Passive aggressive foreign policy

Posted on June 28, 2016

“There are two kinds of angry people in this world: explosive and implosive. Explosive is the kind of individual you see screaming at the cashier for not taking their coupons. Implosive is the cashier who remains quiet day after day and finally shoots everyone in the store. You’re the cashier,” says Dr Buddy Rydell to Dave Buznik in film Anger Management.

Critics of Pakistan’s foreign policy remind us of the screamer in the store. Let us hope and pray that the Pakistani state does not turn out to be the passive-aggressive cashier. Pakistan’s woes originate from a myriad of problems. A rough neighbourhood. Location too close to two rising giants. A history of shared hostility with one. Lack of proper understanding of own potential and prowess. Economic and political instability. Too many cooks. Too little to sell. Long history of civil-military bipolar syndrome. And the list goes on. The trouble then is to know how to frame the appropriate foreign policy. Owing to the political elite’s total failure to pull its weight at the very inception and the timely death of the country’s founder, the policymaking process soon ended up in the hands of the military. Survival was of supreme importance. The defenders considered no one more capable to build strategic relationships with other countries than themselves. Ayub Khan’s outreach to the US proved that this assessment was not all that misplaced, as the founder of the nation and the first prime minister also wanted something similar.

Since then, the relationship with the US has been our most important priority despite constant denials. And because politicians are also an unavoidable reality, our narrative describing our foreign policy choices has always looked like the product of a schizophrenic mind. Whenever politicians were in power, their struggling governments had a distinctly reactive and emotive approach to viewing these choices. Dictators, more self-assured and less threatened, approached the matter quite stoically. These two narratives have been constantly clashing and have given birth to a unique brand of conspiracy theories and parallel history obscuring the objective and at times abject realities of life.

These speculations and friction between the two narratives increased with the demise of the Soviet Union. For the first time, Pakistan was truly faced by the consequences of its own actions and foreign policy choices. As the red scare disappeared, so did our nuisance value. India grew in importance and we felt ostracised. But the real unbearable friction started in General (retd) Musharraf’s time when the politicians and the religious elite felt betrayed and thought that the generalissimo was short-selling national interest to a party that would take no time short-changing us. When Musharraf was forced out of power, his followers thought that was exactly what had happened. Since then, they have reacted in the same manner. So today internal rage, speculations, accusations have reached astronomical proportions making our foreign policy passive-aggressive. Since both sides fail to see that they want the same thing, no one seriously pays attention to deeper questions and deficits of our foreign policy. For instance, why is it that when we were combatting global terrorism on our soil, India got away with all the benefits and managed to frame us as per its own narrative? Why is it that we are struggling to be heard? Why do we lack in choices? Are we really such small fry now that comparisons with India are no longer warranted? If so, why does India constantly obsess about us while pretending not to do so?

When we fail to ask these questions, we resort to attacking our own and suggest solutions that are inconsequential. Our politicians must be compromising national interest for personal benefit. Our generals must be deliberately sabotaging the civilian government’s initiatives. Oh we are failing because we don’t have a full-time foreign minister. Yeah right, a full-time foreign minister will come with a magic wand and make all our woes go away.

The real reason is we lack soft power and common sense. India freed its economy under Manmohan Singh and attracted investors. Its entertainment industry is all the rage. It exports human capital that becomes a part of and leads Fortune 500 companies. It diversifies its portfolio all the time, and projects its cultural and democratic credentials beyond our imagination. Meanwhile, we keep shouting at our own. If we shut up for a second our brains may start functioning and we may realise that as a nation of 200 million, we are not that small and can do just the same.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2016.

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