Isolation And Isolationism

Isolation And Isolationism

There is no denying the fact that the isolation of Pakistan internationally has significantly intensified in the last year and a half. The falling apart of the previous deal on the purchase of F-16s from the US, the political and military setback that the country had to face with the first US drone strike in Balochistan taking out Taliban leader Mullah Mansour, rising tension with three out four neighboring countries, not to mention being completely ignored on the issue of entry into the Nuclear Supplier’s Group are just a few most recent examples of this phenomenon. Since the security establishment of the country (which for all practical purposes is the real state) looks at the entire gamut of international relations through an India-centric prism, the foreign policy achievements of India are thought of as losses for Pakistan.

So from this perspective, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s successes in winning broad support for his country not only among important western powers but also among Pakistan’s traditionally close friends in the Muslim and Arab world is received in Rawalpindi and Islamabad as a clear setback for Pakistan. But what has enraged the country’s security establishment the most is Narendra Modi’s charm offensive in Afghanistan, his tweets in Pashto and Dari and his very effective use of soft power to expand his country’s political influence in Pakistan’s western neighbor during his two state visits within the span of one year. The fact of the matter is that through substantial economic assistance, effective political initiatives and focused diplomacy India has succeeded in winning the hearts and minds of the Afghani people. It goes without saying that the flawed Afghan policy employed by Pakistan (achieving strategic depth by militarily imposing Taliban on that country) has made the Indian job easier.

In order to contextualize these developments, it is pertinent to revisit the situation in 2013-14. Pakistan appeared to be making great strides to become eligible for mainstream international attention. For the first time in Pakistan’s history an elected National Assembly completed its constitutional term in 2013, general elections were held and power was smoothly transferred from one democratically elected government to the next. International public opinion was convinced that democracy is striking roots in Pakistan. Not only that, in June 2014 the long delayed military operation against terrorist safe heavens in North Waziristan and other parts of FATA started with a bang. The impression was that Pakistan was finally changing its policy of tolerating terror sanctuaries and using militants as instruments of foreign policy. The National Action Plan (NAP) adopted by an All Parties Conference on December 24, 2014 inspired hope that finally the real war on terror had begun in Pakistan. The historic visit of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fueled hopes of rapprochement between the two neighboring countries. Similarly, successive initiatives by Nawaz Sharif to talk to the Indian leadership at the highest level also inspired glimmers of hope for the normalization of relations. And last but not least, the PML(N) government seemed to be shifting policy focus to economic development and regional connectivity. The announcement of a 46 billion dollar Chinese investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan’s active interest in the Central-Asia South-Asia (CASA) 1000 power project and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) inspired the hope that the country was switching its focus from the geo-strategic of the Cold War to the geo-economic of the 21st century. Pakistan was all set to move towards joining the international mainstream in terms of both political and economic development. So what went wrong?

Any rational analyst would have no difficulty in locating Pakistan’s Achilles’ heel. It is the deteriorating civil military relations that have lead to a dangerous imbalance in state policies. The Generals were not amused at the prospect of a trial of former military dictator General (r) Pervez Musharraf in 2014 for abrogating the Constitution. So the prolonged agitation led by Imran Khan and Tahir Ul Qadri for the ousting of PM Nawaz Sharif’s government enjoyed the clear support of at least parts of the security establishment. The government (barely) survived, primarily due to support by most of the opposition political parties in the Parliament but it was considerably weakened and lost control over substantial parts of the country’s security and foreign policy. The ever-expanding role of the apex committees in all four provinces gave the army a say in the day to day running of the administration. The 21st Amendment in the Constitution providing military courts with the authority to try civilians charged with terrorist offences completed the circle.

The balance in the state system decisively shifted in favor of the army. The grip of the GHQ over foreign policy is almost stifling. The widening gulf in relations with the three neighboring countries is a clear manifestation of it. It doesn’t mean that the neighbours haven’t contributed at all in worsening of their relationship with Pakistan. Of course each one of them is hell bent on getting a pound of flesh for itself. But the problem is that by totally reversing the NAP, allowing the Taliban, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the Jaish-e-Mohammed and other militant outfits to operate openly on its territory, Pakistan has come on the wrong side of the world. The oath of allegiance taken by Dr. Aiman-u-Zawahiri to the Afghan Taliban leader has clearly indicated that the old terror syndicate that was supposed to have vanquished during the last few years is back in business.

Unlike the situation in 2014 when Pakistan was supposed to be fighting against both the “good” and the bad Taliban, it turns out that factories for producing Taliban are now officially receiving public funds and once again, the Taliban are becoming main export of our country. Meanwhile, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa is publicly boasting about not only being the guarantor for keeping Balochistan in Pakistan, but also making sure of the protection of the CPEC. Outsourcing national security and foreign policy to the proscribed organizations is not going to endear Pakistan to the world. The current international isolation of Pakistan is a result of the policy of isolationism followed by the country. If Turkey can boldly reconsider its foreign policy to come out of isolation, why should Pakistan be shy of doing so? But there is an important difference. In Turkey, the political leadership is in the driving seat of the state system, which in Pakistan still remains a distant dream.


An earlier version of this article appeared in The Nation and is being republished here with permission.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of or any organization with which he might be associated.

Afrasiab Khattak

Author: Afrasiab Khattak

The writer is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.