The advent of a new Imran Khan-led PTI government offers a welcome opportunity to reconsider existing internal and external policies in the light of the emerging realities with a view to bringing about improvements where necessary. This is particularly relevant now because Imran Khan and PTI had championed the cause of change during their political struggle. Formidable internal and external challenges confronting the country also demand fresh thinking and new policies to overcome them. In this exercise, it is imperative to keep in mind always the close connection between the internal and external policies which affect each other. That is why there is a need at the highest level of the government for a grand strategy or a synthesis of a country’s political, economic, security and diplomatic policies to safeguard and promote Pakistan’s national interests.
Unfortunately, instead of aiming at such a synthesis, we often pursued in the past political, economic, security and diplomatic policies which were at cross purposes. The main reason behind the various national disasters that the country suffered in its history was the absence of a coordinated approach among the various arms of the government in dealing with important national issues leading to confusion in the thinking of policy makers, the adoption of contradictory policies by the different Ministries and departments, and their inevitable failure. The Kargil adventure was a prime example of an initiative in which the right hand of the government did not know what the left hand was doing. A national disaster of monumental proportions was the inevitable result of this misconceived, ill planned and badly executed operation.
As I pointed out in my book, “Pakistan and a World in Disorder—A Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century”, published by Palgrave Macmillan from New York, a partial rather than a comprehensive approach to policy making is a major flaw from which Pakistan’s policy-making process continues to suffer. This flaw reflects the absence of the concept and practice of a grand strategy that should bring into a coherent whole the country’s political, economic, security, and diplomatic policies. It remains to be seen whether Imran Khan and his close advisers are able to bring about necessary structural changes so that Kargil-type blunders are not repeated in the future and the coordination of the country’s political, economic, security and diplomatic policies is ensured.
Pakistan is confronted by an extremely inhospitable external environment both at regional and global levels. The global environment is marked by domination of power politics over international law, diminished authority of the UN on the strategic issues of war and peace, civilizational fault lines, primacy of economic power, importance of science and technology in determining the power of states and its growth, the rise of new powers demanding the accommodation of their interests in the international system, and shifting alliances. It is this “world in disorder” in which Pakistan’s foreign policy has to operate to safeguard its sovereignty and security and support the goal of economic prosperity so that its people may realise their full potential. It is important that in the pursuit of these goals Pakistan’s political stability is ensured and cultural identity is protected.
China’s dramatic rise and the growing US-China rivalry are undoubtedly the most important developments which will determine the contours of the emerging security environment at the global level. These developments are pushing US and India into a closer strategic embrace to check the southward expansion of China’s power and influence. Pakistan will, therefore, have to seek even closer strategic cooperation with China than in the past to safeguard its national interests in the face of the growing Indo-US nexus. In this context, the importance of CPEC cannot be over-emphasised. The growing alienation between a re-assertive Russia and the US will provide another strategic opening to Pakistan. Islamabad must make all possible efforts to build up bridges of understanding and strategic cooperation with Russia to face the anticipated growing pressure from Washington. The test of the Pakistani diplomacy will lie in deepening its relations and strategic cooperation with China and Russia while maintaining friendly relations with the US which will remain the most powerful economic and military power in the world for quite some time.
In South Asia, Pakistan will continue to face an enduring threat to its security from India as long as it maintains its hegemonic policies in the region and refuses to enter into a comprehensive dialogue with Pakistan for the resolution of outstanding disputes, especially the Kashmir and water disputes. It is doubtful that India under a Hindu chauvinist like Modi and in view of the growing appeal of Hindutva would be prepared to give up hegemonic ambitions in South Asia and deal with Pakistan on the basis of sovereign equality and mutual respect in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, Pakistan, in the hope of a favourable change in India’s attitude, should continue its efforts to defuse tensions, adopt confidence building measures, normalise relations with India and move towards the resolution of outstanding disputes. Both Pakistan and India cannot ignore the strategic imperative of peace between them because of their status as de facto nuclear-weapon states and the need to divert their resources towards the gigantic task of eradication of widespread poverty prevalent in both of them. Dialogue between them is, therefore, in their best interests and not a favour to be granted by one to the other. It is important that Islamabad should avoid provocative and adventurist policies in dealing with India. Trade with India should be conducted on a level playing field and a mutually beneficial basis with due regard to the health of Pakistan’s economy.
Durable peace in Afghanistan is not only in the best interest of the people of Afghanistan but also in the interest of Pakistan’s security and economic well-being. Islamabad should, therefore, support all efforts for national reconciliation and a negotiated political settlement between the warring Afghan parties, in particular between the Kabul government and the Afghan Taliban. Both of these parties need to recognize that neither of them alone can rule Afghanistan in conditions of peace and stability. A power sharing formula between them will have to form the basis of a peace settlement in Afghanistan which must be accompanied by the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces from the country. Recent reports of direct talks between the representatives of the Afghan Taliban and the US in Qatar are encouraging signs reflecting finally Washington’s recognition of the Afghan Taliban as a legitimate political party in a post-peace settlement Afghanistan.
As a former Pakistan ambassador to Iran, I am fully aware of the importance of Pakistan-Iran friendship for the security and the economic prosperity of the two countries. In the emerging strategic scenario at global and regional levels, this friendship has assumed even greater importance and significance. We, therefore, need to take advantage of the new opportunities for building up this vital friendly relationship. It is equally important to maintain and strengthen further our friendly relations and cooperation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries. Wherever possible, we should help in promoting understanding between Iran and Saudi Arabia without taking sides between them.
Economic dependence and an independent foreign policy cannot go together. The new government in Pakistan must break the begging bowl and adopt the policies of self-reliance and austerity as the guiding principles of its economic policies. In contrast with our past practice, rapid economic development should be our supreme national goal. Finally, we should give top priority to education, particularly to the advancement of science and technology, in Pakistan.
The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.