By Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi
Domestic politics and foreign policy are inter-linked. Both influence each other. Foreign policy choices have an impact on or get influenced by the needs and dynamics of domestic socio-economic and political considerations. Invariably, foreign economic assistance and technical cooperation are sought with a focus on the government’s development agenda which in turn constrains some domestic political and economic choices.
The global role of a country depends to a great extent in the present-day interdependent world on internal socio-political cohesion and stability and the state of economy. The key issue is how far a country can positively link up with the international economic networking? How far a country attracts international investment and trade?
Pakistan’s autonomy in global and regional politics is hampered by its troubled economy, internal socio-political incoherence and the worsening law and order situation, especially terrorism.
A large number of political leaders and activists in Pakistan are not willing and/or able to comprehend the impact of the aforementioned factors on Pakistan’s future as a functioning state and a player at the global level. Most of them approach global politics and Pakistan’s interaction with the rest of the world from their partisan domestic considerations, viewing foreign policy issues from their domestic political standpoint. What helps them to build domestic support or fits into their domestic agendas is more important than what is prudent at the international level.
Foreign policy has become a part of a domestic power struggle between the opposition parties and the government. The Islamic political parties and organisations including the Islamic clergy and the Punjab-based militant groups and the political parties with far-right/Islamic orientations are focused on their partisan and ideological agendas derived from the domestic context. They have a naïve and slanted view of global politics and Pakistan’s role in it which is derived from classical religious doctrines. Foreign policy, like domestic politics is viewed as a function of religion.
There is a strong tendency in the political circles to disregard Pakistan’s international obligations but expect other countries and international organisations to pursue the policies to their satisfaction. They want the whole world to change itself to their advantage but Pakistan should stay firm and strident in its foreign policy strategies and goals. It is unfortunate to see some retired senior foreign office officials and retired senior army officers advocating such views.
An offshoot of this policy is the exaggerated view of the notion of sovereignty as Pakistan’s right to defy the rest of the world. Sovereignty is an essential feature of every state. If Pakistan is sovereign, other states are also sovereign. However, the capacity of the state to operationalise sovereignty in the real world depends on a number of factors, i.e. internal socio-political stability and economic strength. It also depends on the capacity of the state to create a knowledge-based society and development of human power and natural resources. The United States and Rwanda are two sovereign states but they exercise sovereignty in very different ways.
Some people advocate isolationism as the foreign policy option for Pakistan. Others suggest a modified isolationism, implying that Pakistan should have relationships with other countries on its own terms only. These are not advisable strategies. A country like
Pakistan that faces difficult regional situation and relies heavily on external economic assistance, cannot afford to isolate itself. Isolation or insistence on relationship on one’s terms weakens Pakistan’s role at the international level. An isolated Pakistan will become more vulnerable to Indian pressures and the latter would find it easy to exploit Pakistan’s internal contradictions to its advantage.
Pakistan can strengthen its diplomatic clout by cultivating a multifaceted and active interaction with other states and international organisations. It should become an attractive proposition for external investment and trade. It is important for Pakistan’s political and societal elite to understand why the rest of the world entertains a negative disposition towards Pakistan? Other questions to ponder include how to project Pakistan’s soft image and how sports, academic work, tourism, cultural exchanges strengthen diplomatic clout and promote a soft image. The stronger the Pakistani diplomacy and interaction with other countries, the greater will be its capacity to deflect international pressures. Therefore, isolation is not a viable option.
The Raymond Davis issue is a bilateral problem between Pakistan and the United States. Similar problems of immunities of the embassy officials arise between the states from time to time and the states address these issues at the official level. However, as a host of Pakistani political groups and leaders view foreign policy from their purely partisan domestic agendas, the Raymond Davis issue has become an issue of power struggle between the PPP-led federal government and the opposition parties, especially the Islamic parties and groups. A section of the media has also joined them in an attempt to expose what they describe as the slavish mentality of the Pakistani government.
The Raymond Davis issue is no longer a foreign policy question. It has become part of domestic power game. The private sector electronic media and the print media have initiated the trial and the Islamic groups and parties are passing the judgment on the issue through street protests and threatening the federal government with massive street agitation if Raymond Davis is not tried and convicted in Pakistan.
Such a domestic context makes it extremely difficult for the federal government to manage the Raymond David case as a purely foreign policy issue. Its problems have been multiplied because of the defiant posture of Shah Mahmood Qureshi on this issue after losing his position as foreign minister. Another factor is the reluctant cooperation by the Punjab Government. The Punjab Law Minister, Rana Sanaullah, has made statements on the Raymond Davis issue that lean heavily towards the Islamists perspective. The PML(N), knowing the mood in the streets of the Punjab, is not willing to help out the federal government.
The current emotionalism and anti-America hysteria manifesting mainly in the Punjab may prove to be more decisive in shaping Pakistan’s disposition. The US policy of exerting pressure in public or threatening to take some punitive action adds to the problems of the Pakistan government. It limits the prospects for a quick and amicable resolution of the problem.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.