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

I. Introduction

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:

  • Enforce rule of law within the country and undertake to de-weaponize all non-state actors.
  • Establish a code of ethics for all opinion making forums including the masjid, politician and the press banning all actions that spread hatred against various sects and ethnic groups.
  • Ensure tighter controls at border check-points especially with China and Iran.
  • Banning of political parties should be out, taking strict action against those that incite hatred and preach violence against non-Pakistanis, should be in.
  • Government should continuously reiterate that Islam cannot be used for political opportunism.
  • Narrow the divide between the have and the have-nots and between the western educated elite and the locally educated. Bridge-building must replace the us versus them divide.
  • Advocate freedom of expression within the parameters of Pakistan's Constitution. This must be at the core of a society dedicated to progress and development. Because it is a rough and risky path we should not abandon it. Thought cannot be suppressed. Freedom of expression will enable logical and credible ideas to survive in the marketplace of ideas. We must recognize that thought control breeds resentment, bitterness and violence.
  • Address the genuine and reasonable concerns of other countries which relate to our territory.

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

  • Pakistan's weakness lies in ineffective projection of Pakistan's foreign policy. Unwarranted and counterproductive secrecy in a media context which ensures complete transparency. Weakness on information management enables others to define the story, the reality of Pakistan's policy. An excessively cautious approach in managing foreign policy related information has contributed to undermining what has arguably been a viable and valid policy on for example Afghanistan, India, Gulf and the US.
  • Until recently populist rhetoric on key foreign policy issues became the passport for public acceptance for corrupt and inept politicians and cabinet members. A sobriety in the conduct of policy is therefore required.
  • Increased coordination among foreign policy-making institutions.
  • Restructuring of foreign policy setup to integrate economic agenda in the mainstream of foreign policy-making and implementation.

6. Impact of the Crisis of Governance on Foreign Policy

Concrete Level

  • Minimal benefits that translate into peoples' prosperity and a nation's progress have been harvested from Pakistan's foreign policy. There has been a complete failure to capitalize on the economic front. For example our special relations with countries like China, Malaysia, Iran, the Gulf States and even South Africa have not been used. All these three countries have continuously indicated specific interest in broadening trade and investment relations. Yet because of the mess on the economic front on the home front, no headway has been made with any of the three countries. Only under an improved system of economic direction backed by efficiently functioning institutions leading can radically alter the status quo on the trade and investment front.
  • Living off cash windfalls over the years the Pakistani state acquired a predatory non-productive character.

Psychological Level

  • A psychologically handicapped decision-making elite; one with a somewhat dependant and derivative mindset
  • A commenting class that judges itself through the eyes of others and that tends to become overwhelmed by external criticisms, whether valid or invalid. This has taken away from our own ability to dig our teeth into our own internal problems and instead tempted us to look for external sources of sustenance.

Myths That Continue to Flourish

  • Reduced military budget will ensure social development.
  • Our Nuclear Policy has cost us foreign investment.
  • Signing the CTBT will help to end our so-called 'isolation.'

7. Patterns that Emerge

  • The state has consistently been able to take autonomous decisions in the foreign policy arena on key security issues.
  • Pakistan's foreign policy has helped Pakistan to effectively deal with the security threats it has confronted. The tragic breakup of 1971 however was caused by the failure of the Pakistani state , weak governance and Indian aggression.
  • Pakistan has never reconciled with the illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir by India. As a party UN-acknowledged party to the Kashmir dispute Pakistan will continue to support the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination.
  • Foreign policy was not able to 'deliver' on the economic front because of a continuing crisis of governance. A proactive foreign policy conducted only on the security front. On the economic front the focus has been on acquiring aid and loans. Minimal effort was made to develop economic relations with our regional and distant friends.
  • The economic benefits from successive foreign policy have fed the non-productive predatory state.
  • Because of a weak state and a weak commercial activity operationally Pakistan has pursued a one-dimensional relationship in which economic relations have not been cultivated. Unidimensional relations have led to developing tenuous and fragile relations with even our close friends. For example problems with Iran over Afghanistan has led to a crisis in our relations.

8. Conclusion

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.