Pakistan’s flawed foreign policies and what could have been 

Pakistan’s flawed foreign policies and what could have been 

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Pakistan’s government is struggling to formulate a vision on a wide range of issues from dealing with a mountain of external debt to general national despair. To manage and seek adequate responses to the formidable challenges a nuclear armed country confronts requires a clear understanding of their complexity and puts in place a strategy for short-term and long-term measures within a framework of macro-governance. Overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that lies ahead, many in the weak coalition government will settle down into their routine functions and duties, making only populist decisions while avoiding any real change of track.

But there is another equally important sector of governance and it is here that the absence of a clear vision comes into focus with terrible implications for stability and economic growth. This is the realm of foreign policy.

Surprisingly, there is no fresh thinking or initiative on how to develop a clear approach to normalizing relations with our most important neighbor, India. Partly, this reflects on the more than one power centers in Pakistan; a nightmare that has marred the foreign policy landscape of the country. Relations with India have suffered from an erroneous assumption that India will one day renounce its stance on Kashmir. But this is a pipe dream based on a weak understanding of India’s strategic interests.

Considering that there are many dissident movements operating in that multi-ethnic country of 1.4 billion people, any compromise on Kashmir will trigger multiple rebellions and threaten the very stability of the country as one federation. 

The World bank estimates the potential for bilateral trade between India and Pakistan is more than $45 billion today. 

Rustam Shah Mohmand

The question remains: What have the Kashmiris and the Pakistanis gained as a consequence of their continued hostility toward India? As a matter of fact, Kashmir has lost its identity as a province. It is now a federal territory administered by a governor nominated by New Delhi. 

Not only this, Pakistan’s flawed India policy envisages a complete break in relations with no cultural contacts, no trade, no coordination in dealing with the effects of climate change. The two neighbors share common rivers and are affected by environmental challenges such as depleting water aquifers, rising sea levels, the loss of farm land and poverty. 

Consider that even as China and India are locked in a conflict for hegemony in the south China Sea, the volume of their bilateral trade has gone up to $80 billion.

The World bank estimates the potential for bilateral trade between India and Pakistan is more than $45 billion today. Imagine the profound impact of such free trade on the economies of the two countries and the mutual reduction in levels of poverty. But the powerful establishment and weak, timid politicians do not dare alter the status quo which is affecting the lives of millions of people.

Relations with Afghanistan too have soured with no immediate relief in sight. Islamabad has once more made monumental errors of judgment and prevented the growth of close relations with a country with which it shares a 2,600-mile long border. The trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan had reached $4 billion at its peak. It has now shrunk to below $1 billion. Because of the multiplicity of ‘agencies’ dealing with trucks carrying goods, traders have to wait for days before they get clearance to cross the border. The once pragmatic and down to earth system of allowing people to cross the border on the production of valid identity cards has been abandoned to the discomfort and agony of thousands of travelers. Additionally, the forced repatriations of hundreds of thousands of both documented and registered Afghan refugees, seemed to be the final nail in the coffin of bilateral relations with the Taliban government. It is no wonder Afghanistan is expanding its relations with India and Iran. Afghanistan offers huge opportunities for growth of trade, and most of all, it offered access to Central Asia. 

Pakistan’s foreign relations picture is both bleak and disappointing. But the more worrying factor is that there is no drive for change.

Generations of Pakistanis will have to bear the cost of the incomprehensible lack of courage and foresight in our foreign policies which have disfigured a country blessed with both human and material resources. 

– Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view