Pakistan’s Diplomatic Amnesia
Islamabad has long suffered from a long and short-term memory loss. The problem intensified over the last three decades. Pakistan’s foreign policy revolves around four geographical nerve centers – the United States, India, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. This state of amnesia deepens when it comes to the Middle East and North Africa. Libya’s Gaddafi may be history for much of his country and the world but Lahore still has a stadium in his name. Countries around the world may have expelled Syrian diplomats but not Pakistan. Former President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari was receiving Bashar al-Assad’s deputy foreign minister as recently as May 2013. Though the Assads always opposed Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir or East Pakistan, Islamabad sent its best air force pilots to fight on the side of Syria and Lebanon against the 1973 Israeli aggression. A PAF pilot flying a Soviet MiG humbled the Israelis by shooting down their aircraft over Damascus. But all of that is history. The PML-N government continues to harp on the same old mantra of an end to violence by all sides and a peaceful transition of power. Like his others in the Arab world, Bashar’s time seems to be up as well. Pakistan should look at the future instead of caring for a regime that never sided with it in some of its most testing issues. According to the UN and other independent estimates, over 75 percent of Syria’s territory is destroyed and is in need of reconstruction. The country will need both manpower and material assistance. Islamabad will lose all opportunities to strike a deal for the supply of labor and construction material such as steel and cement, if the country’s love for the man in Damascus continues to (over)flow. Turkey, Pakistan’s all-weather friend and ally, is not only bearing the brunt of Syrian refugees but has also paid heavily by taking a pro-people stance and losing a lucrative land trade route to Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Islamabad, however, considers maintaining full diplomatic relations and providing political backing a legitimate option. The Assads have never befriended Pakistan except for a brief period when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was in power. That was mainly because of Bhutto’s left-leaning political views. Is supporting Syria’s dictator worth annoying a stable, prosperous and time-test friend like Turkey? The foreign ministry must ponder over such fundamental questions. Pakistan is a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention and abhors the use of weapons of mass destruction against innocent people. The Assad regime has allegedly used Sarin gas on more than one occasion – not against any foreign aggressor but his own people. Nonetheless, Pakistan chooses to bury its head in the sand. What about Pakistan’s support for democracy? If the Assad regime is acceptable despite the killing of over 115,000 citizens, then why are Egypt’s military dictators being shunned? Democracy and human rights should be the core principles of Pakistan’s foreign policy. Sir Zafarullah Khan had based Pakistan’s foreign policy on these principles. Pakistan had then backed the decolonization process in the Middle East and Africa by giving its passports to freedom fighters. The Arab awakening is the 21st century wave of decolonization of the minds from the indifferent and arrogant elite. Pakistan can’t stop the process by siding with tyrants.