Abandoning Pan-Islamic Diplomacy | Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani tore down Pakistan’s hitherto Pan-Islamic ideology of diplomacy in a recent interview with BBC on the first anniversary of his presidential tenure. Ghani said that Pakistan and Afghanistan were “not brothers” and that the bilateral ties between the countries were like the “relationship between two countries”. This is realpolitik in its crudest, purest form.

The idea of a pan-Islamic “Muslim brotherhood” has hogged Islamabad’s diplomacy manual since Pakistan’s inception, regardless of civilian or militaristic reigns. Whether it was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto vieing to cash in on the 1973 Arab oil embargo, during the OIC meeting in Lahore the following year, or Zia-ul-Haq’s thorough Islamisation of Pakistan, the idea of one Muslim Ummah has been central to Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Pakistan’s creation itself was the corollary of Pan-Islamic rhetoric, because outlining the differences between Muslims and other religious communities in the Indian subcontinent – especially the majority Hindus – was pivotal for the creation of an independent Muslim state.

While 1971 should’ve been a wakeup call – because evidently religion couldn’t hold a single sovereign state together, let alone be the decisive binding force among multiple states – Pakistan ironically upped the ante on Pan-Islamism following the fall of East Pakistan. The Pan-Islamic upsurge was owing to a combination of paranoia vis-à-vis disintegration of the heretofore West Pakistan, and the rise in the clout of Arab states, who were toying with Western economies’ futures through their oil wealth. The ground was thence supremely fertile for Zia’s Islamisation endeavours.

While the despotic Islamism might have paled following Zia’s demise – on surface at least – the post-Zia democrats – and Pervez Musharraf – all clung on to Pan-Islamism as their diplomatic ideology. This was especially true regarding the post-Soviet collapse Afghanistan, as Pakistan sought strategic depth – something it geographically lacks against India – to counter potential surge through the eastern front.

The “Muslim brotherhood” idea was proliferated on the Afghan front, to counter Indo-Afghan alliance, which would’ve meant Pakistan being flanked with animosity on both the fronts. This is one of the reasons why the Taliban regime was facilitated in Afghanistan by the Benazir government, and “Taliban architect” Naseerullah Babar, in 1996.

Ghani’s recent statements against Pakistan are a riposte against a quarter of a century’s worth of misuse of “strategic depth” on Islamabad’s part. He has publically lambasted Pakistan over the recent rise in Taliban attacks in Kabul, while asking Islamabad to stop differentiating between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists – clearly a jibe at Pakistan allegedly hosting the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network.

The failed negotiations between Kabul and Taliban in Murree; the ISPR’s mudslinging of cross-border accusations following the Badaber attack and the recent Taliban takeover of Kunduz, have further exacerbated Afghanistan’s anti-Pakistan sentiments.

Of course, Ghani’s statements just reflect the Afghan side of the equation. But there are crucial lessons for Islamabad, regardless of the percentage of verisimilitude in Kabul’s claims.

It’s at least a century too late – if not four, if one counts the birth of the Westphalian state and not the fall of the Ottoman Empire – to use Pan-Islamism as an inalienable part of a Muslim state’s diplomacy. Also, it’s nearly a quarter of a century since the collapse of Soviet Russia, which signified – among a multitude of other lessons – the counter-productivity of putting the cart of ideological adherence, before the horse of national self-interest.

While common religion could be a factor to boost bilateral interests, to tout it as the raison d’etat, and to act accordingly as well, is to jump all the way back to Dark Ages. When a nation state – a security state at that – adopts outdated imperial diplomacy from the 8th century, its foreign policy is going to boomerang big time. And boomeranged it has as of October 2015 AD.

One could actually argue that 1970s Pakistan had put the aforementioned horse and cart in the right place, by selling Pan-Islamism to rich Arab states in the Middle East and budding separatists back home. One could even argue that the idea to use Arab dough to build the ‘Muslim’ nuclear bomb was pretty ingenious on Bhutto’s part, as it simultaneously allayed fears of a potentially fragile post-1971 Pakistan, while Islamabad hobnobbed with the leading Muslim states as fellow leader.

But what case for Pan-Islamic diplomacy does one present in 2015, when jihadism and Pan-Islamism both have gorily backfired on Pakistan?

Where does Pan-Islamism factor into Islamabad’s diplomacy when the two bordering Muslim neighbours call out Pakistan for facilitating Islamist terrorism?

In April last year Iran’s parliament actually passed a bill to enhance security cooperation with Pakistan, while calling out for Islamabad’s accountability in cross-border attacks by al-Qaeda linked militant organizations like Jaishul Adl.

And so, when the “brotherly” neighbours and the states’ enemies are all Muslims, what sense does it make for Islamabad to cling on to Islam as the core component of its security and foreign policy?

While 1970s Pakistan looked to Arab magnates for strength, the 2010s Pakistan is looking towards ‘atheist’ China as its godfather. The same China that implements blatant ‘anti-Islam’ policies in its largest province Xinjiang, to counter Muslim separatism. Xinjiang is the Chinese Kashmir, to put things into perspective.

When Pakistan can sign the ‘lifeline’ China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with a state wholeheartedly antagonistic to Pan-Islamist ideology, why does Islamabad still need to continue selling the outdated diplomatic rhetoric?


Pakistan’s historical venture to mould itself as the ‘anti-India’ has gradually evolved into masochism, especially on the diplomacy front. It is because of Pakistan’s masochistic foreign policy, that bilateral trade with India is conducted via UAE, ensuring that Islamabad does not reap the benefits of a marketplace of over 1 billion consumers. It is the same self-defeatist paranoia that forces Islamabad to cling onto eastward looking jihadist proxies like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), also known as Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD), aggravating the internal security situation. Not to mention that it’s precisely this obsession with negating India that has damaged Pak-Afghan ties over the decades, culminating in Ghani’s epoch-defining outburst this week.

Granted India isn’t exactly lying in the wait with arms wide open, but how long before common sense, logic, geography and mathematics prevail and Pakistan realises that it has more to gain from smooth Indo-Pak ties than the other way around?

Pakistan’s historic interests have been in shaking the Indo-Pak status quo, in Kashmir and elsewhere – hence, the initiation of bilateral wars from our side of the border. Indian interests lie in maintaining that status quo, which is precisely what they’ve been doing through sheer size of its territory, economy and diplomatic clout.

As Pakistan abandons Pan-Islamism on the Chinese front, it should look to do the same with India. Geographic proximity with the two biggest markets in the world is a virtual goldmine for Pakistan’s economy.

The Two-Nation Theory was always going to devour itself and be replaced with ideological pluralism. Now is as good a time as any to pull down the curtain.

Source: http://nation.com.pk/columns/01-Oct-2015/abandoning-pan-islamic-diplomacy

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