Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Some Questions about Pakistan

Some questions, yes, Good questions

The writer is a foreign policy expert based in Washington, DC. He is editor of Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies in South Asia: Through a Peacebuilding Lens.
The writer is a foreign policy expert based in Washington, DC. He is editor of Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies in South Asia: Through a Peacebuilding Lens.
PRESIDENT Obama’s visit to India has created unease in Pakistan. For Pakistani officialdom, the goodies offered to India during Obama’s trip are symptomatic of what they see as the larger problem: the US is going too far in courting New Delhi; India’s many negatives are being overlooked; appeasing India will only harden its stance towards Pakistan, etc.
No quibbles with that. If you sit in Islamabad, this is what one would expect you to see. But doing so should also logically lead you to ask yourself two questions: why is this so; and what am I doing about it? Both are crucial to understanding where Pakistan is going wrong.
So why is this so?
Simply put, India offers the world’s largest market for arms sales; it provides massive investment opportunities; it offers the prospect of being a counterweight to China’s rise; and rightly or wrongly, it is seen as an appreciable example of a secular, liberal democracy.
Here is what an introspecting Pakistani diplomat should conclude from this: the Cold War is over; the ‘with me or against me’ makeup of alliances in that bipolar world no longer holds; it is kosher to reverse traditional foreign policy alignments and look for new ones on basis other than purely Machiavellian strategic considerations; prospects for business carry far greater weight than any claims of sacrifices and losses borne by a country; and a country’s image matters in making it easier (or more difficult) for others to engage with it.

Where is Pakistan going wrong?

And what am I (Pakistan) doing about it?
Am I adjusting with the times? Isn’t it true that my pitch to the world continues to be built around my ‘geo-strategic location’ and the ‘potential’ it offers even though its only contribution to date has been to force me into a number of conflicts in return for loose change from temporarily interested partners. Don’t I still rely heavily on a narrative of victimhood (even if it is factually accurate) by highlighting my sacrifices? Do I really have reason to believe that constantly reminding the world of the threat terrorism within my country poses will earn me respect and lasting partners?
Have I been imaginative enough in terms of my overall foreign policy orientation? Doesn’t my demand for US support ahead of India reek of my Cold War mentality? Does it suggest anything other than angst towards Washington for having moved beyond the Cold War paradigm?
Have I rethought my own worldview? Have I not bled myself far too much in trying to stand up to India? Do I not suffer from lack of imagination in terms of tapping into the fresh opportunities in East and Southeast Asia? Have I diversified my partnerships in any way?
How about the most crucial of all elements: economic incentives?
I plead for foreign investment and enhanced trade but do I honestly believe I have got a case? I sit next to two giants who will always have a far larger market and offer greater opportunities. Even though I have made a lot of progress, doesn’t my investment regime still linger in the 20th century? Can I deny my perpetual state of political instability and violence? And what message I am sending when my own business elite, including political leaders, invest abroad because they don’t trust their own country’s prospects?
I have even squandered the opportunities I had to prove my worth. I have lost count of the Pakistan-China MOUs and investment agreements over the past decade. But it was me, not the Chinese, who failed to fulfil my end of the deal. The truth is I no longer have a functioning bureaucratic machinery that is able to manage this; there is increasing incompetence and apathy in my ranks.
Finally, the state’s image. Pakistanis often complain that India exaggerates its positivity and that Pakistan is seen too negatively by the world. Both correct — India has done better than most in projecting its image and Pakistan couldn’t have done worse one feels. But why crib at someone else’s ability to move with the times just because you refuse to. The goal should be to project your own positives and create the force multiplier India has by doing so. Negative psychology rarely works in such situations.
Interestingly, all said and done, Pakistan is at a far better place vis-à-vis the US than it has been over the past decade. No one wants to isolate Pakistan. But Washington’s logic is that an unstable nuclear state must not be allowed to go under. It’s fear, not positive attraction. This, however, shall continue to be the case unless a large number of introspecting officials reach the conclusions highlighted here and act upon them with conviction and a lot of urgency.
The writer is a foreign policy expert based in Washington, DC. He is editor of Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies in South Asia: Through a Peacebuilding Lens.
Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2015
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