Our Foreign Policy Imperative

 We need more stable balanced foreign policy building a strong economy through broad based industrialisation and manufacturing growth

By Muhammad Ragheeb

Pakistan’s foreign policy and the color chameleon in the jungle have one thing in common - both can change at a moment’s notice. Throughout our 75 year history, each new government brings with it a different alignment to the foreign policy of the state. This is not to say that the national interests of a country are always fixed and cannot change but extreme shifts in foreign policy objectives with every change of government are a hallmark of an unstable and shallow understanding of what the national interest is. 

This can lead to serious security and economic repercussions of both positive and negative nature for a nation. Pakistan is one of the prime examples of how our ineffective and misaligned relations with other countries have led to a great deal of economic, social and security issues for our country and its people. From the Non-Aligned stance adopted during the early fifties to the pro western security alliance stance of the Ayub era, we have many examples of how each successive administration in Pakistan has simply jumped ships from one policy to another. 

Latest example of our unpredictable foreign policy is our response to the ongoing Ukraine crisis. At a time when most if not all of the international powers that matter are pitching up against Russia, our PM flew off to Moscow the same day Russia invaded Ukraine. In parallel, our unusually vocal attempts to win support for the Taliban government are not going well with the western world and highlight confusion among our foreign policy zealots as to where to put their weight behind in the tussle among the heavyweights of the global politics.

Historically our foreign policy has been driven by two key objectives- mainly national security followed by economic growth. In the 1950s and 1960s, realizing that Pakistan was no match conventionally for the military might of its neighbor India and feeling that a war was coming we focused on entering security alliances with the West against the Soviet Union. This policy was derived from the concept of collective security made popular by the biggest and most well know such alliance NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). 
We believed that by joining Middle East and Asian based security pacts, US and its allies shall come to our assistance in the event of a war with India besides providing us military and economic aid during peace time. Much to our disappointment, this policy was proven wrong after the 1965 and 1971 wars as none of our so called allies stepped forward to lend us direct military support in these wars against India.

On the other hand, in the absence of organic industrial growth, mere inflow of dollars was unable to support economic well being of a rapidly growing population especially as most of it was being utilized for the benefit of few and the mighty institutions, individuals and interest groups rather than for the good of common people.

 Our security and economic policies were reset at this time owing to the experiences mentioned above. On the security side, two main elements were added to our policies. Firstly, Pakistan started development of nuclear weapons as a credible deterrence against India whom we could not otherwise match in conventional warfare for the obvious reasons. Secondly, efforts were started to turn Afghanistan into a client state in order to achieve strategic depth and make it a buffer zone against the Soviet Union. 

On the economic front, governments of Bhutto and Zia focused on sending its citizens abroad to the Gulf as well as Western countries in order to ensure a steady flow of dollars. In nutshell, Pakistan’s security policy has been revolving around nuclear deterrence and strategic depth, economic policy around foreign remittances and economic aid/loans.

The results of these pillars of foreign policy have been both positive as well as negative with later exceeding the former. Even though remittances have increased many folds thus improving the livelihood of millions of Pakistanis, it has reduced our focus on industrial development, export growth and higher import substitution. Rather than becoming a manufacturing powerhouse like South Korea and Japan, we have become an exporter of manpower where a vast majority of locals have no hope for a better future unless they move abroad. 

We suffer from a huge trade deficit due to our need to import almost all essential goods. As a result, we have to beg from IMF, China, Saudi Arabia, United States and anyone else who can spare us some loose change so to speak. It also means that our security is constantly under threat despite being a nuclear power. To please those who can provide us aid and loans we have had to sacrifice tens of thousands at the altar of the war in Afghanistan with terrorist groups, arms and drugs flowing freely into Pakistan wreaking havoc which all Pakistanis are well aware of since the past two decades.

Our society has been and continues to be destroyed by terrorism and extremism due to our flawed foreign policy of acting as mercenaries for one foreign power or another. We are also constantly engaged in an arms race with India due to the belief that our security and existence is under perpetual threat from it. This arms race is putting a huge drain on our resources - one we cannot afford and perhaps not required as the credible nuclear deterrence we now possess has ended any threat of a large scale conflict and a conventional conflict is not something we can win in the first place.

 It can only be hoped that a more stable and balanced foreign policy narrative is established in the future that keeps our national interests first and foremost, is focused around building a strong economy through broad based industrialization and manufacturing growth with little or no dependence on foreign aid alongside addressing the actual security issues both internal and external to come out of the mess we are in at this time.

                                                                            Muhammad Ragheeb



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