Need for a Strategic Approach | Javed Hussain

Barring some rare exceptions here and there, Pakistan’s foreign policy has generally suffered from the absence of a long-term strategic approach. Instead, Pakistan’s policy makers have contented themselves with short-term tactical adjustments to foreign policy in response to new developments. Pakistan’s India policy is a prime example of this short-term approach marked by the absence of a long-term sense of direction. It is not surprising, therefore, to see our leaders and policy makers, both on the civilian and military sides, getting into a euphoria over the prospects of the improvement of Pakistan-India relations in relatively relaxed times, ignoring the serious problems and the underlying causes of strains and tensions which have bedeviled this relationship since Pakistan’s birth. During difficult times when tensions are high and temperature is on the rise on both sides of the border as is the case right now, our tendency is to ignore the possibilities of defusing tensions, adopting confidence building measures and engaging in mutually beneficial cooperation. What is needed is a strategic approach which provides a balance between these two extremes and a sense of long-term direction to our India policy.

A few examples would suffice to prove the point. Pakistan’s Kashmir policy of 1990’s was based on flawed assumptions and an inadequate analysis of the global and regional security environment. Its demands were far in excess of Pakistan’s economic, military and diplomatic resources. It was not well-aligned with the emerging global and regional trends. It may have served some short-term tactical purposes. But it was clearly misconceived from a strategic and long-term point of view. It is not surprising, therefore, that it failed to achieve its objectives. Pakistan-India joint statement of 6 January, 2004 issued during the rule of General Pervez Musharraf and the subsequent changes in Pakistan’s Kashmir policy delivered the coup de grace to it.

Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee paid a visit to Lahore in February, 1999 and signed the Lahore Declaration with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif committing the two countries to the resolution of all issues, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, the intensification of the composite and integrated dialogue process, and steps for the prevention of conflict between them. In pursuance of the Declaration, the two countries went ahead and designated their Special Envoys to explore possibilities of the settlement of the Kashmir dispute. Late Niaz Naik, former Pakistan foreign secretary, and R.K. Misra represented the Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India respectively in the efforts to make progress on the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. This was a good beginning from strategic point of view, which needed to be explored fully. Instead, Pervez Musharraf, the then chief of army staff, launched the Kargil operation for minor tactical gains on the LOC.

Consequently, the peace process launched by the two Prime Ministers was scuttled. Thus, a well-considered strategic initiative was sacrificed at the altar of a tactical maneuver.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, since the assumption of the office of Prime Minister in 2013, has gone out of his way to befriend India in disregard of the long-term threat that it poses to Pakistan’s security and the strategic realities that demand caution on the part of Pakistan. His visit to New Delhi last year to attend the swearing in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi like a satrap was uncalled for and betrayed lack of comprehension of India’s strategic goals in South Asia. Unsurprisingly, the visit failed to produce any worthwhile results. At Ufa this year, Nawaz Sharif agreed to a joint Pakistan-India statement which avoided mentioning Kashmir as an issue awaiting settlement. While terrorism and Mumbai terrorist attacks were given prominence in the joint statement, there was no mention of the terrorist activities sponsored by India in FATA, Balochistan and Karachi.

Predictably, the Ufa joint statement was severely criticized in Pakistan. The dialogue process envisaged by it stalled before it could even begin. The scheduled meeting of the NSA’s of the two countries in New Delhi in August could not take place because Pakistan insisted on discussing issues other than terrorism, especially Kashmir, in the meeting. Subsequently, Nawaz Sharif, perhaps under public pressure, did raise strongly Kashmir and the issue of the Indian terrorism in Pakistan at the UN. But by that time the weakness of our India policy had been fully exposed. The flip flops of this policy reflect the absence of a strategic approach and a long-term policy towards India, and a preoccupation with short-term tactical maneuvers.

Pakistan’s policy makers need to understand India’s strategic goals in South Asia and concerning Pakistan. The foremost among them is India’s ambition for hegemony in South Asia as acknowledged by Indian leaders and foreign observers. This factor combined with India’s unhappiness with the fact of Partition poses an enduring threat to Pakistan’s independence and security. Kashmir and other Pakistan-India dispute are additional sources of conflicts, strains and tensions between the two countries. Finally, the huge rightward shift in India’s politics following the Modi-led BJP’s victory in the Indian elections further vitiates the climate of Pakistan-India relations. In view of these factors, especially India’s hegemonic designs and the Kashmir dispute, the long-term prospects of the relations between the two countries are extremely bleak. Realistically speaking, India will continue to pose an enduring and grave threat to Pakistan’s existence as an independent and sovereign nation for the foreseeable future. Pakistan-India relations will continue to be punctuated by frequent periods of tensions and strains as is the case at present. Genuine friendship between the two countries will remain elusive even in the distant future.

At the same time it cannot be denied that there is a strategic imperative of peace between Pakistan and India because of their status as de facto nuclear-weapon states and widespread poverty. It is in their mutual interest to avoid armed conflicts and work for tension-free bilateral relations so that they can concentrate their resources on the gigantic task of eradicating poverty and ensuring economic prosperity for their citizens. For this purpose, both of them must engage each other in a sustained and structured dialogue to defuse tensions, adopt confidence building measures, try to resolve outstanding disputes, and promote mutually beneficial cooperation on a level playing field.
Dialogue is in the interest of both Pakistan and India. It is not a favour that one country grants to the other as seems to be the thinking behind India’s current policy of laying down unilateral conditions for the resumption of the bilateral dialogue. We should, therefore, state clearly in a policy statement that while Pakistan is interested in and ready for the resumption ofa dialogue, it will not accept India’s unilaterally determined preconditions for this purpose. If India needs more time to change its declared position, we will patiently wait for it.

The current state of Pakistan-India relations also drives home the conclusion that a South Asia Economic Union on the lines of the EU with both India and Pakistan as its members is a totally unrealistic goal. The goal of regional economic integration and political relations among the member states of a regional economic organization cannot be separated because of the close link between economic and political issues. It is ironical that while we have the prospect of continued disputes, tensions and strains in relations with India for the foreseeable future, we have repeatedly signed declarations calling for the establishment of a South Asia Economic Union within the framework of SAARC. We would be well advised instead to look for the realization of the goal of regional economic integration within the framework of the Economic Cooperation Organization.


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