The Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia under its Pakistan Studies Programme organized a talk on “Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Challenges and Priorities” on Tuesday, 15 April, 2014 at Tagore Hall, Dayar-e-Mir Taqi Mir. The talk was delivered by Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Mr Abdul Basit.
It dwelt on trade, diplomacy, security, bilateral and regional issues. Mr Abdul Basit said that diplomats are usually taken in the lines of Kautilya and Machiavelli as taking side of national interest of their countries but for him soft diplomacy procured better results as learnt through thirty years of experience as a diplomat.
He said that since Pakistan’s emergence on world map it has been facing countless challenges. But when it comes to foreign policy it is not different from the foreign policy of other countries, he said.
Our foreign policy is primarily derived from and determined on three things. First and foremost is security, second is to help the country achieve economic development, and third is to contribute towards evolving a fair and just international system and order.
The High Commissioner said that since immediately after 1947 the security consideration of Pakistan has been more pronounced than other considerations. Our security quest towards India as it was a bigger country and the British had left us with the legacy of Jammu and Kashmir dispute, therefore in the 1950s we immediately turned to the West and we became partners of the military alliances like SEATO and CENTO organizations to counter this. There were divergent objectives in place but we thought of joining these organisations to secure our place.
After the Sino-India war of 1962 Pakistan thought to “take advantage of our enemy’s enemy and become friend to China”, said Mr Basit, who has also served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Germany. He said that the China-Pakistan friendship is known as an exemplary friendship.
He said that other than joining hands with the West and China for its immediate security concerns, Pakistan at the same time has been very actively engaging in multilateral settings, adding that despite our alliances with the West we have always tried to engage with projects like the Non-Aligned Movement.
In 1979, the Soviet Union occupies Afghanistan, so we started joining hands with West to defeat the Soviet, and finally succeeded in it. We along with the Afghans take some pride that we cost disintegration of the Soviet Union because Afghanistan was our direct neighbor.
The Commissioner said that after the withdrawal of the Soviet, the West very conveniently left both Pakistan and Afghanistan and we were left with large numbers of refugees. We were left to fight with the legacy of a long war in Afghanistan.
Mr Basit, who joined the Pakistan Foreign Service in 1982, said, “Though there was no Pakistani involved in the 9/11, we thought it would be important for us to join hands again with the West against the Taliban”.
Talking about the present scenario, he said, “Our foreign policy now remains the same – security, economic development and fair and just order.”
After having achieved nuclear deterrence vis-à-vis India in 1998, this is kind of indispensable to our security calculus, but our policy, said he, continues to be to use the security deterrence at the minimum level.
About the need for regional security, he said that Pakistan cannot achieve these objectives without peaceful environment for which “we need to engage with our neighbours particularly India and also try to stabilize Afghanistan”.
He further said that India and Pakistan are too much into negativity when it comes to bilateral relations. Even when we want to take one step forward we end up taking two steps backward, he said.
In 1947 there was only one core issue, but now we have many issues. Diplomacy has somewhat failed to deal with this situation. Wars have also failed in a way that they did not lead us to resolve our problems, he said.
About dealing with what he termed as a “vicious circle”, the High Commissioner said that it would be important that we should not be taking dialogue process and peace in favour of one. We need to understand that peace is in our mutual interest.
India has grown and is still growing very fast, yet there are multiple problems, same is the case with Pakistan where millions of people are living below the poverty line. We are facing humongous challenges and the region as a whole is mired in deep poverty.
Secondly, it would be important in the context of Pakistan and India to engage in a sustained and meaningful dialogue process. If we were to make progress in the context of achieving peace, we need to start with the narrative that peace is in our mutual interest. Both our countries should be engaged in a sustained dialogue process wherein we discuss not just one issue, but all the issues, he said. We cannot cherry pick issues and leave great hiatus.
He said that all issues are important. Jammu and Kashmir is important, issue of terrorism is very important, because Pakistan itself is facing from terrorism which is damaging Pakistan, more than fifty thousand Pakistanis have lost their lives to terrorism. Visa, cultural exchanges, trade issues, they are all important. We need a comprehensive dialogue process like we have in a composite dialogue.
Both the countries need to take into consideration the past frameworks and move ahead and take things forward rather than reinventing the wheel all the time.
About prevailing perception of Pakistan in India, he said, “Pakistan is the most misunderstood country in this part of the world” adding that that may also be the case of India in Pakistan, despite the fact that we lived together for centuries; there are many stereotypes that continues to permeate in our national psyche.
Mr Basit said that Pakistan has been transformed in remarkable ways in the last ten years. We have been able to develop a very strong civil society group in Pakistani. Our media has grown in many ways, and it is totally independent.
He said that there was no issue left as a taboo in Pakistan when it came to discussion in media. Every social and cultural issue can easily find a place in media. Judiciary has become important and independent, he said.
It is important for people in India that Pakistan should not be taken as a country as it existed in the 1950S or 1960s. Pakistan is competing in all areas; Pakistani women are now even winning Oscar awards. The credit for first Muslim women president goes to us. We have women in our armed forces. Things will get better and better in times to come, he said and added that in Pakistan there was no clash between Islam and modernity.
How to overcome these?
Despite these, Mr Basit, however emphasized on the fact that Pakistan still lagged behind the rest of the world. Terrorism has been a great contributory factor for us for not focusing on economic development. That’s why we are trying to reach out to Pakistani Taliban after trying the use of force with hope of some positive outcome. If this does not work we always have option to use force against them.
Secondly, we believe that as our relation with India is important, Afghanistan is also very important for us because we share with them a long border. We do not want Afghanistan to plunge into another civil war which will be almost fatal and suicidal for us also.
Thirdly, we are trying to promote regional economic interdependence leading to economic integration. In this India and Pakistan can play a major role through different linkages. We can help each other in many respects and at the same time we can help each other in the region at large.
We need to sort out not just our dispute but to also understand our areas. It’s a long process, in some areas results can be achieved quickly and it other areas it may take longer time, concluded he.
In his introductory remark Prof. S. M. Sajid, the officiating Vice-Chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia said that there is need for serious engagement between the two countries and two societies. Academic institutions can perhaps be the best platform for that. Dr Sajid offered to host students from Pakistan for research and academic purposes and requested the Pakistan government for similar reciprocity. The VC also said that comprehensive dialogue was required to make some headway.
T.C.A. Rangachari, Dr Rani D Mullen, Dr Mohammad Sohrab, Dr Mathew Joseph, veteran journalist and former editor of Indian Express B. G. Verghese, students and faculty members of different departments attended the programme.
Prof. Ajaya Darshan Behera proposed vote of thanks with a brief note on the academic programme on Pakistan run at the Academy.