By Sajjad Shaukat
Famous political thinkers agree that a number of internal factors, system of government, geographical location, economic output etc. play a key role in formulating the foreign policy of a country, while national interest has primary importance.
But this thesis is quite opposite to Pakistan’s political and religious parties which have always criticised the external policy of the country by showing opposition for the sake of opposition.
When on July 3, Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) permitted NATO supplies across the country to Afghanistan after the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologised the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011 by American air strike on Slalala check posts by saying “sorry”, Pakistan’s political and religious leaders not only started illogical criticism of the decision, but also launched protests and rallies without grasping realistic approach.
Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan (PML-N) continued his criticism of the government over resumption of NATO routes by presuming that the rulers were distorting the truth on the issue due to secret deal with the US.
Besides, Chairman Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, and Syed Munawar Hasan, Ameer of Jamaat-i-Islami including other religious parties have also rejected the Pak-US reconciliation process. These parties are propagating about ‘secret agreement’ between Pakistan and America.
These political and religious entities have continued protests, rallies and precessions in various cities of the country over Islamabad’s decision to reopen NATO supplies, while Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) has launched a long march in this respect.
On the other side, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said on July 4 that Pakistan had not engaged in any ‘secret deal’ with the US for reopening the key supply routes. She openly pointed out that Pakistan will continue talks with the US over drone attacks.
Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman also stated on July 6 that Pakistan and the US are set to resume broader talks on other issues in the wake of an agreement to reopen NATO supply routes. She added, “I certainly think, it opened the door to many other issues…both sides can use this opportunity to build a path to durable ties.”
Pakistan’s open deal with America could be judged from the fact Pakistan’s Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on July 5 stated that the decision to reopen NATO transport route was taken in the best national interest and in the light of the recommendations of parliament. He disclosed that prolonged deadlock over the issue could have hurt the country’s relations with the NATO countries, which also included Muslim countries like Turkey.
It is regrettable that Pakistan’s political and religious parties are misguiding the general masses through ‘stereotypes’ in order to increase their vote bank in the coming elections. While some of our media anchors and commentators are also opposing Pak-US positive reconciliation.
In their politically motivated campaign, they have perhaps forgotten that since May 2, 2011, Pak-US ties deteriorated when by violating Pakistan’s sovereignty, US commandos killed Osama Bin Laden in a covert military operation. Afterwards, American high officials and media started a baseless blame game against Pakistan, while using various pressure tactics. After the Salala event, without bothering for American duress, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership took stern measures such as blockage of NATO supply route, closure of Shamsi Airbase and boycott of the second Bonn Conference.
In fact, these internal elements are not aware of the principles of political realism in its diplomatic sense. In this regard, being a small country, Pakistan has a weak bargaining leverage vis-à-vis the US-led NATO countries and is more vulnerable to their demands.
While, NATO countries seek to adopt Pakistani routes for withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan as part of their exit strategy. So, it was not an issue between Pakistan and America alone as it also includes west’s most developed countries of the NATO.
Our opposition parties should know that despite the pressure of US top civil and military officials including NATO commanders; Pakistan’s civil and military leadership remained strict on its demand of US apology in relation to Salala incident. And Islamabad opened the NATO supply lines after more than seven months when its principled stance was accepted by the US. Rabbani Khar rightly remarked, “The NATO supply route was reopened, but a super power had to “back down.”
It was due to Pakistan’s stand that a number of rounds of talks held between the negotiation teams of both the countries, but result was a deadlock because US was pressurising Islamabad for earlier restoration of NATO route unilaterally, while Pakistan wanted to discuss all the inter-related subjects like border’s coordination mechanism, apology by US over Salala incident etc.
Unlike the misperception of the opposition, US has also accepted Pakistan’s demand that NATO containers will carry non-lethal weapons. In this connection, Karachi customs spokesman Qamar Thalho said, “All containers passing through Pakistan to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan are to be scanned to ensure they do not contain ammunition and weapons.”
However, if Pakistan kept the NATO lines closed for a long time by showing no flexibility, US-led NATO countries could invade Pakistan’s tribal areas or could impose sanctions on the latter by using UN Security Council. For this purpose, global financial institutes like IMF and World Bank which are under their control could also be used against Pakistan. It could result in ‘isolation’ or economic sanctions, converting Pakistan into a failed state.
In this backdrop, Pakistan which has already been facing external and internal problems like subversive acts, issues of load shedding, inflation, unemployment, and deteriorated law and order situation, causing political and economic uncertainty was not in a position to infuriate the US-led NATO countries.
Nevertheless, after this new relationship, US is going to release the withheld about $1.1 billion for the Coalition Support Funds (CSF) and other foreign assistance including the Kerry-Lugar aid, providing some relief to Pakistan’s fragile external account and currency outlook.
Notably, after the withdrawal foreign troops, US and other western members of NATO seek stability in Afghanistan in the post-2014 scenario by realising the fact that they need Pakistan’s help in this respect.
An optimistic change in American policy could be judged from the fact that US Defence Secretary Panetta and other high officials of US have appreciated Pakistan’s decision to reopen NATO supplies.
It is mentionable that famous political philosopher, Morgenthau opines, “Foreign policy of a country should be moulded in accordance with the exigency of time and place.” He also says, sometimes a country has to choose between the lesser evil and the greater evil.
By abandoning their irrational approach, our political and religious leaders must know that cordial Pak-US relations will remove misunderstanding, yielding positive results for Pakistan.
At this crucial hour, while Pakistan is facing multi-faceted crises, rallies and long marches by the political and religious parties will further weaken the country. Thus, instead of misguiding the general masses also by exploiting the term, “sorry” or “apology,” our political leaders and media anchors must show logical approach.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations