In the late 90s, on a sunny afternoon, the then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif while batting on the crease in the Lahore Gymkhana Ground, Bagh-i-Jinnah, had to suddenly take off his batting gloves and pads and rush to the nearby Governor House to attend an urgent telephonic call from the then US President, Bill Clinton. On finishing the call, then and there, he had to leave for the airport and fly to America to call upon the US President on an unscheduled ‘special’ visit (which could, perhaps, be called more an appearance than a meeting).
In another episode, he once flew to China to call upon the then Chinese leadership on a pre-scheduled visit to decide certain matters of geo-strategic and international importance. Here again, he suddenly had to fly to US directly from China for an important meeting with the US leadership.
Similar has been the plight of our foreign policy, dangling between Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Muslim world in general and China and United States in particular.
Coincidently, two significant developments have occurred around 23-24 June this year. First, the people of Britain have decided to choice a different path from that of the European Union through, unlike ours, a fair, legal and decisive referendum, and hence not to continue with EU’s systems and spirit, believing that Britain is stronger, safer and better off within the European Union. Second, Pakistan has made entry into Shanghai Cooperation Organization, SCO, as its permanent member during its Summit at Tashkant, Uzbekistan. In the former, David Cameron, the British premier prefers to resign on the ground that ‘country requires a fresh leadership, to take it in this decision’. Perhaps, his spirit is not commensurate with that of the people of Britain any more who were to be seconded by the US President, Barack Obama saying that the US would continue to support them in their separation from the EU.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has welcomed the planned expansion of the SCO and called on member states to uphold the “Shanghai Spirit” for common development. China believes that admission of Pakistan and some other new forces into the SCO will inject a new impetus into the organisation’s all-ranging cooperation. China spells the “Shanghai Spirit” as a means of “mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respecting for diverse civilizations and seeking common development, safeguarding regional peace as their top priority, deepen pragmatic cooperation, so as to make new contributions for maintaining regional peace and stability”.
Both the EU as well as Shanghai Spirits amassing regional unity in their respective regions against any alien political or economic coercion are, however, paradoxically seen divergent in their under currents in contrast to their surface spirits. Like any independent state, Britain’s separatist vision as against the EU’s unifying spirit, abundantly reflects a vibrant spirit of independence, self reliance and autonomy as a developed nation capable of pursuing its independent foreign political, economic and defense policies based on principle of ‘no foe, no friend but its own interest’. Similarly, with the Shanghai spirit, both newly joining nuclear states, India and Pakistan and even China shall naturally have divergent spirits in view of their respective strengths, chronic antagonistic backgrounds and irritants.
Admittedly, every country in the world is compelled to follow its foreign policy based on nothing else but its ‘interest’ despite high declamations of cultural and historical ‘friendships’. Various irritants can be traced even in case of achieving ideals of the Shanghai spirit.
Firstly, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, NSG, has failed to enter India to the elite atomic trading club apparently on the ground that the country does not fulfill the requirements including signing of the Non- Proliferation Treaty, NPT, even though India has well placed France’s precedent for its becoming NSG member despite its being a non-signatory to the NPT. However, the real irritant behind remains China’ s pleading the case to be decreed against India on the contention that criteria of signing of NPT should not be relaxed for any new applicant states and in favour of Pakistan, if at all, the same is somehow managed in favour of India on the US instance and support, sans any discrimination exercised by any super power. US would continue to support India and China to Pakistan rendering China as an irritant between US and Pakistan and India as irritant between China and Pakistan at one hand and US on the other. Naturally, how can the Shanghai spirit be followed by all its member states in letter and spirit?
Secondly, China has backed its expansive claims with island-building and naval patrols in the disputed territories of South China Sea while the US opposes restrictions on freedom of navigation and unlawful sovereignty claims. The frictions have sparked concern that the area is becoming a flashpoint with regional and global consequences.
Thirdly, Washington has decided to expand its military’s authority to tackle a resurgent Taliban insurgency boosting the capacity of struggling local forces. It will allow US troops, who have been in a training and advisory role in Afghanistan since the start of 2015, to collaborate more closely with local forces in striking the Taliban.
Afghanistan welcomes broader US involvement in the war on terrorism saying that it will increase their capacity in operations on the ground which is primarily projected towards Pakistan’s bordering areas. This would add to the irritants between Pakistan and Taliban at one hand and Afghanistan and the US on the other. The Taliban have condemned the US decision and maintain that it would only prolong the conflict and vowed to press on with their decade and half insurgency.
Nay, US new resolve is fraught with political sensitivities as it marks a departure from Obama’s earlier commitment to end the grinding conflict and pull US troops out of Afghanistan. This strong irritant may affect Pakistan and its projects like CPEC and Gawadar, above all and obviously Pakistan has to be prepared to bear any cost, whatsoever, to protect its strategic initiatives.
Last but not the least, even the US spirit itself has now become a role model for Pakistan for its successful foreign policy pursuits, to be used even against US itself. During his latest visit to India, Obama supported India on its being affected by terrorists in Kashmir whereas on his way back home from India, he conveyed his resolve to support Pakistan in its fight against terrorism on its soil by a special telephonic call made to Pakistani Premier. Obama while discussing India-Pakistan relations with Premier Modi at their recent White House meeting, maintained as that “Our bilateral relations with India and Pakistan are separate and stand on their own merits, and so it’s not prudent for us to view our security cooperation in the region in kind of a zero-sum game — or zero-sum terms”.
Pakistan may be carrying the tide of the EU, Shanghai for regional unity but what remains true with Pakistan is that it has got and fairly been able to maintain its peculiar geo-strategic position, a de facto forte of its survival and growth. Therefore, it would only be prudent for Pakistan to follow its own spirit, closer to those of Britain and US in defiance of any other spirit, may it be EU or Shanghai. It has to be independent and unwavering, unlike in the past, when state officials have had rush perplexed for sudden flights leaving doubts behind. And for this, we have to follow what may be called “the policy of permanent footprints” to be executed with a reconciliation of political, military and intelligence establishments.