Foreign Policy and Crisis of Governance
From the BOARD of EDITORIAL ADVISORS, Ms NASIM ZEHRA makes a fascinating analysis of our foreign policy and its failures
There exists a symbiotic relationship between the foreign policy of every country and between two specific factors; the geo-strategic context (regional and global) within which a country is located and the domestic compulsions of a country which include governance issues and economic constraints that exists. Depending on the economic strength, the military power and the leadership of a country, a country's foreign policy to a varying degree impacts upon these two elements and vice versa the foreign policy is influenced by these two elements. A dynamic connectivity is in fact constantly at work between foreign policy, governance and the geo-strategic environment. Autonomy, admittedly of varying degrees, is therefore available to all states to make their choices on the foreign policy. Their choices therefore define regional and global geo-strategic environments. Today however the supra-state actors like the United Nations, the IMF, World Bank, UNCTAD as well as sub-state actors including multi-nationals, NGOs, various shades of liberation movements, transnational militant movements and the media also define the geo-strategic environment.
Pakistan's foreign policy has been no exception to this rule. Ever since 1947 Pakistan's successive foreign policies have been defined by both Pakistan's geo-strategic environment and by issues of governance, specifically economic issues. Conversely, though to a lesser degree, Pakistan's foreign policy too has had an impact on governance-related issues. Whatever the content, orientation and conduct of Pakistan's foreign policy it has been a policy that has been determined by successive governments who made autonomous and calculated choices .
That their autonomy initially was circumscribed by the pressures that a new born state, with a three front situation (India, Afghanistan and China) and an ill-equipped newborn state, did not completely deny them independence of choice. The nature of the choices made by successive governments can be debated upon but not the fact that each government exercised, Pakistan's sovereign right to opt and reject allies. A review of Pakistan's foreign policy underscores the fact that foreign policy-making has been undertaken autonomously by the state and in content has not been responsive to populist pressures.
On the key issues of Pakistan's relations with India, it relation with the United States, the Gulf States and with China, the nuclear issue the state has consciously worked with politicians and opinion makers to create a public consensus on these issues. A balancing act has been performed by the governments to appear sympathetic to peoples' concerns while not undermining national interests. Policy towards Xinjiang, during the Iran-Iraq war, Russia's Chechan war etc. On other issues like the recognition of Israel, no government will change the position of not recognizing Israel until Saudi Arabia recognizes Israel. This position even if ostensibly ideological has been premised on the calculation of concrete security, economic and diplomatic advantages to Pakistan.
In a country whose political history has been marked by discontinuity and upheaval, foreign policy-making has been perhaps the most professionally handled arena. Foreign policy-making was conducted largely through an institutionalized framework as opposed to other aspects of policy-making. Kargil perhaps was an exception. That this professionally managed policy did not yield positive benefits for the country's economy, points to broader issues of governance that remained neglected over the decades. Now we are experiencing their cumulative effect.
2. The Foreign Policy Yield
In the fifties prompted by the security and economic concerns Pakistan adopted a foreign policy whose main pillar was an alliance with the United States. Economic and military advantages accrued to the state from this alliance. Concessional assistance, military training and equipment came. The domestic fall-out of this alliance and other factors like a newborn state, confronted with threats and therefore insecure, was that leftist leaning dissent was dealt out from the political arena.
In the sixties too it was a continuation of the fifties policy. The opening up with China took place in the late sixties and with it the initiation of a strategic relationship with China which continues to be the central pillar of Pakistan's foreign policy. However, sixties was a period of economic boom in the industrial sector. Its exports were more than that of Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia and combined. In the sixties Pakistan's foreign policy however yielded rich dividends in the form of large amounts of concessional flows.
In the seventies too the reorientation of a divided Pakistan by the brilliant and flamboyant Zulfikar Ali Bhutto towards the Muslim world yielded multiple advantages. The Middle East connection ensured flow of petrodollar, defence alliances and a special stature for a divided and defeated Pakistan. By the mid-eighties the flow of funds from around 3 million Pakistani workers amounted to around 6 billion dollars. This largely covered the trade imbalances caused by the increase in oil prices .
The period of the eighties was an aberration in Pakistan's history. More a nightmare. The military dictator General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, the hangman of an elected Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, military dictator and a domestically isolated man ended up ruling the country for eleven long years. On the foreign policy front he converted his foes into friends; he spent his eleven years befriending the India, China, warring Iran and Iraq, the Arab states, China and the United States. However, for the United States and especially the Reagan administration Zia became the man who led the roll-back of the evil Soviet empire.
Whatever Zia's successes on the foreign policy front otherwise his Afghan policy which yielded the Washington-Rawalpindi nexus helped Pakistan to earn a 3.2 billion dollar aid and loan package. Together the CIA and Pakistan's ISI co-authored and engineered the Afghan jihad. Zia opted for Machiavellian embrace with the Americans prompting his Foreign Minister Aga Shahi to resign. Differences emerged between the foreign office and the Generals' military team. Having promised to his Foreign Minister Aga Shahi that Pakistan a NAM member will not offer basis to the Americans, he broke his promise. In June 1981 when Secretary of State Alexander Haig's advisor Robert McFarlan came to Pakistan to discuss the weapons systems Pakistan sought under the 3.2 billion dollar package Zia told McFarlan 'Why are you shy of asking me for American bases in Pakistan'. Aga Shahi, Shahnawaz and General Arif were present in the meeting. Zia wanted to give the bases but McFarlan said 'Sir it would be inconceivable - and superficial for me to ask for bases.'
Equally Zia's state apparatus too busy with the Afghan jihad allowed the Pakistan to get deeply involved with the proxy wars being played in the Middle East. Pakistan fully bore the brunt of the Afghan jihad, the radicalisation of the Middle East politics and the American anti-Iran and anti-Soviet agenda. Zia took Pakistan deep into the sectarian, klashnikov, drugs, and the ethnic problems despite warnings from various domestic quarters. Zia's politics wreaked havoc on Pakistan's civil society. It mutilated the evolution of the domestic political forces, artificially strengthening some while forcibly undermining others. State patronage to specific groups ensured that a level playing field would not be available to political players.
Zia was a clever man not a wise one. A man of paradoxes, his policies brought needed weapons systems, corrupt generals , injected sectarianism into a polity where people co-existed peacefully with each other, abated wars with India and enabled Pakistan to continue with the development of its nuclear programme.
In the eighties and nineties a fairly large part of the deficit was financed by short-term borrowings at high rates. Earlier in the sixties the gap between the gross domestic savings and investment was financed by highly concessional assistance , mostly from the World Bank and the United States. By the middle of the nineties Pakistan carried a very large debt burden of over 30 billion dollars.
In the nineties while policy on the security front remained on track, the inept state and inept leadership steered the country from crisis to crisis. Against the backdrop of sectarian and ethnic violence problems of corruption, nepotism and inefficiency the country got deeply mired in the debt trap. Significantly as economists like Shahid Javed Burki and others argued that it was less the nuclear test and more the cardinal error of freezing the foreign currency accounts adding to Pakistan's economic troubles.
Clearly until the eighties Pakistan's foreign policy continued to provide easy cash injections and military windfall to the Pakistani state. However, the state failed to convert this windfall into a lasting strength especially in the economic arena. Domestic policy led to low domestic savings rates, also prevented from us from capitalizing on our own potential, perpetuated inefficient banking systems, retained a narrow tax base, minimal effort was made to document the economy. Collapse of public sector began, the railways, WAPDA, KESC etc, by 1997, 34% of Pakistan's population was living on the poverty line. Issues of distributive justice were overlooked.
3. Where Do We Stand Today
On the military security front Pakistan has done well. A nuclear deterrence, a professional army and a national will to defend the country inspires confidence. However, on a broader, crucial level what is happening in the hearts and minds of our people? What is the economic situation in the country? The answer is evident: organized and armed hate and anger exists within our own ranks; economic crisis we confront needs no elaboration as we are confronted by a $40 billion worth of external debt and finally according to Washington and some Arab countries those committing and planning acts of sabotage in the United States are being tracked back to training camps functioning in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Today's economic crisis is the cumulative outcome of flawed policies and a failure to make tough choices opt for documentation of the economy for instance, because the Middle East remittances, the Afghan jihad money, petro-dollars and the aid money came easy. It has been a ruling class that has been on a perpetual picnic. On the internal security front too the situation has continuously deteriorated. Pakistani commentators endlessly cautioned against the fall-out of the klashnikov culture, the drug culture, the sectarian curse etc. Until recently all this has continued to flourish because of the failure of successive governments because of their own weaknesses and the lack of consensus among different state institutions on a strategy to deal with the problem.
4. What is the Solution
Principally more effective and rational governance. Foreign policy needs to be contextualized in the broader framework of the failure of the state. Pakistan's objective should be to construct a developmental state rather than a predatory state. The need of the hour is to generate growth in the economy so that conduct of foreign policy is not dictated by economic shortcomings.
Specifically on the governance front the state must take the following actions:
It is these credible moves that alone that will earn the Pakistani state respect and peoples' confidence at home and credibility among other states. There are, however, limits to state control. Given the broader context , there exists a supra-national consciousness among the Pakistanis of the problems of Kosovo, Chechnya, Kashmir, and Bosnia. While the Pakistani state addresses these issues within a statist realpolitik framework the non-state actors will continue their support, political, moral , material and even maybe military, depending on what avenues are available to them.
What is clear is that the current crisis of governance in Pakistan is not linked to foreign policy and, therefore, the solution to this crisis does not lie in altering the objectives and content of foreign policy .
There is no demonstrable connection between Pakistan's foreign policy objectives and our current crisis of governance. Since the early nineties Pakistan has demonstrably played an important role in trying to bring peace to Afghanistan. Significantly the only negotiated instrument which ensured peaceful transfer of power was the 1993 Islamabad Accord.
In the region, however, there continues a power play in which all of Afghanistan's neighbours are involved. Pakistan's proposals for peace and call for ceasefire, the 1997 shuttle diplomacy efforts at initiating an intra-Afghan dialogue , its 1998 proposals for enforcing an arms embargo were as unambiguously undertaken as the aborted attempt by a neighbouring state to supply of 900 metric tons of weapons to the Northern Alliance. Pakistan has facilitated the policy of constructive engagement between many regional states including China, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhistan and the Talibaan.
On issues like the Afghan Transit Trade, Pak-India relations, Pak-US relations the nuclear issue, Kashmir Pakistan has adopted a wisely thought through policy the Kargil episode being the exception.
5. Need to Alter Conduct of Foreign Policy
6. Impact of the Crisis of Governance on Foreign Policy
Myths That Continue to Flourish
7. Patterns that Emerge
Pakistan's current foreign policy is not responsible for the prevailing crisis of governance. It is the character of the state and the character of those who wielded state power has been responsible for the current crisis of governance.