September 12, 2022
Electronic media has virtually overtaken print media. Social media has overhauled reality and facts. Technology has made propaganda much easier and effective. Fake websites are delivering goods to the satisfaction of clients. Perception has assumed ultimate responsibility of providing inputs for decision-making processes. The impact of constant flow of information on human mind is immeasurable. Even the most unrelated and irrelevant viewpoint is being vehemently contested. Everything is happening on cellphones and laptops. Willingly or unwillingly, indeed, we all are vicariously involved in almost every debate. Every aspect of life has been affected either for the good or bad. Verily, it’s a whole new world.
Foreign Policy decision-making process is no exception either. The standard determinants of Foreign Policy such as size of a country, geography, national interest, political stability and economic development remain the same. However, another factor has emerged as an important determinant of Foreign Policy i.e. creating perceptions or misperceptions by using technology. The electronic media is thus playing a vital role in shaping decisions. Technologically advanced countries prepare justifiable grounds before implementing pre-planned actions. Coverage on tv or social media brig forth the requisite rationale before, during and after any venture.
As if there weren’t enough misunderstandings and misperceptions that unknowingly we are adding into the list some new ones. In Pakistan, lately one heard about an unprecedented way of projecting Foreign Policy. Besides drumming about having an ‘independent’ Foreign Policy, a strange determinant was introduced. Ghairat or honour. Any student of international relations would tell you that there is no such thing as an independent Foreign Policy as interests of States are intriguingly intertwined. If the United Kingdom or France tow the American line on the Ukraine war, does it mean London and Paris have no policy of their own? Secondly, honour perhaps used to be a driving force in making decisions in the medieval age. These days, even a superpower that might claim to have some kind of an independent Foreign Policy, has no hesitation in admitting its follies. It is strange that a country such as Pakistan having seriously weak economic indicators could defy a superpower and that too so openly.
If Foreign Policy is the depiction of a country’s internal eco-political situation, just imagine the enormous challenges facing Islamabad. Presuming that sanity might prevail in the coming months, one would wish to point out a three-step-approach to put the Foreign Policy on the right track. Remove misunderstandings. Understand challenges. Address the challenges in a pragmatic manner.
The list of misunderstandings and misperceptions is exhaustive. Here are some of them that need immediate attention of the policy-makers:
-That due to its geo-strategic disposition, Pakistan is still an important player in the region even after the withdrawal of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan.
-That as in the past, Pakistan can play any role in bridging gaps between China and the US.
-That China will always be on Pakistan’s side no matter what.
-That Pakistan can have a strong Foreign Policy without having the US and EU at least amenable to its outlook.
-That Russia or China could be an alternative for the US.
-That Pakistan can talk about ‘self-reliance’ despite facing the IMF and FATF hanging Swords of Damocles and in the face of serious economic and security issues.
-That pro-China policy means anti-Americanism.
-That Pakistan can build a soft image of itself only through diplomacy and drafting good speeches.
-That the world is not letting Pakistan grow for some unverified and mysterious reasons.
-That the world will not let a nuclear state go into default.
-That geo-economics approach is possible without geo-political and geo-strategic considerations.
-That Pakistan can put its house in order on its own.
-That building a narrative is enough to run a Foreign Policy.
-That Pak-India relations will take a dramatic turn for the better once PM Modi goes home.
-That the Taliban are anti-America.
-That sending experienced Ambassadors to key countries will change anything on ground.
One of the most interesting aspects of our vision is our approach towards the major powers, India and Afghanistan. We tend to see the US or Russia or China from our own perspective. We simply ignore their perspective about Pakistan. This state-of-denial results in disappointments. Either you can render timely assistance to others or you have the ability to inflict harm. Otherwise, your Foreign Policy will keep moving in circles. Gone are the days when in need, there used to be friends in-deed. For instance, erstwhile friends like KSA, UAE and even China have desisted from helping Pakistan when it needed them the most. Traditional friends like Iran have been annoyed by falling short of their expectations. Or, not fulfilling commitments on time. The still under construction Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline is a classic example.
Understanding the challenges is one of the challenges Islamabad is facing for the past few years. Policy making process is still shrouded in mystery. The poisonous political uncertainty is another big challenge. The world wants to know if the Government in Islamabad is staying or not? There seems to be no collective political wisdom in making decisions. The erstwhile arch-rivals are running the show as a team. The PPP is leading the Foreign Office while the Prime Minister’s Secretariat is run by PML(N). Mixed priorities are bound to give confused signals. How to get the world’s attention to Pakistan’s political, economic and diplomatic concerns is another challenge everyone is looking away from. After the withdrawal of US & NATO forces from Afghanistan, Pakistan has lost its relevance in the eyes of the United States and its allies. The recent past has seen Pakistan defying the US openly. To mend ways with the US and normalizing of relations is the biggest challenge for Pakistan’s foreign policy right now.
To be continued
Najm us Saqib
The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan and author of seven books in three languages. He can
be reached at najmus
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