By Maham Javaid
Unless Pakistan reimagines its foreign policy, and finds sustainable solutions to befriend its neighbours, it will keep helping terrorists do their job
The state’s immediate reaction to the terrorist attacks in Quetta, Peshawar, Lahore, Sehwan and other cities that collectively left more than 100 dead in February, was to shut down the Torkham and Chaman borders, since the attacks were allegedly sourced back to organisations that were trained on ‘Afghan soil’.
It was reported that a shooting order was issued to the border security forces for those found trying to enter Pakistan illegally from any area of the border. Pakistan also handed Afghanistan a list of 76 wanted terrorists allegedly hiding in Afghanistan, (in response to which it was handed a list of 85 insurgents that were taking sanctuary in Pakistan.)
Within Pakistan, Afghan refugees were rounded up and anyone without identification was taken in for further investigation. It was clear that the state was working from a short-sighted place of anger and fear.
Fortunately, once the immediate panic dissipated, the tone of the military leadership shifted and the chief of army staff general Qamar Javed Bajwa announced that Pakistan and Afghanistan will fight their “common enemy” of terrorism together. In the same high-level security meeting at the General Head Quarters (GHQ), Bajwa said that Pakistan “welcomed proposals from Afghan authorities to take forward the mutual coordination for result oriented efforts against terrorism”.
While it is commendable the state realised that coordinated action is the only long-term policy that can pull us out of this mess, and although the GHQ says Afghanistan is willing to cooperate, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s speech on terrorism in Munich, a day after the bloodbath at Sehwan, called out “states that rely on terrorism as instrument of state policy”. His finger was implicitly pointed at Pakistan; he had already stated that “at a regional level, we live in a part of the world where there are no rules defining interaction among states and no distinction between what is forbidden morally and what is acceptable as an instrument of the moment”.
In order to defeat terrorism, we need to eradicate terrorist sanctuaries, and that is not possible without coordination with Afghanistan. “The states need to work together to eliminate the sanctuaries on both sides of the border. And in order to work together we need discussion and diplomacy. But at the moment we don’t even have a foreign minister,” says Zahid Hussain, journalist and author.
Pakistan needs to expand its strategic partnerships. In the past, it only extended a hand to those who didn’t stray close to India, but as the global order changes, its foreign policy must also change.
The fact that Pakistan has not had a foreign minister since the PML-N government came into power is astounding, and yet no one within the government seems bothered by it.
Some say that Sartaj Aziz, our current foreign policy adviser, along with Tariq Fatemi, the special assistant to the prime minister, together make up for the vacuum of leadership in the foreign ministry. But foreign ministry officials maintain that the lack of an official leader creates protocol problems and Aziz and Fatemi’s foreign reception has to be negotiated regularly.
“The problem is that the prime minister doesn’t want to take ownership,” says Hussain. And if the government doesn’t take the lead then it allows others, such as the GHQ, to take complete charge — and so the issue that Pakistan will chug on without a foreign minister who could have built and nurtured ties with diplomats in Afghanistan for a time of emergency such as this, remains unsolved.
Moreover, when there is no leadership in the foreign office “the responsibility of executive diplomacy and telegraphing vital messages to key international quarters is being abdicated, as a result, to other state institutions,” says Fahd Humayun, who manages the Strategic Security Initiative at Jinnah Institute. “This has resulted in a series of embarrassing faux pas, such as the readout of the telephone conversation with President Trump earlier this year, and the Public Relations debacle that ensued when Iranian President Rouhani visited Islamabad in 2016”.
Relations with New Delhi also cannot be left at status quo. “Pakistan has to offer a tangible retreat from Kashmir and seek help from both Kabul and New Delhi in order to withdraw from hot borders and turn attention to a conclusive internal war with elements challenging the writ of the state”, says Khaled Ahmed, journalist and author of Sleepwalking to Surrender.
Others offer similar solutions. “Pakistan should recognise that India will not surrender Kashmir any more than China will surrender Tibet or Pakistan will surrender Pashtunistan,” says Barnett Rubin, a political scientist who focuses on Afghanistan and South Asia.
However, Rubin warns that sitting down to discuss diplomacy, curtailing nation-state greed for more water and territory, focusing on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and the Indo-Iranian-Japanese Chabahar project will all be useless to fight terrorism until Pakistan shows willingness to carry out the commitment made by General Raheel Sharif, to treat all militants and terrorists the same.
“Attacks will not ebb in either country until both countries clean up their terrorist sanctuaries,” says Hussain. Pakistan’s foreign policy has often been ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ and this is the approach the terrorists have taken advantage of to build their havens.
When every day brings news of a new attack, and a majority of them are linked back to organisations that operate on foreign soil, it becomes difficult to think of our foreign policy in any terms other than security. Along with employing fierce diplomacy to curb terrorism, Pakistan also needs to give space to trade and economy in its foreign policy.
Unless Pakistan reimagines its foreign policy, and finds sustainable and economic solutions to befriend its neighbours, it will keep helping terrorists do their job. But the burden does not lie solely on Pakistan. “In order for greater economic cooperation between India, Pakistan, especially one that allows land routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan and Central Asia,” says Sehar Tariq, the country representative for the United States Institute of Peace. She adds that India also needs to realise that a cooperative and friendly Pakistan as opposed to an isolated and disengaged Pakistan is better for the entire region.
Additionally, Pakistan needs to expand its strategic partnerships. In the past, it only extended a hand to those who didn’t stray close to India, but as the global order changes, its foreign policy must also change. Till now we have been placing all our eggs in the Saudi Arabian and Chinese basket, but the day might come when China, as an emerging super power will no longer feel that its priorities align with those of the Pakistani state.
We are told that CPEC will solve our economic, development and security concerns, and build ties all around the region, but Pakistan fails to realise that for China, this is just one of scores of international projects they have dipped their fingers in.