Foreign policy to be effective must be solidly grounded in realities at national, regional and global levels. A foreign policy which is divorced from ground realities will not only fail to achieve its goals but may also inflict enormous damage upon the nation it is supposed to serve. Pakistan’s policy makers, in their misplaced zeal to achieve ambitious but impractical goals or simply to play to the gallery, historically have often ignored this fundamental principle of a sound foreign policy. In the process, the country grievously suffered politically, economically, diplomatically and militarily. The consequences of those blunders continue to haunt us even now. There are some signs that we may again be relapsing into this dangerous mode which may lead the nation to harmful results.

Our Kashmir and Afghanistan policies of the 1990’s are classic examples of a flawed approach to foreign policy formulation in pursuit of over-ambitious goals in disregard of ground realities at national, regional and global levels. The blunders committed by us in the formulation and execution of those policies caused incalculable damage to Pakistan’s security and economy through the waste of the country’s precious resources, encouraged religious extremism and intolerance, slowed Pakistan’s economic growth, and tarnished the country’ image isolating it internationally on the issue of terrorism. We are still trying to come to grips with the aftermath of those policies. The recent vote in the UN Security Council committee on terrorism, where out of 15 members only China supported our point of view while 14 others including even Indonesia and Kuwait voted against us, reflects the dangerously isolated position in which we have placed ourselves because of our flawed anti-terrorism policies. The earlier FATF decision to place us in the grey list should also drive home the conclusion that our policies are at variance with international trends.

The reported statement by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, a friend of Pakistan who was the guest of honour at the Pakistan Day parade, on the issue of terrorism and Pakistan-India relations at the press conference just before his departure from Islamabad should be an eye-opener for our leaders and policy makers. According to newspaper reports, the Malaysian Prime Minister said that in the event of a conflict between Pakistan and India, Malaysia won’t take sides with anyone. He was quoted to have said, “We cannot side with anyone. I think this, allowing terrorists to have this upper hand, is very dangerous. We must stop terrorists, both sides (Pakistan and India) must prevent acts of terrorism…….We don’t want to take sides with anyone but we appreciate the problems they face.”

We must ponder over the reasons why many members of the international community, including powerful countries of the world, continue to view with skepticism our policy in combatting terrorism despite the enormous loss in blood and treasure that we have suffered in eradicating this scourge from our society. Undoubtedly, there are ambiguities in our anti-terrorism policies that we need to clarify and there are shortcomings in them that we need to remove. The international pressure on us on the issue of terrorism will not cease until we take decisive action against terrorists in our society in whatever form they may be. It should be clear by now to the powers that be in the country that our half-baked explanations will not be acceptable to the international community and that we are in no position to face the growing international pressure on us on the issue of terrorism. In a nutshell, we should stop living in a dream world of our own which has no link with reality.

We are currently also the victim of wishful thinking in the management of Pakistan-US relations. We need to recognize the harsh reality of the growing strategic partnership between India and the US to counter the expansion of China’s power and influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region. The inexorable growth of Indo-US strategic partnership will inevitably push Pakistan and China into a closer strategic embrace because of the threat that it poses to their legitimate security and economic interests. In short, while India and the US are on a trajectory of growing strategic convergence, Pakistan-US relationship currently suffers from increasing strategic divergence. This fundamental strategic reality will define the future of Pakistan-US and Indo-US relations in the foreseeable future. There will be passing occasions and short-lived opportunities for transactional cooperation between Pakistan and the US, of which Pakistan must take full advantage. But we must recognize that they will not change the underlying trend towards growing strategic divergence between the two countries.

Washington’s current need for Pakistan to facilitate the withdrawal of the US-led troops from Afghanistan in an orderly manner and the commencement of an intra-Afghan dialogue for durable peace and stability in Afghanistan is one of those opportunities for Pakistan-US cooperation. Pakistan has rightly responded in a positive manner to American request for cooperation because there is convergence of the interests of the two countries on the restoration of durable peace and stability in Afghanistan through an intra-Afghan dialogue, withdrawal of the US-led troops from the country, and prevention of the use of Afghan territory for terrorist activities in other countries. However, the beneficial results of this cooperation for Pakistan-US relationship will be limited and short-lived.

Unfortunately, it appears that our leaders and policy makers are not fully cognizant of the limits of Pakistan-US friendship under the current strategic scenario. That is why even the hint of a friendly gesture from Washington leads to exaggerated expectations and the issuance of statements from responsible quarters in Islamabad about the dramatic improvement in Pakistan-US relations. The euphoria lasts till another statement critical of Pakistan is issued from Washington. The over-optimistic and misleading statements issued from Islamabad are obviously meant to impress the people in Pakistan. In fact, these simplistic statements reflect the naiveté of and woeful lack of understanding of international affairs by those issuing them.

Despite the letter written by President Trump to PM Imran Khan seeking Pakistan’s help in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table and facilitating the Afghan peace process, and Pakistan’s positive response, Islamabad’s unrealistic hopes of a dramatic improvement in Pakistan-US relations predictably have not been fulfilled. President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo continue to criticize Pakistan for harbouring terrorists. The latest example is the statement made by Secretary Pompeo to an American radio broadcaster just last week accusing Pakistan once again of providing safe havens to terrorists and posing a nuclear proliferation risk. Significantly, he also sided with the Indian point of view that the recent conflict between Pakistan and India was caused by cross-border terrorism.

The moral is that our US policy must be based on the solid foundation of ground realities and emerging long-term strategic trends at regional and global levels. While continuing our efforts for strengthening friendly relations with the US, we should disabuse ourselves of the likelihood of a dramatic improvement in relations and a strategic partnership between the two countries in the foreseeable future. It is more likely that the growing strategic divergence will take its toll in determining the nature and direction of Pakistan-US relations. It is incumbent upon our leadership to prepare the country for this eventuality by adopting a mix of policy measures to safeguard Pakistan’s security and economic well-being in the face of the likely pressures which may be exerted upon us by Washington. Reduced economic and military dependence on the US should be prominent among the required policy changes.