Pak Foreign policy under debate at last!

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

PAKISTAN’s foreign policy has been under discussion and debate for long time. But at long last Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has come up with a promise to have a debate on foreign policy in the Parliament. This was long over due. Ever since democracy was restored in 2008, Parliament’s usefulness often came out in full glory as the sovereign body that had the final say in matters of defence and foreign policy besides other issues. With the passage of time government’s disregard to the Parliament and its contempt in bringing before it issues of vital national importance for debate were making it redundant

One must recall the Salala incident in which Pakistani soldiers were killed by American firing at a border check post. It was Parliament that put its foot down and stopped NATO supplies until the United States tendered an apology. Washington tried its best to brow beat Pakistan but it was Parliament that did not budge an inch from its principled stand. NATO supplies were allowed to pass through to Afghanistan only after a categorical apology over the tragic incident was tendered by the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

It was once again the Parliament that took a stand when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came under heavy pressure from Saudi Arabia and UAE to provide troops to fight for them in their conflict with Yemen. Parliament vetoed the move as it was against fundamentals of country’s foreign policy as provision of troops to fight for Saudi Arabia and UAE in Yemen would have amounted to invading another country that had no issue with Pakistan. Though it caused lot of displeasure in the two states, it however, conveyed to both that Pakistan was not a banana republic and cannot be dictated from outside.

Parliament’s veto ill-effected the clout and good will that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had. Later he too succumbed to Saudi demand and allowed former Army Chief General Raheel Sharif to seek employment with the Saudi Sunni force. Ever since then and especially with Imran Khan becoming prime minister, Pakistan despite being the only Muslim nuclear country with largest army among the countries of the Ummah, has been rendered into a pliable state fit enough to doing rounds with a beggars bowl.

Pakistan’s strategic importance of sitting at the mouth of the Gulf -despite the failures and follies of the government of the day-sustains buoyancy in whatever its foreign policy happens to be. However, in view of the increasing foreign policy challenges, the need of the hour is to take Parliament on board by having an in-depth debate to charter a proper course of conducting our relations with the comity of nations on the basis of equality.

According to master diplomat Dr Henry Kissinger, foreign policy is believed to be a set of parameters that a country evolves to safeguard its geo-strategic interests, have an effective writ of the state within and in securing its borders to making them inviolable from external interventions. It is rightly observed that when a country ceases to have control over its borders, it claims to sovereignty become dubious. Lastly, it is said that ‘in the affairs of diplomacy it has to remain riveted to the fact that in the conduct of bilateral relations, there is no such thin as permanent friendship-whether it is higher than Himalayas -permanent is a country’s geo-strategic interests only and nothing else. And there is no room for compromise on it.’

By undermining Parliament’s role in defining foreign policy, we have messed it up to an extent that it would require long hours of debate for days to discuss threadbare the new alignments with countries beyond while ignoring the immediate neighbours. Our long time ally -the United States-continues to be harbouring suspicions about our wheeling dealings with extremist groups. Washington has not given up its ‘do more mantra’. Latest being its strong worded concern about the state of religious freedom in Pakistan.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also gave the good news that at long last Prime Minister Imran Khan would be visiting Washington on his first state visit as chief executive. Notwithstanding the protocol guffaws on his previous visits abroad, one would advise him to do a refresher course in understanding of diplomacy and how to conduct himself in his talks with dignitaries. He would do well if he could read some of Dr Kissinger’s writings to understand the nuances of diplomacy. And in order to understand the currents and cross-currents responsible for good, bad or ugly relations between US and Pakistan over the years he must read Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s book ‘Friends not Master’ and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s “Myth of Independence’.

Whatever time he has from now to Washington yatra, he better have his brief prepared by professionals. It must be noted that sometimes in our enthusiasm or in the spirit of one-upmanship, called “scoop” in the journalistic jargon, we wrongly interpret diplomatic nuances especially when in the diplomatic lexicon it is much more of beating about the bush. This is precisely what had happened during the exchange of felicitation messages between India and Pakistan. PM Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi sent messages of felicitation after the Indian elections. Apart from congratulating their counterparts both leaders expressed the desire to “work together for peace and security in the region”. They also hoped that in the same spirit the two countries would be able to resolve their bilateral issues through dialogue.

Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr Jaishankar responded to these messages in a pro-forma manner with oft repeated caveat about resumption of dialogue in an “atmosphere free from terror”. One wonders how come our analysts have become “news breakers” to interpret a “stale” response from the Indian leadership as their “consent for the resumption of bilateral dialogue”. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman was right in putting the record straight that no such inclination was conveyed to Pakistan by the Indian leadership.

Lately strange trends have been introduced in the Pakistani diplomacy that at times causes sheer embarrassment for the country. For instance– announcement of appointment of ambassadors before the agre’ment (consent) of the host government(s) is not only embarrassing but against the established diplomatic norms. Such announcements are made once the host government or receiving state conveys its consent for the appointment of a particular person to that state.

Last but not the least, Pakistan has come to be known as least concerned about maintaining decorum during formal meetings or calls irrespective of the status of the visiting dignitaries. Prime Minister chauffeuring a dignitary is most undesirable. Sitting crossed legged or shaking feet is below the etiquettes. However, it is being observed that our high officials have been found sitting casually in such meetings which constitutes an offence to the visiting dignitary and must be avoided. In fact, it would be advisable if a mandatory course is conducted by the Foreign Office on diplomatic etiquettes and table manners to all officials including elected representatives. Protocol Wing of the Foreign Office must ensure that no guffaws are repeated as were witnessed recently and that the Prime Minister is properly briefed about protocol.

(The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)

By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

PAKISTAN’s foreign policy has been under discussion and debate for long time. But at long last Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has come up with a promise to have a debate on foreign policy in the Parliament. This was long over due. Ever since democracy was restored in 2008, Parliament’s usefulness often came out in full glory as the sovereign body that had the final say in matters of defence and foreign policy besides other issues. With the passage of time government’s disregard to the Parliament and its contempt in bringing before it issues of vital national importance for debate were making it redundant

One must recall the Salala incident in which Pakistani soldiers were killed by American firing at a border check post. It was Parliament that put its foot down and stopped NATO supplies until the United States tendered an apology. Washington tried its best to brow beat Pakistan but it was Parliament that did not budge an inch from its principled stand. NATO supplies were allowed to pass through to Afghanistan only after a categorical apology over the tragic incident was tendered by the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

It was once again the Parliament that took a stand when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came under heavy pressure from Saudi Arabia and UAE to provide troops to fight for them in their conflict with Yemen. Parliament vetoed the move as it was against fundamentals of country’s foreign policy as provision of troops to fight for Saudi Arabia and UAE in Yemen would have amounted to invading another country that had no issue with Pakistan. Though it caused lot of displeasure in the two states, it however, conveyed to both that Pakistan was not a banana republic and cannot be dictated from outside.

Parliament’s veto ill-effected the clout and good will that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had. Later he too succumbed to Saudi demand and allowed former Army Chief General Raheel Sharif to seek employment with the Saudi Sunni force. Ever since then and especially with Imran Khan becoming prime minister, Pakistan despite being the only Muslim nuclear country with largest army among the countries of the Ummah, has been rendered into a pliable state fit enough to doing rounds with a beggars bowl.

Pakistan’s strategic importance of sitting at the mouth of the Gulf -despite the failures and follies of the government of the day-sustains buoyancy in whatever its foreign policy happens to be. However, in view of the increasing foreign policy challenges, the need of the hour is to take Parliament on board by having an in-depth debate to charter a proper course of conducting our relations with the comity of nations on the basis of equality.

According to master diplomat Dr Henry Kissinger, foreign policy is believed to be a set of parameters that a country evolves to safeguard its geo-strategic interests, have an effective writ of the state within and in securing its borders to making them inviolable from external interventions. It is rightly observed that when a country ceases to have control over its borders, it claims to sovereignty become dubious. Lastly, it is said that ‘in the affairs of diplomacy it has to remain riveted to the fact that in the conduct of bilateral relations, there is no such thin as permanent friendship-whether it is higher than Himalayas -permanent is a country’s geo-strategic interests only and nothing else. And there is no room for compromise on it.’

By undermining Parliament’s role in defining foreign policy, we have messed it up to an extent that it would require long hours of debate for days to discuss threadbare the new alignments with countries beyond while ignoring the immediate neighbours. Our long time ally -the United States-continues to be harbouring suspicions about our wheeling dealings with extremist groups. Washington has not given up its ‘do more mantra’. Latest being its strong worded concern about the state of religious freedom in Pakistan.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also gave the good news that at long last Prime Minister Imran Khan would be visiting Washington on his first state visit as chief executive. Notwithstanding the protocol guffaws on his previous visits abroad, one would advise him to do a refresher course in understanding of diplomacy and how to conduct himself in his talks with dignitaries. He would do well if he could read some of Dr Kissinger’s writings to understand the nuances of diplomacy. And in order to understand the currents and cross-currents responsible for good, bad or ugly relations between US and Pakistan over the years he must read Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s book ‘Friends not Master’ and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s “Myth of Independence’.

Whatever time he has from now to Washington yatra, he better have his brief prepared by professionals. It must be noted that sometimes in our enthusiasm or in the spirit of one-upmanship, called “scoop” in the journalistic jargon, we wrongly interpret diplomatic nuances especially when in the diplomatic lexicon it is much more of beating about the bush. This is precisely what had happened during the exchange of felicitation messages between India and Pakistan. PM Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi sent messages of felicitation after the Indian elections. Apart from congratulating their counterparts both leaders expressed the desire to “work together for peace and security in the region”. They also hoped that in the same spirit the two countries would be able to resolve their bilateral issues through dialogue.

Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr Jaishankar responded to these messages in a pro-forma manner with oft repeated caveat about resumption of dialogue in an “atmosphere free from terror”. One wonders how come our analysts have become “news breakers” to interpret a “stale” response from the Indian leadership as their “consent for the resumption of bilateral dialogue”. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman was right in putting the record straight that no such inclination was conveyed to Pakistan by the Indian leadership.

Lately strange trends have been introduced in the Pakistani diplomacy that at times causes sheer embarrassment for the country. For instance– announcement of appointment of ambassadors before the agre’ment (consent) of the host government(s) is not only embarrassing but against the established diplomatic norms. Such announcements are made once the host government or receiving state conveys its consent for the appointment of a particular person to that state.

Last but not the least, Pakistan has come to be known as least concerned about maintaining decorum during formal meetings or calls irrespective of the status of the visiting dignitaries. Prime Minister chauffeuring a dignitary is most undesirable. Sitting crossed legged or shaking feet is below the etiquettes. However, it is being observed that our high officials have been found sitting casually in such meetings which constitutes an offence to the visiting dignitary and must be avoided. In fact, it would be advisable if a mandatory course is conducted by the Foreign Office on diplomatic etiquettes and table manners to all officials including elected representatives. Protocol Wing of the Foreign Office must ensure that no guffaws are repeated as were witnessed recently and that the Prime Minister is properly briefed about protocol.

(The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)