Time to Revisit Foreign Policy Priorities? By Khalid Saleem

SEVERAL years back, one had taken the liberty to draw up a ‘foreign policy wish list’, in the fond hope that the government would be looking to make moves to turn the country’s foreign policy priorities around to conform to national interest.

That, one now recognizes with the benefit of hindsight, was perhaps not only a wee bit premature as well as something of an over-reach.

It may perhaps not be inopportune to revisit some facets of this wish list.Time may be ripe for the government to initiate a frank, candid and above-board discussion with the United States Administration in order to separate the grain from the chaff.

The negotiations held earlier, in the murky behind-closed-doors atmosphere, did not count. For starters – to fall back on an Americanism — need might be felt to clarify to our ‘friends’ and, indeed, to the world at large that ‘terrorism’ is not strictly our baby, even though we may have been left holding it due to circumstances perhaps beyond our control.

Sympathy with the Americans in their ‘war on terror’ notwithstanding, how long could the people of Pakistan honestly be expected to continue to bear an open-ended commitment like a millstone around their collective neck?

A decade should have been enough to atone for whatever sins of omission and commission that they may have been guilty of.

We must be allowed to tackle the genie of extremism and terrorism that has been let out of the bottle on our own terms; in keeping with our ethos and with the minimum outside interference.

Keeping our long-term relationship in view, could we not trust our ‘strategic ally’ to show the necessary understanding and/or flexibility?

Now, on to our relations with India! The goal posts have now been discernibly moved. It may be time to insist on giving the process of bilateralism some purpose.

While holding on to our conscious decision to maintain peace on our eastern border, must it not be clearly understood that we could hardly be expected to continue marking time at the cost of our national interest.

Quest for normalizing of relations with our neighbour is unexceptionable.There is just no alternative option for the two countries but to live as good neighbours.

But, at the same time, there are no short cuts to normalization of relations. The exasperated populace of either country needs to see some tangible evidence of progress on settlement of contentious issues.

The two countries also need to start paying some result-oriented attention to arriving at mutual accommodation in respect of such issues as a) equitable sharing of water resources; b) adequate availability of energy supplies; c) demarcation of the maritime boundary and d) cooperating unreservedly, including intelligence sharing, on the matter of terrorism.

Dealings with the Muslim world have left a lot to be desired.In so far as Islamic causes go, do we honestly have to try to be the vanguard?

We should be one with the Muslim world as brothers but not as standard bearers.We must steer well clear of sectarian and denominational issues with the Muslim world.

We may consider proposing that decisions on action re.Muslim causes should preferably be taken jointly, e.g.through the OIC.Economic issues deserve top attention.

Above all, efforts to reduce our foreign debt are called for.An in-depth exercise on the meandering path this debt profile has adopted in the recent past may not be such a bad idea.

Remember the several pious declarations in the past to smash the wretched begging bowl?Has not the time come to break out of semantics and to do something concrete about this resolve?

There has been a lot of talk on how to make the country attractive for foreign investors.In the policies adopted so far, all we have succeeded in is to attract the wrong kind of investment.

There is need to convince our international partners that we mean business; that our economic and fiscal policies are long term and market-oriented.

It is also about time that the prosperous dual-nationals did something to help get the country out of its economic woes.

Merely buying real estate is neither here nor there! A Foreign Policy wish list needs must include the pious hope that hollow ostentation would be eschewed.

A low profile is what may be called for. Above all, there is imperative need to avoid getting involved in international ventures that shine but have little substance.

Emphasis should be on strengthening ties with friendly states like China, regional states and with the Third World in general.

Constructive regional politics should be an important objective.Developing newer and newer liaisons with far off lands and exotic destinations can wait.

The country has unnecessarily spent a bit too much effort, resources and energy on projects of multilateral diplomacy.

In the process, we have been badly neglecting what can be called state-to-state diplomacy. There is imperative need to cut down drastically on our bumbling efforts in multilateral diplomacy.

This is a luxury that the country can indulge in only at its own peril. All in all, what is needed in this hour of destiny is a thorough and dispassionate introspection in respect of our past experience in the field of foreign affairs.

And this should include a stringent re-appraisal of the yardstick that has been used hitherto in the process of selection of 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 would 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 found necessary, drastic surgery.

This is the need of the hour.To delay would be to miss a God sent opportunity.There may not be another waiting down the road.

— The writer is a former Ambassador and former Assistant Secretary General of OIC.​

Source: Published in Pak Observer

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