ISLAMABAD - The recent row between Sartaj Aziz, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, and Husain Haqqani, the former ambassador to Washington, has yet again triggered a debate about Pakistan’s foreign policy making process and the growing impressions about the country’s regional and international isolation.

Mr. Aziz has blamed the former ambassador of lobbying against Pakistan in the United States. Mr Haqqani lashed back in a strong defence and accused the current Pakistani policy makers of a massive failure on their own part and using him as a scapegoat.

The controversy comes at a critical juncture for the country as relations with neighbouring countries have deteriorated and show no signs of abating. Pakistan is also looking for getting a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group amid apprehensive by the policymakers of the growing influence of archival India.

Some analysts and former diplomats say that the statement by the top foreign policy tsars was mistimed and has resulted in presenting a more dismal picture of the country’s foreign policy woes.

“Sartaj Aziz is trying to defend the government but actually we are alone in the corner due to the result of confusing foreign policy ,” said defence and political analyst Lt Gen (r) Talat Masood.”

“Indo-US ties on strategic and economic front are a reality and have sidelined Islamabad. To seek China and Saudi Arabia help can never be an alternative to powerful US,” said Gen. Masood. “We have to rethink our policy.”

Some have voiced criticism of Mr Haqqani. “It is unfortunate that one of our Pakistanis, who has been given the honour to present the country at such a high level, can disrespect Pakistan,” said Senator Lt Gen (r) Abdul Qayyum. “He needs to remain patriotic,” the ruling party senator said.

Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview with The Nation, Mr Haqqani offered a strong defence of his position and urged the government to improve ties with the neighbouring countries apart from giving an overhaul to the policy matrix towards the United States.

“Every country’s closest ties are with its neighbours and that should be the same for Pakistan. Improving ties with Kabul and Delhi will help Pakistan in its relations with Washington and other countries,” Mr Haqqani said. “We need a paradigm shift in our foreign policy away from competition with India to normal relations with all neighbours, taking actions against all jihadi groups who attack both Pakistanis and others and spending more money on building Pakistan’s economy and society.”

Mr. Haqqani said border tensions are not new between Afghanistan and Pakistan and date back to the late 1940s. “Recent tensions are a sign of the deepening Afghan frustration over Pakistan’s reluctance to take action against groups like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network that operate out of safe havens inside Pakistan,” the former ambassador to the U.S noted.

President Ghani came to power seeking better ties with Pakistan but Kabul now feels that their overtures have not been reciprocated by Islamabad, he said. “These tensions are a reflection of the disenchantment and frustration in Kabul.”

Mr. Haqqani said Pakistan can hope to get NSG membership only if improves relations with United States and India. “It would help if we improved relations with the US and India so that we have additional backing of our membership aside from China,” he said.

“I believe Islamabad can gain Washington’s trust if we are open about what happened in the past and if we are willing to go after all jihadi groups, irrespective of who they attack,” Mr. Haqqani said when asked about whether Pak-US relations can be mended.

“Pakistan’s difficulties in the US are the result of years of supporting Jihadis and making excuses that are having less and less effect on Americans. Moreover, Pakistan’s dependence on US aid has made it susceptible to changes in the US national mood and attitude,” he said.

Till the time that we revamp our policies, the former diplomat, who is now working in the academia in the US said, mistrust will remain in Washington about Islamabad’s intentions and actions and hurdles will come in the way of military aid and materiel.

Mr. Haqqani reiterated that he is not lobbying against Pakistan. “I am not engaged in lobbying and would never lobby against what I consider to be the interest of Pakistan,” he said. “I am, however, entitled to having a different opinion about what is Pakistan’s interest than the entrenched Pakistani establishment and if that troubles some people, so be it.”