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.

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