File photo of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Pakistan’s foreign policy remains a jigsaw puzzle that has many parts missing. It is a subject of persistent controversy with no end in sight. The Foreign Office remains minister-less. Four years gone, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif still thinks that the country does not need a Foreign Minister. Perhaps the Prime Minister understands that why have a foreign minister when there is no foreign policy.
This being the situation, one only gets to know of the matters related to foreign affairs through TV channels and newspaper columns where you have proverbial blind men trying to guess about the elephant they can’t see. At the end of the day one goes to bed muddle-headed as to who is our friend and who is not.
Even a lay person is aware that three out of our four neighbours are not friendly. Two are busy in indulging in outright hostilities, while the third is blowing hot air down our necks. The only friendly neighbour that we have is more interested in its economic growth and does not have a history of getting involved militarily in case of aggression. The corner stone of our foreign policy — ties with the United States — is currently in a state of flux. Our Ambassador to Washington has given the indication that there is scope of new alignments.
Pakistan’s geo-strategic situation does not permit it to take sides against Iran or to be involved in what is considered a sectarian alliance. The best role for Pakistan remains that of an honest broker between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan was once considered to be citadel of Islam. And it had reasons to be so. It was the largest Muslim country in the world with largest army much like the erstwhile Soviet Union as the leader of the communist bloc. Regretfully, much before the collapse of Soviet Union, Pakistan ceased to be whatever it was. Around 56 percent of the population that had spearheaded the Pakistan movement was forced into a situation by the military junta that it was left with no choice but to separate. The process was bloody and it ended up in the abject defeat of the largest Muslim army and break up of the largest Muslim country — a fact that we don’t want to remember.
Notwithstanding our permanent mantra of being a lead player as the only nuclear Muslim country, we were shown our real worth at the Arab/Islamic-American summit in Riyadh. It was perhaps a colossal extravaganza of zero plus zero plus zero equal to zero affording an opportunity to one of the most avowed Muslim haters ever in American Presidency.
In his speech, President Donald Trump minced no words in identifying the goal for the Saudi Arabia led 41-member alliance against international terrorism i.e. Iran and Shias headed by Pakistan’s former Army Chief General Raheel Sharif who once had the singular distinction of having control over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
Irrespective of the fact that that we have suffered a great deal by not recognising Israel (while the Arab nations now seem to be in cahoots with Israel against Iran), we have not had any substantive support against killing of Kashmiri Muslims. To add insult to our injury and that too in the presence of our Prime Minister, President Trump raised his voice in support of India as a victim of terrorism. This reference was an obvious pointer to us. As if that was not sufficient, Pakistan was not mentioned anywhere as the worst victim of terrorism ever since the Americans unleashed their punitive aggression against Iraq and Afghanistan.
Our Foreign Office, housed in the erstwhile Hotel Sheherzade, seems to be living in the dream-world of Arabian Nights. Most of the time it is clueless of what is happening. It was music to our ears when we learnt from our media and Ministry of Foreign Affairs Lord Haw-Haw that President Trump would give our Prime Minister an audience during the Riyadh summit. To strengthen this hope it was also said that presidential entourage would include an American-Pakistani who has access to Trump ears and had been responsible for first Presidential telephone call to PM Sharif.
Assurance of a private citizen took our Foreign Office for a joy ride. Later, Americans officially denied of a bilateral meeting being arranged. The PM did manage to shake hands with President Trump when all the guests had queued up to greet him.
To rub salt to our wounds, Prime Minister Sharif who was supposed to have prepared a “historic speech” for the occasion was not given time. He had no better work to do than to twiddle with his thumbs sitting in the back row. Not only that, the story doing the round is that Prime Minister’s “friendly” hosts tried their best to get an audience to him from the US President. That effort seemed to have been drowned in the Panama scandal. Turkey had better perception of the summit; its President Erdogan did not attend the summit and sent his Foreign Minister instead.
Pakistan’s tragedy is that its foreign policy has been managed by successive bag carriers. As columnist Ayaz Amir put it: “Gen Zia was bag-carrier for both the Americans and the Saudis. Gen Musharraf was bag-carrier for the Americans and was not above receiving a gift of money — with which he bought his London property — from the hands of the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.”
PM Nawaz Sharif too owes much too Saudis for where he is today. About General (retd) Raheel Sharif’s new job as 41-nation coalition army’s Knight Templar, less said the better.
Alas one remembered martyred Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the 2nd Islamic Summit held in Lahore in 1974 — like of which are not likely to be held again. Had he been in Riyadh, the story would have been different. One would agree with Ayaz Amir that Bhutto would have spoken up on Iran’s side or he would have walked out of that hall.
Riyadh summit being a fiasco for our Foreign Office and great setback for the Prime Minister, it is time some serious thought is given to our relations with the immediate neighbours.
Pakistan’s geo-strategic situation does not permit it to take side against Iran or be involved in what is considered as sectarian army. The best role for it would be that of an honest broker between the two great Muslim nations before it is too late.
(The writer is Pakistan’s former High Commissioner and a veteran journalist. Views are personal)
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