Foreign Policy Fine-Tuning? By Khalid Saleem

Some years ago, one took the liberty of drawing up a “foreign policy wish-list” in the vain hope that the powers that be in this blessed land may possibly be receptive to “new ideas”. That, one now recognises, was perhaps not only premature but also a trifle on the over-ambitious side. Nevertheless, there would appear to be little harm in going over some of those ideas.
To begin with, a frank and above-board discussion with the US is overdue in order to separate the grain from the chaff. For starters — to fall back on an Americanism — need is felt to clarify to our “friends” and world at large that “terrorism” is not strictly our baby, even though we may have been left holding it due to circumstances beyond our control. A decade should have been enough to atone for whatever sins of omission and commission we may have been guilty of.
On to our relations with India! With the extreme dispensation in India having been re-elected, the goalposts appear to have been discernibly moved to our detriment. Granted, the quest for normalising relations with our neighbour is unexceptionable, but would it be realistic to aim for shortcuts to it? There is an imperative need to see some tangible evidence of progress on the settlement of contentious issues before going overboard.
Dealings with the Muslim world leave a lot to be desired. Our past policy bordered on deliriousness. No doubt we should be one with the Muslim world as brothers but do we have to be the standard-bearers? It may well be time to lower our profile a bit. No country should feel the need to sacrifice its national priorities for others, as we regrettably have shown a tendency to do in the past. We must also steer well clear of denominational issues within the Muslim world.
terrorismissues deserve top priority. Above all, tangible efforts to reduce our foreign debt are called for. An in-depth exercise on the meandering path this debt profile has adopted may not be such a bad idea. Remember the several previous pious declarations to smash the wretched begging bowl? The time has come to break out of semantics and to do something concrete about this resolve. Due to the ill-advised policies to attract foreign investment adopted so far, we have only attracted the wrong kind of investment. It’s also time the prosperous dual-nationals were asked to do their bit to help the country out of its economic woes. The phenomenon of these individuals’ sole interest in buying prime real estate in this country and/or grabbing lucrative official assignments on offer is neither here nor there!
The wish-list needs must include the pious hope that hollow ostentation would be eschewed. A low profile is what is called for. Above all, we need to avoid getting involved in international ventures that may shine but have little substance. Emphasis should be on improving ties with friendly states like China, the regional states and with the developing world in general. Developing newer liaisons with far off lands and exotic destinations can wait. There is also a need to cut down on our bumbling efforts in multilateral diplomacy — a luxury this country can indulge in only at its own peril.
Overall, what is needed now is a thorough and dispassionate introspection of our past foreign policy experiences. And this should cover a stringent re-appraisal of the yardstick that has been used hitherto in the process of selecting our diplomatic representatives abroad. This is an exercise that needs to be carried out betimes in a thorough-going manner, without fear or favour. Weaknesses evident in our system need to be identified and rooted out; responsibility for failures pinned down. No sacred cows should be spared and no quarter given. What is needed is a thorough purge and, if necessary, drastic surgery. To delay would be to miss a God-sent opportunity. There may not be another waiting down the road.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2019.

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