Understanding South-Asian Situation

A book that encapsulates Pakistan’s foreign policy

Sixty three years on, Pakistan continues to be caught up     in a morass of acrimonious relations with some of its important neighbors. It continues to   live with paradoxes of   alliances and counter-alliances with global powers.

It is not something extraordinary for a strategically located   country in a region tormented with war of ideologies and super powers competing for political, economic and military hegemony.  It is not also unusual for a country that has had a painful birth, ‘unusually eventful’ existence marked by more of troughs and less of crests; suffered wars and even dismemberment. To understand dilemmas of Pakistan there is need to understand its foreign policy, as very aptly said by someone ‘foreign policy is counted the first line of defence of any country and this is more pronounced in the case of Pakistan which has been beset by difficult security situation from the beginning.’

‘The nascent state of Pakistan wished, as its founding father repeatedly said, friendly and cooperative relations with its neighbors’ writes Aga Shahi, in his foreword to book ‘Pakistan Foreign Policy 1947- 2009 – A Concise History’ by Abdul Sattar, “Idealistic in inspiration, the states foreign policy had soon to come to grips with reality of the challenges to its right to peaceful existences.”

The beautifully bound book spreading over 386 pages written by former Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar published by Ameena Syed of Oxford University Press, in 2010 encapsulates country’s foreign policy from its birth till the recent past. The author, a career diplomat who has been twice foreign minister of the troubled state in this book recapitulates his thirty nine years experience and provides a deeper insight into high and low of Pakistan relations with global powers, Muslim world more particularly with immediate neighbors. The book narrates the whole story about Pakistan’s tryst with nuclear program and unreliability of USA in 1965, 1971 wars and how it turned its back towards Pakistan after defeat of Russia in Afghanistan yet this country for its leadership walked into Washington trap.

In first chapter of the book titled ‘the Emergence of Pakistan” the author giving historical background of the country recaps as to how the idea of nationhood captured the imagination of Muslims as its ‘leaders discerned the looming dangers of political domination across the religious and social fault line’ and how it got accentuated with the birth of the Muslim League in 1906. Dwelling upon the ‘four stages through which the Muslim League passed, the book very briefly tells us how Pakistan became a reality after the British decided to divide East and West Bengal, with Muslims hailing the division for having felt ‘disconnected’.

The founding father of Pakistan, M.A. Jinnah had a ‘vision for foreign policy for his newly founded country.’ ‘He had not allowed the political conflict of pre-independence period to cloud his vision.’ Quoting from his speeches, the author writes, “Jinnah’s concept of Pakistan as a Muslim, liberal, democratic and modern nation-state predisposed him in favor of close relations with democratic countries.’ “There lies in front of us a new chapter”, Jinnah had said in a speech, “and it will be our endeavor to create and maintain goodwill and friendship with Britain and our neighborly dominion Hindustan…”

Looking at Pakistan foreign policy in its historical perspective, it emanates from the book that Kashmir has been at its centre. In fact the dispute over future status has not only provided warp and woof to its relations with India but has greatly determined its relations including alliance with key players in global politics including USA and Russia. Sattar Writes, “India’s military intervention in Jammu and Kashmir, and its refusal to hold plebiscite as agreed in Security Council resolutions, injected a sense of urgency to the fledging state’s search for ways and means to bolster its capacity to resist dictation.” Calling Pakistan response to the situation as ‘classical’ and it seeking support and alliance to sinew its muscles as something not unusual with nations caught up in similar situation, he writes, “the contours of Pakistan’s foreign policy were thus shaped by the desperate need for arms to ensure the security of new state and for funds to finance its economic development.”

The book in more than one way revolves around Kashmir and brings out some hitherto unknown details connected with the developments with regard to Kashmir. The chapters titled “The Pakistan- India War 1965”, “Shimla Agreement: Negotiations under duress and “Increasing Isolation 1990-2001” are quite revealing for the author  having been not only  a witness to the dramas that were unfolding behind the scene but for being an important participant. The Chapter on Shimla answers many questions that have remained unanswered with regard to developments in Jammu and Kashmir that had caused dissolution of the Plebiscite Front and dissolving of the plebiscite movement.

The book enables the reader to understanding competing interest between US, India, Pakistan and Russia in Afghanistan after US troops completely withdraw from the country. The chapter titled “Alliance-Costs and Benefits is provides background to the causes that made it walk into an alliance with the United States. It have been threat perceptions that becoming more profound after India-Russia entering into strategic partnership. The author in a subsequent chapters has very candidly analyzes if Pakistan policy of joining the Afghan war was mistake. The book believes that in 2002, “It was necessary to evolve a strategy of approach, keeping in the forefront both the national interests and the need for a realistic assessment of the obtaining environment.”

The book is must read for students interested in security and political situation in South-Asia.

(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)