Pakistan has lacked a pragmatic and well-articulated foreign policy since 2008. What is more worrying is that the PML-N led incumbent democratic dispensation displayed an outright reluctance to appoint a competent and astute foreign minister for almost four years.
Because of Pakistan’s entrenched foreign policy crisis, the world is rather unwilling to appreciate the invaluable sacrifices rendered by the country during the course of the costly war on terror. This unfavourable situation has immensely helped India make Islamabad’s regional enemies friends, and bank on them to clandestinely fan and sponsor terrorism and insurgency deep inside Pakistan. This can be termed as the diplomatic masterstroke of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi; he has somehow succeeded to isolate Pakistan regionally and make the US stop providing military assistance to Pakistan.
Being a responsible nuclear power with a moderately growing economy, Islamabad badly needs to adopt a coherent and robust foreign policy designed to maximise its security and economic objectives in the region. If the present leadership further remains apathetic regarding its external affairs, this will probably strengthen the hands of Pakistan’s regional competitors and enemies to systematically isolate and encircle Islamabad in turbulent South Asia.
In effectively formulating a country’s foreign policy, both military and political leaderships are required to hold extensive deliberations regarding all possible pros and cons. In Pakistan, the military leadership largely appears to be calling the shots with regard to crafting and executing the country’s external policy. Resultantly, this has led to a largely militarised policy with the two major western neighbours of Pakistan. Such a policy can scarcely be reflective of the country’s (oft-disregarded) public opinion.
There is no gainsaying that domestic policies and developments leave lasting impacts on the timely formulation and execution of a nation’s foreign policy. Pakistan’s internal political, socio-economic and security conditions seem to be rather unsatisfactory: the economy is grappled with ever-increasing debts and stagnation; the democratic order is under ominous threat and the monster of terrorism and militancy still continues to haunt the nation. Such obstructive conditions have hindered the incompetent leadership from seriously concentrating on reforming the ingrained structural flaws in the country’s foreign policy.
An industrialised and robust economy helps a nation play a dominating role in regional and global matters in today’s globalised world. For instance, Great Britain dominated the politics of European continent till 1933 because of its highly industrialised economy and invincible naval power. At present, the US is playing the overarching role of the global hegemon owing to its industrialised economy and potent military power. And China’s rapid rise as a superpower is also due to its industrialised economy and modernised defence sector.
Pakistan, on the other hand, is heavily reliant on its export of agriculture related products. Such dependence on agriculture goods and the dearth of industrialised productions has brought about a deep-rooted imbalance in the country’s trade, mostly in the favour of Islamabad’s partners. The export of Al-Khalid tanks and JF-17 Thunder aircraft to Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Nigeria has proved too inadequate to turn the balance of trade in Pakistan’s favour.
What is abundantly clear from today’s highly anarchic world is that spiralling insecurity is the major bugbear of almost all countries, especially of the developing nations. So, if Islamabad wishes to play a stronger role in regional and global affairs, then it should steadily industrialise its agricultural-dominated economy and substantially increase its arms production and exports to developing countries.
Given Pakistan’s potential resources and its significant geo-strategic location, the country should have been the dominant economic and military power in the South Asia region. Unfortunately, it currently does not have working relations with all of its neighbouring countries except China. Such regional aloofness is partly due to a leadership crisis and partly owing to India’s attempts at isolating Islamabad regionally. Our leaders should not forget that the country cannot prosper economically and become powerful militarily in Asia without having effective ties with its immediate neighbours.
Because of our ill-conceived regional policy and sluggishness of the democratic leadership, Afghanistan and Iran have either partially or completely jumped on the Indian regional bandwagon. This has provided India an opportunity to count on some underdeveloped areas of Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan and eastern provinces of war-ravaged Afghanistan to foment and finance terrorism deep inside Pakistan. What Islamabad should be aware of is that India will probably bank on Iran’s geo-economically important Chabahar Port to outshine Pakistan’s deep sea Gwadar Port and Chinese-funded CPEC.
Arguably, without all-out Afghan and Iranian military and intelligence coordination, Pakistan will not fully succeed against the battle-hardened and regionally-funded terrorists and militants. More importantly, Islamabad needs the strategically important Wakhan Corridor to access the energy-rich Central Asian region in order to import oil, gas and coal. And Pakistan’s developing economy also badly needs Iran’s growing market and its vast energy resources to export agriculture products and meet its ever-growing energy needs.
Though Islamabad appears to have abandoned the disruptive policy of strategic depth towards Afghanistan due to the US pressure, both Kabul and Washington are still suspicious of Islamabad harbouring some operatives of the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban in Quetta and Peshawar. Such a policy has so far backfired as seen from Indo-Afghan sheltering of Pakistani terrorists and insurgents on the Afghan soil.