Who Runs our For­eign Pol­icy?

If there are in­stances of mil­i­tary dom­i­nance in for­eign pol­icy is­sues, it is mainly be­cause our civil­ian set­ups are de­void of any strate­gic vi­sion or talent in their po­lit­i­cal cadres.

Southasia - - REGION PAKISTAN - By Shamshad Ah­mad The writer is a for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary of Pak­istan.

De­spite be­ing a crit­i­cally im­por­tant coun­try in many ways, Pak­istan does not have a for­eign min­is­ter. Why is it so? Surely it is not for any lack of im­por­tance for for­eign af­fairs in the present govern­ment’s pri­or­i­ties. It is just the op­po­site. The fact that the prime min­ster has him­self kept the for­eign af­fairs port­fo­lio shows that he at­taches ex­cep­tional im­por­tance to it. But why he gives so much im­por­tance to for­eign af­fairs has noth­ing to do with for­eign pol­icy.

With the mem­ory of the NRO still fresh in his mind, Nawaz Sharif could not be obliv­i­ous of the over­bear­ing for­eign role in our do­mes­tic pol­i­tics. It is abun­dantly vis­i­ble even in the Mushar­raf trial sce­nario. Ev­ery ruler in Pak­istan to­day knows that to re­main in power he must main­tain close re­la­tions with the pow­ers that be. This he can do only by re­main­ing in charge of this port­fo­lio. Nawaz Sharif must have learnt from Zar­dari’s ex­pe­ri­ence that smarter for­eign min­is­ters can some­time over­shadow you.

Sharif per­haps has been cau­tious enough not to take the risk of hav­ing a for­eign min­is­ter who in deal­ing with Wash­ing­ton and Lon­don and per­haps also Saudi Ara­bia might not be a trust­wor­thy in­ter­locu­tor on mat­ters of per­sonal im­por­tance to him. Even other­wise, he is tra­di­tion­ally known to pre­fer lesser be­ings as in­cum­bents of im­por­tant of­fices in his govern­ment, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dency. But the for­eign pol­icy syn­drome is not con­fined to Nawaz Sharif alone. It has af­flicted ev­ery suc­ces­sive ruler in the past. We have a his­tory of per­son­ally-driven for­eign pol­icy de­ci­sions with some leading the coun­try into de­ba­cles.

The prob­lem is not who runs our for­eign pol­icy. The prob­lem is who makes our for­eign pol­icy. In ev­ery coun­try, for­eign pol­icy de­ci­sions are nor­mally made by the ex­ec­u­tive branch of govern­ment. But the for­mu­la­tion of for­eign pol­icy be­ing a com­plex mat­ter can­not be left to any one in­di­vid­ual or author­ity. Be­sides the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs, as the of­fi­cially des­ig­nated for­eign pol­icy arm of the govern­ment, it in­vari­ably also in­volves other rel­e­vant agencies of the govern­ment, in­clud­ing na­tional se­cu­rity and de­fence, trade and econ­omy, etc.

For much of its his­tory, Pak­istan’s for­eign pol­icy agenda has been shaped by a ‘civil- mil­i­tary com­plex of power,’ re­flect­ing the pref­er­ences and in­ter­ests of our rul­ing elite and spe­cial in­ter­est groups. The bal­ance of power be­tween the civil and mil­i­tary bu­reau­cracy kept chang­ing but it was ‘they’ who in­vari­ably con­trolled our poli­cies on cru­cial re­la­tions with In­dia, China, the U.S., the Gulf States and the nu­clear is­sue. One must ad­mit that in a per­ilously-lo­cated coun­try as ours, the piv­otal role of the so-called ‘es­tab­lish­ment’ on vi­tal se­cu­ri­tyre­lated is­sues un­der the over­all su­per­vi­sion of an elected govern­ment as any­where else in the civ­i­lized world is in­dis­pens­able.

We, in Pak­istan, of­ten mis­un­der­stand the re­al­i­ties of for­eign pol­icy, and tend to over­play the role of the mil­i­tary or the so-called ‘es­tab­lish­ment’ in its for­mu­la­tion and ex­e­cu­tion. The for­eign pol­icy of ev­ery coun­try is in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to its na­tional se­cu­rity, and is not com­plete with­out the in­volve­ment and in­put of its na­tional se­cu­rity agencies. Given Pak­istan’s pe­cu­liar geo-po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment and its

volatile neigh­bor­hood, most of the is­sues in­volv­ing vi­tal na­tional se­cu­rity in­ter­ests have to be ad­dressed through a larger con­sul­ta­tive process with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of all rel­e­vant gov­ern­men­tal agencies and stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing the mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence agencies.

There is noth­ing un­usual in this process which is fol­lowed in ev­ery state con­fronted with na­tional se­cu­rity chal­lenges. No for­eign of­fice is equipped with in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing and an­a­lyz­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties and can­not func­tion in a vac­uum of in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity in­for­ma­tion rel­e­vant to the for­eign pol­icy goals that it is sup­posed to be pur­su­ing. No won­der, in our case, on is­sues of na­tional se­cu­rity, our GHQ and in­tel­li­gence agencies have an in­dis­pens­able role. Like­wise, trade with In­dia and tran­sit trade with Afghanistan, hav­ing a di­rect bear­ing on the coun­try’s se­cu­rity, can­not be dealt with in isolation from the agencies con­cerned.

I can say with my ex­pe­ri­ence that on all na­tional se­cu­rity-re­lated is­sues, the For­eign Of­fice can­not op­er­ate with­out mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence in­puts in its nor­mal func­tion­ing. This is the case with ev­ery coun­try. Even in the United States, their State Depart­ment can­not and does not op­er­ate with­out the sup­port of their in­tel­li­gence net­work. For that mat­ter, Amer­ica too has a so-called ‘es­tab­lish­ment’ rep­re­sented by the Pen­tagon and the CIA which plays a dom­i­nant role in their for­eign pol­icy is­sues in­volv­ing Amer­ica’s ‘na­tional se­cu­rity’ in­ter­ests in the con­text of its re­gional and global power out­reach.

The For­eign Of­fice for its part has been mak­ing its own pro­fes­sional con­tri­bu­tion in pol­icy-for­mu­la­tion. It has also been pro­vid­ing the req­ui­site pro­fes­sional ex­per­tise and diplo­matic skills in its ex­e­cu­tion. In my view, our con­ven­tional diplo­macy func­tioned well in the sta­ble in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment and a pe­riod of rel­a­tive in­ter­nal calm and eco­nomic cer­tainty but the world has changed and so have we. Like the rest of the civil bu­reau­cracy, the For­eign Of­fice too was sucked into the pol­icy vac­uum.

In our case, if there are in­stances of mil­i­tary dom­i­nance in for­eign pol­icy is­sues, it is only be­cause our civil­ian set­ups are in­vari­ably de­void of any strate­gic vi­sion or talent in their po­lit­i­cal cadres. There­fore, the prob­lem is not the mil­i­tary role; the prob­lem is the strate­gic bankruptcy of our po­lit­i­cal cadres which in­vari­ably are dom­i­nated by the same old class of elit­ist oli­garchs, who in fact are now quite used to rul­ing the coun­try in col­lu­sion with, if not with to­tal de­pen­dence, on the civil and mil­i­tary bu­reau­cracy. But in pub­lic per­cep­tion it was only the For­eign Of­fice which ap­peared to be run­ning the pol­icy and was held solely re­spon­si­ble for its fail­ures. The main play­ers al­ways with­drew into the back­ground, and re­mained be­yond the purview of crit­i­cism, much less scru­tiny or ac­count­abil­ity. The govern­ment also found a con­ve­nient scape­goat in the For­eign Of­fice. It grad­u­ally be­came less and less in­flu­en­tial as it is to­day in the con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of for­eign pol­icy.

In the ul­ti­mate anal­y­sis, one thing is clear. All these ex­ter­nal prob­lems that we con­tinue to suf­fer have noth­ing to do with our for­eign pol­icy. Our prob­lems are rooted in our do­mes­tic fail­ures. No coun­try has ever suc­ceeded ex­ter­nally if it is weak and crip­pled do­mes­ti­cally. Even a su­per­power, the for­mer Soviet Union could not sur­vive as a su­per­power only be­cause it was do­mes­ti­cally weak in po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic terms.

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