Framing National Interest of Pakistan: Foreign Policy and Assurances of Peace

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Ashraf Jehangir Qazi*

Given the state of our country it is only appropriate for people of my generation who contributed to it to speak with complete frankness and honesty in the hope that awareness, however painful, will be a first step to doing something. This is the least that we delinquents owe the country.

In addressing such a subject a number questions arise. What is the national interest? Who frames it? How is it framed? Does it take sufficient account of the interests of the people? What are the answers to these questions in the case of Pakistan?

Let us go back to the Pakistan Movement. When did it begin? What was it for? The answers are not always so clear or simple. What we do know is that the Muslim League was established in Dhaka in 1906 to safeguard the political rights and interests of the Muslims of British India. In 1930 Allama Iqbal addressed the Allahabad session of the Muslim League. He made the case for the Panjab, NWFP, Sindh and Balochistan to be amalgamated into a single state. He felt that “the life of Islam, as a cultural force in India very largely depends on its centralization in a specified territory.” Did this mean a separate country? Iqbal said he wanted the ”free development” of Islamic culture which was practically impossible under a unitary government dominated by nationalist Hindu politicians. Did that mean a more decentralized federal structure would be suitable? But then he adds “the problem of India is international, not national.” Is this a multinational problem within India or does it necessitate separate nations? In a letter addressed to the Quaid-e-Azam dated 21 June 1937, Iqbal suggested a separate federation of Muslim provinces was the only way to secure a peaceful India and save Muslims from the domination of non-Muslims. He posed the question: why should the Muslims of the North West and Bengal not be considered nations with the same right of self-determination, just as other nations in India, and outside India? This, if anything, was a forerunner of the Cabinet Mission plan of 1946 which was ultimately and conditionally accepted by the Muslim League, but rejected by the Indian National Congress.

We all know that the word Pakistan was coined by Ch. Rahmat Ali in his pamphlet Now or Never in 1933. He thought in terms of a Pakistan in the North West, a Bang-e-Islam in Bengal and Assam, and an Usmanistan for Hyderabad State in the South. The Quaid did not believe his proposal to be practical. However, Ch. Rahmat Ali felt the creation of Pakistan within its 1947 borders had sabotaged the future of the then 100 million Muslims living in India and he called it the blackest day for all the Muslims of the subcontinent.

Just before Independence, the Quaid met a delegation of Indian Muslims and told them frankly “the Muslims of India would go through a number of ordeals, sufferings and sacrifices. Their future will remain dark for some years to come and thick clouds will be hanging over them.” He asked them to display courage find the required leadership and preserve their identity. He advised them to avoid conflict with the majority community and demonstrate through their merit that they could not be ignored. Regarding loyalty, the Quaid did not mince his words. They had to be loyal to their country which was India. He said “just as I want every Hindu in Pakistan to be loyal to Pakistan, so do I want every Muslim in India to be loyal to India. There is no other alternative.” Subsequently, the historic speech of the Quaid on 11 August 1947 at the inauguration of Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly reiterated the same sentiment. He said “you may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.”

This was the ideology of the Founding Father of Pakistan. Without saying so, the Quaid had made abundantly clear that the two nation theory which was central to the Pakistan Movement had no role within an independent Pakistan. This was the basis on which all national policy  including foreign policy – was supposed to be formulated. However, Pakistan was born into a sea of challenges. It was confronted with hostility. It was overwhelmed by the slaughter and displacement of millions that accompanied the Partition, and which created an enduring legacy of bitterness on both sides of the border. Moreover, no one anticipated that the Kashmir dispute would become a permanent sore and the cause of an unending cycle of conflict between the two countries adding to the bitterness, and poisoning the context in which so many other bilateral issues had to be addressed. Being the smaller and more vulnerable state, Pakistan became a security oriented state instead of becoming what the Quaid wanted, a development oriented state. The retention of the two nation theory under the slogan of Muslim nationalism, and with it separate electorates, was absurdly seen as some kind of psychological reassurance against re-absorption into India. It simultaneously demonstrated a lack of confidence in Pakistan’s nationalism and set up an impediment against the development of a healthy nationalism based on a respect for diversity and respect for equal minority rights.

Worst of all, the Quaid departed the scene barely a year after the birth of Pakistan. There was no one of the required caliber to lead the country and develop the Muslim League into a people’s party. The Quaid, as mentioned, had asked the Muslims of India to develop the required leadership to meet their challenges in post-partition India. But, ironically, it was Pakistan after the Quaid that could not develop the leadership he hoped for. India, on the other hand, had the benefit of Nehru’s leadership for 17 years after independence and he was able to lay the foundations of a development state. It must also be admitted that while the Congress party was infected by the virus of anti-Muslim communalism it was politically a more progressive party than the Muslim League whose mass base was largely left behind in India.

Our foreign policy was accordingly impacted. The feudal class of West Pakistan much of which had until the very last moment refused to have anything to do with the Pakistan Movement or the Quaid, the refugee bureaucrats who came from India with better education and qualifications, the military which rose in significance because of the challenges to national security, and the religious classes which had also opposed Pakistan and had no respect for the Quaid’s ideology which they saw as western and un-Islamic, came together to form a political elite based on a mutual accommodation of interests at the expense of the people as a whole. This, of course, happens everywhere. But given Pakistan’s traumatic birth, its infancy and fragility, and the loss of its beloved and irreplaceable leader, the anti-people ruling elite proved very costly indeed. India’s short-sighted and duplicitous approach towards Pakistan played straight into the hands of Pakistan’s cynical elite. This of course suited India just fine.

National security, not development, became the national priority. Development came to rely on external assistance as much as on mobilizing internal resources. Foreign policy had to facilitate these national political and economic strategies by facilitating the agendas of external benefactors and mobilizing external resources on the basis of  convincing these benefactors that  Pakistan was  a  more reliable and valuable ally than India – a mission that at best could achieve contingent and temporary success. Our foreign policy while managed by exceptionally gifted and committed individual diplomats was limited by these narrow elite determined and inefficient national priorities.

A new post-partition Pakistan ideology was invented largely by those who had little or nothing to do with the Pakistan Movement. The national priorities were those set by a soft praetorian elitist state that dressed itself up as a revived Salahaddin Ayubi state. Ayubi state it was, but not Salahaddin Ayubi! These priorities were, of course, set without any reference to available national resources or the priority needs of the people. Moreover the economic elite wanted a free ride in terms of exemptions from paying taxes, subsidies and protection from any kind of competition. The defence elite garnered the lion’s share of domestic resources and also wanted “external equalizers” to counter the greater size and resources of our major adversary, with whom perpetual enmity became a badge of honour and identity. When the results proved less than satisfactory, our foreign policy and diplomats were conveniently blamed.

Our foreign and defence policies were required to be romantic, heroic and successful on the basis of historic delusions and myths rather than rational analyses and any substantial investment in physical and human resources. The obvious fact that in the modern era standing peasant armies do not win conventional military victories was deliberately ignored despite all the war gaming that was supposedly going on. In fact, the case for rational evaluation was often denounced as cowardly, lacking in faith and western influenced. These arguments were not just silly. They were dishonest and dissembling. Meanwhile the people and the smaller provinces were progressively alienated by the demands of an ideology – couched in patriotic and religious terms – in the formulation of which they were not consulted and on behalf of which they saw their resources and opportunities for development being plundered. This led ultimately to the humiliating tragedy of military defeat and the loss of more than half our population – and the shameless betrayal of the vision and lifework of Quaid-e-Azam and Allama Iqbal.

As a result, the basis of our foreign policy changed from the idle boast of a thousand year war with India to a desperate struggle to pick up the shattered pieces of what was left of Pakistan. This transition was brilliantly managed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. We upgraded our relations with the Islamic world, negotiated from an empty hand to get the Simla Agreement and secure the maximum breathing space for building  a new Pakistan, and began searching for a new equalizer vis a vis India. The electoral victory of the PPP under Bhutto in 1970 empowered the lower classes under the slogan of “roti, kapra, makaan which indicated what the true ideology and agenda of the people was. They were already Muslims. They did not need to be repeatedly converted. Economic and administrative reforms were undertaken. In foreign policy an eastward and leftward orientation was imparted to bring us into line with the Non-Aligned Movement although this did not sit entirely well with our courting the Sheikhs of Arabia.

Our shattered national image which sprang not just from defeat but also from our treatment of our own compatriots in East Pakistan began to acquire a positive and progressive image. Our relations with China were further strengthened because it feared the rise of a triumphant India becoming more assertive and seeking revenge for its 1962 defeat with western support. But this could not entirely replace the effective loss of the US as a supposed equalizer vis a vis India, especially after India’s “Smiling Buddha” peaceful nuclear implosion of 1974. We decided there was no alternative to seeking a nuclear equalizer even if our industrial base was not sufficient to support the effort. Bhutto was quoted as having said “we will eat grass” if necessary to obtain nuclear weapons capability, although there was little danger of our comfortable classes being reduced to such a plight. The land reforms turned out to be bogus. The nationalization of banks and medium sized enterprises was an exercise in the assertion of power rather than genuine socio-economic reform. The tax base remained as exiguous as ever. Pakistan remained an elitist and soft praetorian state, and never made the transition to a people’s development state capable of taking and implementing tough decisions on behalf of the people’s interests. Our foreign policy reflected these realities.

The fall of Bhutto inaugurated the Islamization of Pakistan – a misnomer because it was Islam in the service of military dictatorship and its cohorts, and not the state and people in the service of Islam. Islam the world’s most enlightened, humane and rational of religious traditions had to be distorted and degraded in order to disguise this betrayal of our ultimate set of values – the values that underlay the Pakistan Movement and the Quaid’s last messages to his people. Military dictatorship and intelligence agencies began to formulate the essential thrust of national policies including foreign policy. After the judicial murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979, Zia was internationally despised and isolated. He might not have lasted long. But the Iranian Revolution and far more importantly the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan saved his regime. In fact he became the center of gravity for the effort to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. A wonderful opportunity for the so-called Islamization and militarization of the state and society was provided, and availed of. The international community led by the US and the rest of the west rushed to Zia’s support as they later did to that of another military dictator without giving a damn about how this would impact on the balance between rational and irrational political agendas and the welfare of the people of Pakistan. They used Pakistan and threw it away when no longer needed allowing all the rot to fester and poison the future of the country. Democratic forces have never recovered since. As a result, we now fluctuate between military dictatorship and kleptocracy, and call it a learning process in democratic governance. In this milieu, the conduct of foreign policy which is a technical/non-ideological art or skill was marginalized in terms of contributing to decision making within its own sphere of competence and responsibility, and was used as an instrument and as window dressing.

From the above we can see that the national interest has been defined by those in control of articulating the ideology of Pakistan who also exercise power over the use and allocation of its resources. This is seldom done in the national interest. In fact it has involved the deliberate and disastrous abandonment of the project to build the Quaid’s Pakistan for which the Pakistan Movement struggled. The great English writer Samuel Johnson said patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Patriotism and religion have both been misused in a similar way in Pakistan. The people, however, have developed greater awareness and consciousness over the decades. But they are not yet sufficiently organized to significantly impact the substance of national and foreign policies. The leadership of Pakistan is largely agreed on trying to keep the people out of the loop as much as possible through distractions of every kind. Democracy as political theater in the shape of bitter fighting among the major parties is a favourite stratagem. The people, of course, are not fooled. But they are not yet sufficiently aware of their potential organized strength. The souls of the Allama and the Quaid must remain restless for some time to come. It is for the people to ensure that the day will come when they finally rest in peace.

Within this context what should be the role of our foreign policy? Since foreign policy has to serve the national interest it is not supposed to have an independent agenda of its own, independent, that is, of the national interest. It will of course have a very detailed agenda of its own. But it must flow from the agreed priorities of the national agenda. The national interests are many and varied. The standard list of what constitutes the national list is available from the Objectives Resolution and the Principles of Policy of the Constitution of Pakistan as well as any text book on politics and international relations. However, the essence of our national interest lies in the transformation of a pre-modern underdeveloped country in which the vast majority of the population is kept poor, uneducated, exploited and without hope by a narrowly based coalition of elite groups into a modern, economically developed and politically participatory democracy comprising educated, free and empowered citizens. If it is not this, it is nothing.

Our foreign policy’s major task is to contribute to this transformation. Any country with such a transformation national agenda needs an enabling neighborhood and external environment for its implementation. In addition it needs to maximize the quantity and quality of its economic growth in order to garner the resources required for the transformation agenda. Accordingly, our foreign policy must not only be conducted within these parameters but it must also contribute to the strengthening of them. It must contribute to meeting our development and security challenges, handling our bilateral, regional and international relations, the development of international understanding for our stand on a whole range of issues, developing a positive image of the country abroad on the basis of concrete achievements, etc. It must also contribute to mobilizing resources through economic cooperation, FDI, regional arrangements, market access and preferential arrangements, etc., that facilitate the maximum possible rate of growth. Narrow agendas that undermine the prospect of implementing a national transformation agenda and a foreign policy designed to facilitate it, neither serve the national interest nor the specific cause they claim to serve.

The real world is more complicated of course. Let us take the cases of Kashmir and nuclear weapons. In light of the transformation agenda and the need for a peaceful neighbourhood and maximizing economic growth, how much priority should we give to the Kashmir dispute? We must, of course, always support the Kashmiri right of self determination because that is their right. It is not ours to confer or to withdraw as General Musharraf blithely assumed. It is an internationally recognized right. It is a legal obligation of the international community, including Pakistan, to press India to meet its obligation in this respect. But it is not an enforceable right because it was adopted by the UN Security Council under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter and not Chapter 7 under which Security Council resolutions are enforceable. However, an occupied and oppressed people who have been forcibly denied the right to self determination, freedom and independence do have an inherent and recognized right to resist that situation, through armed struggle if necessary, and to seek international assistance for that purpose. Pakistan is a designated party to the Kashmir dispute and it has a moral and legal obligation to support the UN resolutions on Kashmir and to support the Kashmiri struggle for its inalienable rights.

The question is how do we do this? Through diplomatically seeking a compromise settlement? Through going to war with India? Through assisting armed Kashmiri resistance fighters against the Indian occupation forces? Or through some combination of all three options? And how do we square our choice with the need for a peaceful neighbourhood and maximizing the rate of our economic growth? Whatever choice is made, it should be legal, it should respect human rights particularly those of the Kashmiri people, it should be effective in facilitating the aspirations of the Kashmiri people, and it should not altogether undermine our bilateral relationship with India, because without a  modus vivendi with it the neighbourhood and growth conditions for implementing our national transformation agenda cannot be fulfilled. That obviously should eliminate certain options mentioned above if we have the interests of our own people in mind. But we don’t throw principle to the wind. We find policies, strategies and tactics that allow us, as best as possible, to effectively support the Kashmiri people while maintaining and developing ties with India.

What if India does not cooperate? What if it says either abandon your support for Kashmiri rights or be ready for tense and conflictual relations with us at the expense of your national agenda? That would complicate the situation, as it has. But we still do not give up on principle. We will need to defend ourselves against any Indian aggressive designs or intimidation. But we do not go looking for trouble. We do not allow ourselves to be accused of abetting terrorist acts as we have consistently done. We take all the tough decisions to ensure this. On this basis, we strive to persuade India that it is in the interests of both countries to find mutually acceptable solutions that are, above all, acceptable to the Kashmiris. We look for win-win processes and not zero-sum solutions. Zero-sum solutions are not stable and zero sum strategies are always more costly for smaller countries. To the extent we are able to do this, we increase our standing and weight in the councils of the world, and we make it difficult for any interlocutor to adopt an uncooperative attitude towards our rational positions. A belligerent or irrational Pakistan would be much easier for an adversary to handle. We need to be wise.

Let us take the case of nuclear weapons. A conventionally superior India defeated and humiliated us in 1971 tearing away our eastern half. The US proved to be an insufficient ally. Even China could not take our chestnuts out of the fire. In 1974 India conducted an atomic test. We had no option but to develop a nuclear weapons capacity as an equalizer to the superior conventional military power of India. Otherwise, India would never take us seriously. It was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who negotiated the Simla Agreement for a modus vivendi with India. But he also insisted on acquiring a nuclear weapons capacity to preserve the credibility of our policy. In 1998 India called our bluff and went nuclear. Much to India’s consternation we answered in full measure. Vajpayee came to Lahore in 1998. We went to Kargil in 1999. India responded short of an all out attack on us. They were deterred from crossing the Line of Control or the international border by our nuclear capability. This enabled the US to bring about an end to the confrontation on mutually acceptable terms. Three years later, in 2002, as a result of a terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in Delhi, India blamed Pakistan and raised the ante by deploying its military along our borders to browbeat us into submitting to its demands. We stood our ground. Once again the Indians blinked, and the US was able to negotiate an end to the confrontation? So nuclear weapons are absolutely essential to preserving our security and independence. Right?

Unfortunately, for all those who see the possession of nuclear weapons as an emotional imperative, an objective analysis does not so clearly support the case for nuclear weapons. If we assume that none of our domestic and foreign policies will alter, the dysfunctional elite will continue to determine our priorities and strategies, relations with India will remain as they are forever, and the international community will continue to ignore our just demands and fail to reward us sufficiently, both militarily and economically, then a case for a nuclear deterrent can be made – even though it would still not be a convincing case, since it would certainly be at the expense of our transformation agenda. But if we were to re-orient our domestic and foreign policies to bring them in conformity with our transformation agenda as, for example, suggested in the case of the Kashmir dispute, then although difficulties and differences with India may still take a very long time to overcome, the probability of a confrontation scenario in which a nuclear deterrent becomes essential will dramatically decline.

But  what  if  India  goes  mad?  Maybe  some  rotten  leadership gets elected to office, performs so abominably that it faces political extinction at the next polls, and the Kashmiri people rise in armed revolt against intolerable corruption and savage repression, could not such a government seek political redemption through a war of annihilation against Pakistan? It must be admitted that to the extent that such a scenario is possible, Pakistan would need a defence capacity including possibly a nuclear deterrent capacity. But even in this case, questions arise. Would a nuclear deterrent be the only available option against an India that becomes stupidly belligerent? How likely is such a scenario, and should we concentrate our resources on it to the exclusion of other more likely scenarios? Of course, one has to prepare for worst case scenarios, but if in doing so, we undermine our transformation agenda then what kind of options will we be able to develop vis a vis India in order to temper its behaviour towards us, including bringing about the settlement of long standing disputes on mutually acceptable terms? Moreover, if we insist that our security situation leaves us no option but to develop a nuclear deterrent capability, then how can we argue that Iran which faces an existential threat from Israel and its main supporter should refrain from doing so? And what about scenarios in which the

umbrella of a nuclear stalemate is used to prosecute splendid little wars without fear of excessive escalation? How do we probe the extent of each others nuclear deterrent without running the risk of the nuclear deterrent failing? After all nuclear weapons are not meant to be used. Of course, the answer to this extremely complicated issue lies in the settlement of long standing disputes and in the nuclear weapons states being more sincere with respect to their nuclear disarmament obligations under the NPT. This is not meant to oppose our nuclear policy. It is meant to suggest that the case for it is not that straightforward, and it has to be placed within a context, and that is our transformation agenda. Outside of this context, as one Pakistani commentator recently observed, we will be protecting our nuclear assets rather than our nuclear assets protecting us. Once again, we need to be wise.

Demagogues and mountebanks of one kind or another can always pretend to offer simpler solutions which, as we have seen time and again over the past 60 years, harm the people’s interest in a better future for their children. They need to be progressively sidelined. There are ways in which this can be done. The exposure of disgusting personal greed and low cunning at the highest levels speaking the language of high principle, lofty idealism and devotion to the people, is one way. The exposure of goons and thugs posing as defenders of democracy, both at home and abroad, is another. Principled, imaginative, realistic, and committed popular leadership will be required. Consultations and communication leading to an informed public opinion will be required. Diplomatic and other technical capacities will need to be developed. All the tracks of diplomacy will need to be coordinated into an integrated approach. A culture of peace and compromise will need to evolve. All this will take time, patience, persistence and faith. It will never be easy or free of personal cost. But any other approach will sooner or later mean a betrayal of the national transformation agenda – and that will be an anti-people and anti-Pakistan approach. And silence in the face of such an approach will eventually become complicity.

This is the approach we will need to adopt with respect to all items on our national and foreign policy agenda to ensure that it remains consistent with our national transformation imperative. We need to remember just one rule to have a very good idea of what our policy on any domestic or foreign policy issue needs to be. Any policy, or policy response, on any issue that in practice undermines the priority and the implementation of the transformation agenda is against the national interest. Apart from Kashmir and the nuclear issue which has an immediate impact on the level of conventional spending, if, for example, we cite the war on terror, the defence of the country, the ideology of Pakistan, the need to preserve the unity of the country, the need to improve relations with the US or any other country, the need to maintain law and order, the need to improve the investment climate, the need to keep the deficit under control, etc., etc., as justifications for the consistent and deliberate denial of sufficient resources for the nation-wide implementation of programs of education, health, protection of human rights, social welfare, generation of high employment and high value job creation, human and physical resource development, etc., etc., for the people of Pakistan, then, whatever we say, and whatever patriotic pose we strike, we are in fact abetting the decline and demise of our country. Once we know and act upon this truth, we can all begin to contribute to the saving of our country through participating in the discussion, formulation and conduct of policy on a hundred tracks, including the foreign policy track. The rest is detail.