“The statesman must think in terms of the national interest, conceived as power among other powers. The popular mind, unaware of the fine distinctions of the statesman’s thinking, reasons more often than not in the simple moralistic and legalistic terms of absolute good and absolute evil” Hans Joachim Morgenthau, ‘Politics amongst Nations’

Statecraft and international politics is a cold blooded game played in the realist paradigm; a ‘Law of Fishes’ where the big thrive. There is no space for questions of conscience, legality and cause. Humanitarianism is a choice of big powers. In this unrelenting quest for gaining an upper hand, human miseries are engineered.  Most recent examples are Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Rohingya (Arakan) in Myanmar.

Hence to maintain balance, smaller countries have to find spaces within the power dynamics of bigger powers. Pakistan’s study in profile of fifty years highlights an ugly reality. The fact that Pakistan has continued to survive despite dissention, is a testament to its very strong idiosyncratic and geographical disposition. As illustrated by Anatol Lieven in his Opinion, ‘Battered, but Still Afloat’:

“I have always been struck by the contrast between the dramatic and often violent character of Pakistan’s public life and the relative resilience and stability of Pakistani society. This resilience is the central reason why crises that would have sunk other states have left Pakistan battered, but still afloat. It is striking that several Arab states that once looked much richer and stronger than Pakistan have collapsed completely, whereas Pakistan, in its own messy and infuriating way, continues to trundle along. And if Pakistan could survive the combination of US pressure and Islamist insurgency of the past decade, and defeat that insurgency, then there are good grounds to be confident that Pakistan will go on surviving for quite a long time to come.”

Pakistan’s idiosyncratic forte is also a limitation. It has too often got stuck in notions and clichés that were counterproductive. Emotionalism and romance work well in crises but often court failures in statecraft. Having sacrificed four decades for nothing, it is time Pakistan makes a new move to reap benefits of its long labours.

December 1979 to February 1989, Pakistan and West backed militant groups fought a CIA sponsored mock Jihad against USSR. Pakistan emerged a frontline combatant against communism. It gave cause and legitimacy to a military dictator but plunged Pakistan into persistent multi-directional internal and external crises.

USSR had miscalculated Pakistan’s response thinking that after the betrayal of 1971, Pakistan would never aid the West but Soviet assessment was wrong on many counts.

First, Pakistan considered USSR to be the biggest demon of 1971, particularly when it reneged an understanding with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that all West Pakistani elements would be given a safe passage. What followed was a military surrender. In retaliation, Bhutto created the nucleus of Afghan resistance that would later become Afghan Mujahedeen. USA, not Pakistan, exploited the situation.

Secondly, by 1973, Bhutto abandoned Islamic Socialism (pro-communist slogan coined in 1969) to an Islamic bloc. This bloc cooperated with the West in Afghan War to bring down USSR. USA, not Pakistan, won the round.

Thirdly, Pakistan found an opportunity to cash in on the Afghan War to replicate in Indian-held Kashmir. Planners in Pakistan thought this was the moment. Pakistan could have succeeded but international environments did not allow it to happen. Attempts by Pakistan to stabilise Afghanistan were blocked.

Soviet Union collapsed for many reasons. Tragically, the linkage of Kashmir to militancy was a multi headed serpent that returned to devour. Though Pakistan has fought a sustained counter terrorism war for over a decade, international critics feel it has not been able to delink itself from such groups. Indian propaganda suits international actors. It offers a cause to brand Pakistan as a fall guy. 

This is the biggest foreign policy pressure. Even a draw, is a win Pakistan must aim for. This would provide a long time for peace, development and nation building.

Post 9/11, Pakistan took a partial U-turn. Militants turned on mentors. Mullah Omar’s death had a splintering effect. Some groups went under influence of others. Pakistani forces pushed the fiercest Haqqani group into the wild unruly expanses of Afghanistan. Situation in Middle East changed. ISIS began to spread. India and hostile countries took control of the Pakistani renegade elements.

It morphed from a war on Pakistan’s reverse front to multiple internal fronts. Home grown proxies became economic hit men to plunge Pakistan into its worst economic crises. Charter of Democracy set an anti-military tone. The federation was weakened. Education institutions began to become hubs of militant ideologies. No one bothered about anti Pakistan sanctuaries in Afghanistan. The threats are revolving back.

In reality Pakistan exercises far lesser leverage on Afghanistan than is perceived. If they think so, let us reap. Fortunately, Pakistan has an advantage in support by major international actors like China and Russia.  Pakistan must not lose the opportunity.

China is particularly worried if the conflict zone transcends. The recent statement in BRICS is actually a reassertion by China to bring back into contention the US initiative of a Quadrilateral Dialogue on Afghanistan.

Chinese objectives are way beyond Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan. China’s Belt and Road Initiatives extend right into Europe with western partners. The twin projects of CPEC and Arakan open up the entire Indian Ocean and Africa. CPEC is connected to Myanmar through sea lanes. China short cuts the entire Straits of Malacca.

Four decades of sticking to clichés was a wild goose chase. The notion that CPEC is a military occupation of Gwadar is a propaganda cliché.

But no meals are free and Pakistan should never exchange one begging bowl for another.

Given the knee jerk arguments for CPEC, Pakistan has to tread the path with extreme caution and political maturity. It has to be perceived and planned at augmenting national power with well-defined short, mid and long term national interests. Personal greed must give way to national devotion. Pakistan must extract maximum and resist becoming a dependency of China.

Pakistan’s first priority should be to put its house in order. This means removing all forms of internal threats. The National Action Plan through a limited emergency should become National Counter Terrorism Policy to include militancy, economic corruption and all breeding grounds providing cause for ideological conflicts. All political parties surrogating militancy and militant groups morphing as political entities need to be banned for good.

Concurrently, Pakistan needs to formulate a new Fast Track National Development Ministry with the Planning Commission and CPEC under it. The plan must include kick starting sustainable development in agriculture, infrastructure, resource exploitation and industry. It must also envisage foreign direct investments along the corridor that should open up Gwadar, Port Qasim, Afghanistan and Iran.

Havelian should offer the most suitable modern high speed railway link to mountain roads providing alternate routes for goods and passengers to Karachi, Quetta and Gwadar.

In addition Pakistan must also start looking for its own initiatives like the Quetta-Zahidan twin artery of road and railway through Iran and Turkey as an Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) initiative connecting Europe. Gawadar should also be linked with the shortest routes to Iran, its ports and Turkey. Oil and gas lines from Iran could link with Qatar.

Logically all this will be incremental. The speech by General Bajwa on Wednesday and reassertion by Chinese foreign minister on Friday are good tidings.


The writer is a political economist and a television anchorperson.