Foreign policy, or lack thereof


Improvised and mediocre at best



The US, to the dissatisfaction of a few congressmen, confirmed the sale of eight Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan this week. Our neighbours to the east were most perturbed by our latest acquisition and took no time to voice their childish concerns. This is just another arrow in a quiver that is the dysfunctional relationship we share with India.

The Indian television journalist, Barkha Dutt, recently defined our relationship with India as ‘schizophrenic’, suggesting that we both take an extreme approach, be it love or hostility. Aptly put indeed. These days we are on the less desired end of the spectrum with the latest attack on Indian soil, at Pathankot airbase, more than a month ago.

Whatever headway had been made with the meetings between the two heads of states, along with the visit of Indian External Minister Sushma Swaraj in December last year, has been washed away, replaced with the usual blame game of who did/does what/where.

The bone of contention is all too familiar, India says the attack was conceived, controlled and executed from Pakistan, with the blessings and support of our intelligence agency. The alleged perpetrator this time is Jaish-e-Mohammad, an organisation that has been banned by Pakistan since 2002 and whose leader Maulana Masood Azhar resides and operates freely in Pakistan.

Pakistan authorities were handed over alleged incriminating evidence by India after the attack, a few interrogations were carried out and the evidence was deemed insufficient to make arrests, case closed.

Recently there was talk of our investigation team visiting the site of the incident to collect evidence; to that end a request has not been sent by the Interior Ministry as yet while India has said no such request will be entertained in any case.

Adding insult to injury, last week, Mr David Coleman Headly, mastermind of 26/11 attacks in India, resurfaced out of nowhere, to be deposed in a special Indian court. The revelations have not come as a surprise this side of the border.

He claims he was asked to survey potential targets in India for which he made several trips to India between 2006 and 2008. He says the ISI provided moral, financial and military support to banned terrorist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (leT), the organisation that carried out the attack, allegedly.

He has since been turned approver and granted pardon. Pakistan has obviously downplayed all of his assertions, similar to how we did when the attacks took place and India cried foul saying we were responsible for it all.

It is interesting to note that whenever any semblance of cordial relations with India begins to take shape, they are derailed with incidents similar to Pathankot and 26/11. Clearly, there are forces on both sides of the border that do not want to see good stable relations between the two countries for too long at a time.

Secretary level talks, which were to take place this February, have been delayed indefinitely and while India may claim it’s not just because of the Pathankot incident, it clearly is. On our part, there is some inaction in that we have not taken the evidence handed over to us very seriously. Only today, more than a month later, an FIR has been registered against the abettors of the air base attack.

Such delays only add to the increasing trust deficit between the two countries. If there really is a genuine desire by the leadership of both sides to have better relations, then there cannot be a complete deadlock in talks after every such incident. Better sense needs to prevail to solve this decades old problem of one step forward, two steps back.

Move over India, enter Saudi Arabia; the world’s mascot for capital punishment, saviours of Pakistani coup d’état affectees, generous donors of billions of dollar cash ‘gift’ cards. Time and again the house of Saud has been more than gracious to Pakistan, minus the odd beheading of a drug peddler or arrest of a bi-polar journo. Favours are given to be returned later and now Saudi Arabia is calling theirs.

Sartaj Aziz said in the National Assembly this week that we were still mulling over the issue of participation in a grand alliance of 34 Islamic nations that was being spearheaded by Saudi Arabia. The alliance of course does not include Iran, Iraq or Syria. He carried on to say that the recent deployment of Pakistani soldiers to participate in a Saudi Arabia “military exercise” was a routine matter.

The Saudi Foreign Minister meanwhile has made the Kingdom’s position on Syria quite clear; if diplomacy fails, Assad’s regime will be removed by force. Saudi Arabia relies on military assistance from allies for the mere reason that it doesn’t trust its army because the majority of it is made up of Yemeni soldiers, the very nation they have been bombing since last year, fighting the Houthis.

So when Mr Aziz says that our participation in said exercise is a matter of routine, one has to take it with a pinch of salt. Last year a consensus was reached not to give assistance to Saudi Arabia for their regional battles considering the war at home.

Since then, a lack of transparency exists over our relations with Saudi Arabia. Any sort of military assistance to Saudi Arabia that is above and beyond routine matters should be discussed at home with all stakeholders. Not to mention the displeasure it will cause Iran and Russia.

While we battle our own demons, there is little or no rationale to join a war that isn’t our own. We simply can’t afford it. Let’s keep our role limited to honest broker, possibly trying for a less embarrassing episode than the one in January this year.

Relations with our western neighbours are possibly more complicated and worrisome than the ones mentioned above, combined. Afghanistan has been in a state of war since the ’90s and we have been directly a part of, and resultantly affected by this war ever since.

The cold war, Taliban takeover, American invasion and now the American exit have left the country in a state of complete anarchy. The Taliban were successful in seizing areas in Kunduz and Helmand, albeit temporarily, last year. It was their most successful winter to date.

As spring approaches, their efforts will only intensify. As the onslaught continues, so does the blame game between Pakistan and Afghanistan. From the Charsadda school attack in January to twin attacks yesterday and the day before claimed by TTP, killing at least nine security personnel in the northwestern tribal region, the TTP continues to take advantage of fault line across the border with Afghanistan while using their soil to plan attacks over here as well.

The Afghan government says the same of us. They believe that we sponsor and facilitate terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, a claim similar to that of India. Our relations with the Karzai government were hardly kosher, the change of guard in 2014 brought about a thaw in relations. But today we are once again at one of the lowest points in our relations with them.

Our foreign policy is improvised and mediocre at best. The problem lies with the style with which the foreign ministry is being run. The portfolio is tucked away somewhere under our PM’s bed. He seems to trust no one with it. Hence there is no full time foreign minister.

The closest to such a person is Sartaj Aziz, nearing 90 and recently demoted. Our NSA is a military man, seemingly forcefully inducted into the ministry via Rawalpindi, just to keep a check. Countries seem also to be more receptive to the men in boots rather than the boys in achkans. Letting this ministry remain part of the kitchen cabinet due to misplaced insecurities will not solve any foreign policy dilemma’s we are facing today.