too, know that we cannot take a path that isolates us from the rest of the world, and that we must make sure we are present at international forums where issues that affect our interests will be decided.

Those who make their living by promoting isolationism and other failed policies of the past will squawk about the possibility of re-opening NATO supply routes, but these complaints are based on hypernationalist emotions and not a rational plan for what is in the best interest of Pakistan.

Militants threaten Pakistan-China relations

Tehreek-e-Taliban PakistanTTP has claimed responsibility for the murder of a Chinese woman who was visiting a market in Peshawar. The reasoning given by Taliban spokesman Muhammad Afridi should send a wake up call.

“Our comrades carried out the attack in Peshawar which killed the Chinese tourist,” Muhammad Afridi, a spokesman for a faction of the Pakistani Taliban from the Darra Adam Khel area, told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location…Afridi said the militants were also demanding that China halt what he called its support for the Pakistani government’s campaign against militants.

Fresh riots in Xinjiang have left at least 20 people dead as Chinese security forces crack down on Islamic militants in the province.

The Xinjiang province’s state-run website said nine assailants charged and slashed a crowd of civilians during Tuesday’s violence in the Xinjiang community of Yecheng, killing 13 and injuring many others. Police then fatally shot seven attackers and detained two others, the report said.

Earlier state media reports put the overall toll at 12, describing it as a terrorist attack and saying 10 civilians and two assailants were killed. However, an overseas Uighur group, the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, said local Muslims were lashing out over government oppression and that most victims were armed Chinese security personnel.

Last fall, China pointed to Pakistan as the source of militancy in Xinjiang province, a claim that was brushed aside by many as complete nonsense. Now, Pakistani Taliban are murdering Chinese nationals in the street as ‘revenge’ for China’s crack down militants in Xinjiang. What is our excuse this time?

We continue to hold out hope that we can turn our backs on the West by facing East and finding a new patron in China. We need to think again. No matter how inclined China is to build a close relationship with Pakistan, they are not going to do so at the expense of their own security.

With this recent attack by Pakistani Taliban against a Chinese national, I want to revisit what I wrote last year:

If we believe that this is an internal issues only and that ‘all weather friend’ China will simply keep to themselves and not interfere in our own situation, we should think again. After all, it was China that ordered Lal Masjid raid was it not? Of course, this only makes sense. Sharing a border with Pakistan, China is not going to allow a rebellion to organise next door.

As a neighbor and growing world power, we would be poorly advised to alienate ourselves from China. It is easy to say that ‘all weather friend’ China will be there if we turn our back on America. But the truth is that China is not going to sit quietly while militant extremists use Pakistan as a play ground.

If we choose to continue to turn a blind eye to the militant virus that is spreading in our society, we will find ourselves isolated not just from the West but the East as well. The recent militant attack against a Chinese national who was a guest in our country should wake us up from the slumber of denial that has allowed this menace to fester under our very noses. If we rid our nation of extremism and militancy, we will take our proper place among the respected world powers. If we do nothing, we will be a pariah. The choice is ours to make.