The Army Factor of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy

Secretary-General Meets Permanent Representatve of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. by .
Secretary-General Meets Permanent Representatve of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Pakistan envoy Maleeha Lodhi is struggling to defend her country at the UN. India is accusing Pakistan of aiding and abetting terrorism. Why the country is failing to set up a stable civil government. What’s the role of Army in the domestic and foreign policies of Pakistan….explores Dr Sakariya Kareem

Secretary-General Meets Permanent Representatve of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. by .
Secretary-General Meets Permanent Representatve of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

The combined barrage of criticism by US President Donald Trump while announcing the new South Asia policy and the joint declaration at the BRICS Summit has alarmed Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Kha​waja Asif to advocate a “new foreign policy” and even a review of the security policy. But going by the past experience, nothing of any significance will change.​

First, the army brass will not allow it. Second, the civilian leadership of which Asif is a part is a mere shadow after Nawaz Sharif was ousted through a Supreme Court verdict and remains under probe and third, the country is heading for a general election and any peace talk, anything conciliatory, will not work.

Of the army, it is necessary to recall its former chief, Gen. Ashfaque Pervez Kayani specifically saying that terrorism and not India was Pakistan’s “Enemy Number 1”. That was the time his boss, President Pervez Musharraf was having behind-the-scene talks with the Indian leadership on various bilateral issues. He had to sound conciliatory and also highlight the havoc the militancy was playing on the country.

He was not wrong, but his emphasis was time-serving and not in tune with the mood of his colleagues who continued to seek “strategic depth” in Afghanistan where they were gunning for a “pro-India” President Hamid Karzai. And there were other, deeper reservations, embedded in India-Pakistan history to scale down the enmity with India.

That enmity has only multiplied with Trump seeking a role for India in Afghanistan. The anger is also directed at China that failed to ‘defend’ or ‘protect’ Pakistan at the Xiamen summit of the BRICS nations.

Pakistan initially rejected the thrashing that it got from BRICS  but on what seems an internal civil-military review, Asif said in a TV interview that “we need to bring our house in order, to prevent facing embarrassment on the international level”.

He made some startling and candid observations admitting Pakistan’s “mistake” in participating as a “proxy” in America’s war in Afghanistan against the USSR in the 1980s. This reflects the current anti-American mood in Pakistan.

“We have baggage. We need to accept that history and correct ourselves,” Asif said triggering turmoil within the country, while a skeptical world looks on with interest.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi(front,L) meets with visiting Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang(front,R) in Islamabad, Pakistan (Xinhua/Liu Tian) (gj)

Khwaja Asif has sought a “new foreign policy” to cope with a regional situation in which Pakistan faces isolation and censure. Following Trump’s blunt criticism of Pakistan as “part of the problem” of Afghanistan. The BRICS Summit also for the first time, listed Pakistan based non-state actors like the TTP, Haqqani Network, LeT and JM, as terrorist groups.

This means that key regional stakeholders China, Russia, America, India and Afghanistan have jointly put Pakistan on notice. China had earlier gone the extra mile to protect Pakistan at international forums from being targeted as such. But now China, as a BRICS member and that too, the host, has joined in.

Pakistan’s formal rejection of the twin (Trump and BRICS) criticism has been to reiterate on the huge loss of soldiers and civilians in fighting terrorism on its soil, but alleging that it is sponsored from across its eastern and western borders.

But Asif’s confessions fall short in convincing the world community, particularly the US and the regional players who constitute the BRICS.

Actually, the world community accepts Pakistan’s defense of its contribution to the war on terrorism only on one count but rejects it on another. Those rejecting include all the regional stakeholders, including China.

The world acknowledges that Pakistan’s military has waged a war against the TTP, IS and assorted religious extremist groups terrorizing the people and state of Pakistan from bases inside and outside Pakistan.

But it rejects its assertion that groups based inside Pakistan such as the Haqqani Network, LeT, JM etc that are attacking both Afghanistan and India but not Pakistan have its implicit and explicit support. This is something India took years to impress upon the world community that viewed the issue of terrorism from its own prism.

Hence, Asif’s demand for a change of foreign and national security policy refers policy regarding the Haqqani network, Let, JM etc with whom Pakistan’s regional neighbours and the international community are concerned and not the TTP, IS etc. The “do more” international mantra is directed at the former and not the latter. How far Asif’s advocacy will find acceptance from the military and those with established vested interests of long years is doubtful.

Chief of Pakistan’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) Hafiz Saeed (C, front) leaves after being detained by police in eastern Pakistan’s Lahore on early Jan. 31, 2017. Authorities in Pakistan have detained Hafiz Saeed, chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the group accused of planning the 2008 attacks in the Indian commercial center of Mumbai that had killed 166 people, the group’s spokesman said Tuesday. (Xinhua/Sajjad) (lrz)

Pakistan’s real problem, however is how to “do more” that the world community is demanding. Editor Najam Sethi explains this contradiction and dilemma in his editorial in The Friday Times:

“The Haqqani network, like the rest of the Afghan Taliban, was provided safe havens and nurtured originally for leveraging the Afghan civil war to Pakistan’s advantage. Now it is clear that far from being to Pakistan’s advantage it has become a liability for Pakistan. The problem is how to oust it from Pakistan without pushing it into the arms of the TTP inside Afghanistan or IS inside Pakistan and reinforcing terrorism inside Pakistan.

“Much the same sort of problem bedevils action against LeT and JM. Both were nurtured to leverage an advantageous solution to the Indian occupation of Kashmir.”

Sethi avers: “Now even the Kashmiris are not prepared to accept help from such Pakistan-based jihadis because it means tarring their struggle for Azaadi from both India and Pakistan. The problem for Pakistan is how to disband them without pushing them into the arms of the TTP as happened when the Musharraf regime decided to merely close the tap on jihad in 2005.”

Difficult, but even assuming that Asif is speaking for both the civil and the military leadership in conveying the new mood, this seems a temporary bubble that the military will burst at a time of its choosing – that is, after Trump has been appeased and China get emboldened yet again to defend the “all weather” friend.