A Veritable Babel of Tongues
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari


It is a strange Pakistani phenomenon that many of our practitioners of foreign policy, on retirement, immediately decry these policies. That is why it was not surprising to find one such senior practitioner claim, in a panel discussion the other day that the Kashmir issue was effectively a territorial issue for Pakistan -- as it is for India -- and had nothing to do with the issue of self-determination. Now, having maintained since 1947 that the issue of Kashmir was basically one of self-determination for the Kashmiri people, this claim coming from the gentleman was astounding to say the least. Worse still, he then confessed that all these years he had blinkers on but now he has shed these! Of course, conveniently, only after retirement. Is it any wonder then that our foreign policy is not projected effectively -- given that the practitioners do not believe in what they are supposed to be projecting?
Again, in a uniquely Pakistani fashion, many in power also choose to issue statements that clearly contradict our prevalent policies and postures, as well as our authoritative official declarations. It is no wonder then that on very sensitive issues our signals are thoroughly confused when they should be unambiguous. Non-official discussions with varying viewpoints being represented are one thing; official contradictions are another. Take the case of the restructuring of the UN and attempts by a group of states, including Japan and India, to gain veto-possessing permanent membership of the UN Security Council.
Pakistan's official position has always been to oppose an increase in the permanent members of the UNSC and instead we have sought to support an overall expansion of the membership of the Security Council so that it can become more representative of the global comity of nations. We oppose the extension of the club of veto-wielding elite states on a matter of principle -- regardless of which state may be seeking this status. However, when some of our policy makers seem confused on the issue it undermines our principled position. That is why the controversy over the Foreign Minister's utterances on this issue in Japan did undermine our policy to some extent -- despite the fact that the Foreign Office clarified the situation. But, on such a sensitive issue and at such a critical time, the signaling cannot afford to be mixed at all. The confusion sent negative signals to South Korea and our crucial ally China, and it also led to questioning of our own position by those whom we are presently seeking to convince for support against expansion of the permanent membership of the UNSC. Clarifications may do some damage control but the initial confusion is very costly especially when there must have been something amiss to have created the confusion in the first place.
And what happens to Pakistani officialdom once they get a berthing space in the US -- especially in US think tanks and in the UN with US sponsorship -- has already been alluded to in earlier columns. Suffice it to state here that an obsessiveness with following US agendas leads to a dangerously narrow vision of the world where dealing with major European powers like France and Germany can be absurdly misconstrued as 'strategic defiance'!
Nor is this all. We have had retired officials involved in sensitive backdoor diplomacy between Pakistan and India claiming all sorts of achievements in front of international audiences, especially Indian, with no substantiation for these claims. One such glaring and extremely damaging assertion, that is being reiterated on many fora, is the claim, by a backdoor channel during the second Sharif government, that the Kashmir issue had been resolved and only needed to be officially inked had the military not intervened and sabotaged it! The tall claim is sometimes specific in that it refers to the Indians having accepted the Chenab formula, which would have given the Valley to Pakistan! At other times the claim is more general, merely targeting the Pakistan military for having intervened negatively. Having examined this issue over the last few years, there is no ground on which the claim has any veracity at all. Meanwhile, the damage done by this person to Pakistan is tremendous.
And let us not forget our absurdities even in the field of cricket. Before the Indian cricket tour of Pakistan in March 2004, when the Indians insisted we shift the venues of their matches from certain cities because of security reasons, we obliged without making it a political issue. However, when it came to our tour, which is to commence this week, and we pointed out the security problems in relation to Ahmedabad, the Indians turned the whole thing into a political game of brinkmanship and of course we blinked. This is despite the fact that the state of Gujarat is the last place we should be playing any cricket given the Modi government's abetting in the massacre of Muslims there. But the PCB Chairman, with his own affiliations to a royal Indian past, saw nothing wrong in giving in to Indian coaxing on Ahmedabad. Equally disturbing were the threats being issued by the Hindu fundamentalists against our team's tour of India. We certainly had no such political vitiation of the atmosphere when the Indians visited us. Under the circumstances, we should have stood firm, voiced our increasing security concerns and simply refused to play in Ahmedabad. Surely some reciprocity in actions is necessary.
But then the PCB is becoming a fiefdom and a law unto itself, despite many public revelations of wrongdoing. And how come the PCB chose to keep quiet on the Dalai Lama issue until it came to the attention of the Foreign Office and others through a press story. Surely the PCB Chairman, with his Foreign Office background knew exactly what the Indians were planning with the introduction of the Dalai Lama factor. An embarrassment for Pakistan in relation to its ally China and an undermining of its policy on Tibet. Given the fact that the PCB had details of the tour, the whole issue should not have come up at all in the public domain. But the Indians were trying to bring political issues into the cricket and it seems the PCB would have gone along but for the Foreign Office finally intervening firmly.
It is this lack of clarity and a dangerous ignorance on issues and national positions that are lending an air of confusion to our policies. It is also creating a dangerous space for those seeking to undermine these policies covertly. This can be seen most starkly in the Pakistan-India dialogue process where Pakistan is in danger of willy-nilly being propelled into accepting the Indian dialogue agenda without getting anything positive on the real conflictual issues. Surely there is a need to assert the institutional framework of this process and ensure that the center retains not only policy control but also the pace over the rapprochement at the official level. At the moment absurdities abound, including claims by supposedly experienced media representatives in front of the Indian leadership, that there are no problems or suspicions -- kadoorat -- in the hearts of the Pakistani nation vis-a-vis India. We know this is incorrect but some of us are so desperate to say what the Indian leadership wants to hear that the truth is in danger of becoming the first casualty of the present peace process.
At the end of the day, we need to retain some sense of balance and commitment to the nation and the state despite the headiness of being applauded by external actors, both in our own neighborhood and across the Atlantic. The damage being done to Pakistan by the wild assertions and antics of those having held sensitive positions in the country is incalculable. (The writer is Director General of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


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