Domestic milieu and foreign policy constraints

Contributing Editor Vice Admiral (Retd) Iqbal F Quadir analyses the nexus that influence policy initiatives.

In any developed or well-managed country, its external relations were an extension of the domestic milieu and national objectives at home and abroad as modulated by external compulsions. Further that, external relations or foreign policy are one side of a symbiotic triangle, the second being defence and the third, which is also the base / foundation of this triangle, and therefore most important, was the economy of the country. It went without saying that the stronger the economic base the more robust a country’s foreign and defence policies could be. The national objectives, domestic as well as external, to be viable must be contained within this symbiotic triangle; otherwise, either their scope would have to be trimmed to remain feasible or the triangle would have to be enlarged by procuring external crutches i.e. economic, political, military or a combination thereof.
Pakistan faced with India’s hostility over Kashmir from the very beginning in 1947, the political leaders initially tried to have the matter resolved peacefully politically by direct negotiations, by having friendly relations with all the countries of the world and influencing India through them, and when India took the problem of Kashmir to the United Nations Security Council, through that august body also. However, none of these took Pakistan any closer to the solution of the Kashmir dispute, all due to Indian intransigence and persistent subterfuge.
Meanwhile, according to released US State Department documents, starting from end August 1947, Ghulam Muhammad the Finance Minister established direct contact with United States Charge d’Affaires in Karachi, behind the back of the government who’s declared foreign policy was ‘friendship towards all and enmity towards none’. He proposed to US CDA a two billion dollars economic development and military assistance package for Pakistan by USA to contain any Soviet warm water drive when the British withdrew from this part of the world. The US authorities were not immediately interested but kept their talks going with Ghulam Muhammad till 1953, by which time the well-known cold war had broken out between USA and USSR, and the former sought partners to contain any Soviet Union expansionism towards the South. For this purpose, Pakistan being better placed strategically than India; the Americans, who till then were toying with the idea of a strategic relationship with India, gave preference to Pakistan.
By that time i.e. 1953, Pakistan’s political milieu had weakened greatly because of the death of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the yet to be solved murder of the Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and to cap it all, rank disunity amongst politicians, particularly between those of the two wings, which the bureaucracy had assiduously fostered while abiding their time, waiting for a take over for better governance. Ghulam Muhammad the Governor General by then (1953), found in US need of an anti-communist shield in South Asia an opportune moment to overthrow the elected government with support of Iskander Mirza and the Commander-in- Chief of the Army Ayub Khan, and to take over all powers for himself. US Aid to Pakistan followed soon after, which artificially inflated the size of Pakistan’s symbiotic triangle. Most unfortunately eversince then, this symbiotic triangle has remained extravagantly large, even during periods when foreign military and economic assistance was curtailed or reduced and Pakistan had to find other means e.g. commercial loans at home and abroad etc. to meet the shortfalls. The result of this policy of inflating the symbiotic triangle with borrowed resources proved disastrous to social, political and economic development of the country were evident from the state of affairs prevalent in the country ever since large scale foreign aid commenced. Thus, despite continued large aid and loan doses over the years from abroad, including grants from our Arab and Iranian brothers and the Chinese all weather friends, Pakistan started having negative trade and foreign exchange balances regularly annually, resulting in escalating domestic and foreign debts. This process has not been reversed yet and loans for unproductive projects continue unabated.
During the 1965 War, when in a winning position in Kashmir, a U-turn by Ayub Khan under Western pressure did not help matters either. A victory at that time could at least have reduced defence costs greatly and released large funds for human resource and economic development. But that was not to be, instead, the cost of that war and the accompanying US embargo at that time placed such a heavy burden on the country that it has never been able to truly recover eversince socially, economically or politically. Further, from the very beginning in 1954, all US aid and US influenced foreign assistance by other donors given to Pakistan was primarily for reasons of military considerations i.e. Pakistan joining the anti-Soviet Baghdad Pact later renamed CENTO when Iraq left Baghdad Pact after the present Baath Party overthrew the King, and SEATO against any possible Chinese expansion into South and South East Asia. A lot of defence material and equipment was made available to Pakistan; which the country would not have been able to acquire otherwise. To be able to absorb/induct this new modern equipment into its defence forces, Pakistan had to invest disproportionately large part of its own resources, financial and qualified manpower, in reorganization and expansion of its old military structure. Thereafter, for running of the much larger size of armed forces than earlier and for greater maintenance required of the old refurbished equipment normally supplied, further excessively heavy defence expenditure had to be undertaken. The scale of expansion could be imagined from the current strength of the Army that includes the force sanctioned for East and West Pakistan after US Aid commenced plus additional forces authorized for a two front war when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Moreover, for replacements of material getting obsolescent every seven years or so by more sophisticated and costlier equipment, especially if it was new, the burden on the national exchequer remained continually on the increase and excessive.
Consequently, short of resources, even for daily running of the federal and provincial governments, to meet their needs more and more money had to be borrowed from domestic and external sources. Economic development of the country remained at a premium and almost all projects were financed with foreign assistance albeit loans, at a later stage with Pakistan providing the rupee element. Most of these non-military projects were designed to meet the essential needs of food, electricity, water and communications of an exploding population that doubled itself almost every twenty years. The rest went for restructuring various government organizations that essentially meant expensive new office and residential structures, cars and other vehicles for government servants use and even rarely utilized new IT equipment plus privileges galore not available to civil and military bureaucracy even in the hey days of British Empire. In economic terms a vast majority of all civil and military projects were investments without any financial returns with which to pay back the loans. They, like those presently being undertaken were only meant to improve the quality of life, mainly benefiting five to ten percent of the population having access to government authorities. There were indeed a few exceptions like Port Qasim, Steel Mill, Saindak copper mine that remained under wrap for almost a decade under foreign pressure and the present Gwadar Port together with the long distance communications structure from there etc., again facing pressures from important sources.
Politically, since 1953 except for the period 1972-77 the country has remained a rudderless ship without a proper captain in command. The leader of the guards onboard for protection of the ship against piracy and not a proper Captain has commanded the ship either directly or through approved elected Pro-Consuls. The sole aim of those in overall command appeared to be not a port or a cove but only to keep the rudderless ship from running aground. So the ship remained permanently at sea, metaphorically and otherwise too. The singular aim and intent of the governments in power save for the periods before 1953 and between the years-1972 to 1977, has been security from the military threat from India. Since Pakistan has never so far been in a position of achieving security against Indian conventional military threat from its own resources, the foreign policy thrust; whenever the Establishment has been in direct or indirect control; has again been glaringly singular, albeit, to obtain necessary resources from USA, China and the Muslim countries. Here, it would be interesting to know that during the nineteen-sixties when a friendly Western country offered complete nuclear technology cycle for peaceful purposes to Pakistan after USA and Canada had offered nuclear technology to India, Ayub Khan spurned that offer. According to one Foreign Secretary speaking at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, Karachi a few years ago the foreign policy aim of the country was woven around maintaining good relations with the United States of America. A classic case of a gooey eyed man in a state of unrequited love. The object of our love, having her own plans, willingly used our need of love for her own purposes i.e. Pakistan had to be willing to play along with the US game. Currently, that game was prosecution of US war against terrorism in Afghanistan. Further, since USA was also the key to our access to international financiers, with whom we are neck deep in debt, continued good relations with USA become very important to Pakistan’s well-being. In addition, the compulsions of our foreign trade structure and dependence on US goodwill for any large-scale replacement
programme of military equipment made maintenance of good relations with USA a paramount necessity. However, though the above was the gist of our not very promising domestic milieu that certainly was not the end all. The emerging world environment, particularly around our region, offers Pakistan a wider scope of manoeuvre in her relations with the rest of the world, which only Pakistan could spoil by continuing to look at the world through one coloured glass. The challenges facing Pakistan were difficult but they were equally promising. It would be for the emerging new leadership to display the needed wisdom and courage to look for and exploit the opportunities embedded in those challenges.