May 20, 2008

Foreign policy changes

Filed under: FOREIGN RELATIONS — civilsocietypakistan @ 10:29 pm
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MAY 20, 2008

By Iqbal Akhund

THE foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, put things in perspective when he told parliament that a country�s foreign policy follows its strategic interests and cannot change with every change in government.

Strategic interests and policy can change, of course, as happened when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto shifted the country�s foreign policy away from exclusive alignment with the US towards a close relationship with China.

It is early yet and emotions are still raw for an objective evaluation of Musharraf�s eventful eight years. Certainly, he did not, or could not, do all the things that at the beginning of his rule he announced he had come to do. But the one thing that indisputably he did accomplish was to review and revise the country�s foreign policy.

The turnaround with regard to Afghanistan was brought about by the American stick and carrot but it was abrupt and thorough. The Taliban clients were ditched overnight, and support, political and material, was given in full measure to the US operation to clear them out of Afghanistan. That matters have not turned out as planned, either for America or for Pakistan, is another story.

The American operation is bogged down, due partly to America�s quick-fix approach in co-opting the non-Pakhtun Northern Alliance against the Pakhtun Taliban. Soon enough the Pakhtuns, Taliban or otherwise, came to see the Americans as enemies, and turned also against their local allies, Musharraf and the army. This too may have been a factor in the surprising electoral success of the largely Pakhtun MMA in the previous elections.

Pakistan has benefited quite evidently from American and other economic and financial aid in return. Even so, the policy lacks public support and notwithstanding suicide attacks on Pakistani targets, in the popular view Pakistan is fighting a war that is America�s war. Americans for their part keep grumbling that Pakistan is not doing enough; as for Afghanistan, Karzai�s government remains suspicious of Pakistan�s intentions and has tended to lean towards India. And the Taliban are back in business, this time within Pakistan.

Our India policy, always the pivotal element of foreign policy, too changed in the Musharraf years and in fact changed in a more substantive way. But the change has appeared less abrupt and was less controversial, perhaps because the process had in fact started earlier. Benazir Bhutto reached a settlement over Siachen with Rajiv Gandhi that was aborted by Indian hard-liners. Rajiv agreed with her that the two countries should try to reach an understanding over the nuclear issue in quiet talks held out of the limelight. This did not find acceptance among our hard-liners.

Nawaz Sharif brought Vajpayee to Lahore�s Minar-i-Pakistan in a symbolic reaffirmation of India�s acceptance of Partition though the Kargil adventure blocked any follow-up to this gesture. Going back even earlier, it was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who put forward the idea of a soft cease-fire line that would ease the day-to-day life of the Kashmiri people pending a definitive settlement of the Kashmir dispute. The inter-Kashmir bus service is a late fruition of this idea.

On the Kashmir issue, Musharraf went further than previous rulers in offering explicitly to give up on the UN�s Kashmir resolutions. He also put forward various specific ideas for a solution, for example, joint administration of the valley. But India has reacted very coolly, when it has reacted at all, to all of this. The fact is that today India is under no pressure, political or military or moral to move from its position on Kashmir, if ever it had any such intention.

Pakistan has found itself gradually moving towards the Indian side of the chicken or egg argument: resolve the core issue of Kashmir in order to establish friendly relations or become friends in order to open the way to a settlement. Talking to a delegation of leaders from both sides of Kashmir, Foreign Minister Qureshi said, �Pakistan wants good ties with India as better relations between the two will help resolve all outstanding issues, including the core issue of Kashmir.�

Echoing Musharraf, who in turn was repeating a phrase coined by Prime Minister Vajpayee, the minister added, �We want to promote relations between Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control and make the LoC irrelevant to resolve the issue.�

What an irrelevant LoC might mean in practice is not clear � presumably freer movement of people and goods across the line and some sort of direct interaction between the two Kashmiri governments.

It could end up by turning the LoC into a recognised, if loose, sort of border � a position that India has desired from the start. However, even the moderate All Parties Hurriyat Conference is unwilling to accept a solution under the Indian constitution. As for Pakistan, it is difficult to see what Pakistan would gain from ratifying a dressed-up status quo.

The fact is that four years of �composite dialogue� have not had much effect on the ground situation in Indian-held Kashmir where disaffection and dissent continue in the shape of demonstrations and strikes and arrests and, though somewhat less frequently, shootouts between Indian security forces and Kashmiri militants. India has just augmented its large forces in the valley by another 6,000 men after an exchange of fire along the Line of Control.

In the circumstances, Asif Zardari seems to have got it right in suggesting that it should be left to future generations to find a solution to the Kashmir problem. Better to leave things in limbo for

the present, rather than settling for an arrangement that is politically and morally untenable and has to be forced on the Kashmiris.

However, equally untenable would it be to go on with the flawed � and failed � policy of tying up with Kashmir other aspects of the relationship with India. Cooperation in industry, education, health, energy, transport, enhanced trade and commerce will greatly benefit both countries. The composite dialogue is to be re-launched after the visit of India�s foreign minister, which may be followed by a visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

But given that the eight-point agenda announced for Mr Mukherjee�s visit includes all the major problems that the two countries have been negotiating for years � Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage � it is necessary to find ways, in the words of the Foreign Office spokesman, to make the dialogue �more meaningful�. If, as Manmohan Singh asserts, the Jaipur blasts were designed to derail the peace process, there is all the more reason to do so.

The writer is a career diplomat who also served in a ministerial post.


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