Over to you, Foreign Office

On August 21, the pronouncement of the South Asia policy encompassing Afghanistan by US President Donald Trump failed to create the kind of panic generated by the declaration issued from the platform of the 9th BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit on September 4. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the Xiamen or BRICS declaration, the celerity showed by the Foreign Minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, to visit China, Russia, Turkey and Iran, apparently to discuss Trump’s policy, is indicative of the horror that gripped Pakistan.

 

In response to Trump’s policy, on August 22 China immediately stressed for the need of recognising Pakistan’s efforts in stamping out the scourge of terrorism. However, after a few days, in the BRICS declaration (in the 48th paragraph of the 43-page declaration), China acknowledged the presence of certain terrorist networks in the region affecting India (e.g. Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-i-Taiba and Hizb ut-Tahrir) and Afghanistan (e.g. the Haqqani network, the Taliban, al-Qaida), without naming Pakistan. Somehow, the BRICS declaration has valued the concerns of both India and Afghanistan.

 

China offers two justifications for the BRICS declaration. First, the United Nations (UN) had already banned these militant organisations. Second, the declaration demanded nothing new from Pakistan. This is a polite face saving for Pakistan despite the fact that the declaration laid bare three points. First, the declaration stressed on the primary leading role and responsibility of states to prevent financing of terrorist networks and to counter terrorist actions from their territories. Second, the declaration laid emphasis on the necessity for developing international cooperation as per the international law to respect sovereign equality of states and non-interference in their internal affairs.  Third, the declaration called for expeditious finalisation and adoption of Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) by the General Assembly of the UN. Nevertheless, in the declaration, the only solace for the Pakistan was that, compared to the 8th BRICS Summit in October 2016 in Goa (India) where Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned Pakistan in his plenary speech by calling Pakistan “the mother ship” of terrorism and “terrorism has become its favourite child”, no such speech was allowed to Modi. In short, China’s reaction to the Trump’s speech and China’s stance expressed in the BRICS declaration can be summed up in this way: no doubt terrorist organisations are extant (in Pakistan), yet Pakistan is fighting the war against terrorism. Pakistan has not declared that the war on terror is over.

 

Domestically, the declaration has served one main purpose: it has brought the initiative to run Pakistan’s foreign policy back to the foreign office. On July 28, the judicial ouster of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (who was also the Foreign Minister) opened sufficient latitude for the repositioning of civil-military relations. The readjustment did take place and Pakistanis started hearing its thuds and thumps especially since August 14, when the idea-cum-ambition of the national security started dictating the foreign policy publicly. The public was to be informed who was in charge. The newfound place of national security braved August 21, the speech of President Trump), but it could not withstand September 4, the BRICS declaration. The damage had been done to Pakistan’s standing in the world and, on September 5, Pakistan stood isolated both regionally and internationally. In his speech in the GHQ at the occasion of Defence Day on September 6, the COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa said that the prerogative and responsibility of launching jihad rested with the state, thereby meaning that the proxies lost the aim and justification of survival.  This was the call: “Over to you, the Foreign Office,” that spurred Khawaja Asif into action on September 7 coincided with the conclusion of the ambassadors’ conference at the Foreign Office. The apparent attempt is to control the damage. It must be a matter of interest to watch what would have been the reaction of Nawaz Sharif, if he had been in power in the phase of national security lasted from July 28 to September 6.

 

This is where the problem lies in Pakistan. The country leaning on national security overlooks the importance of diplomacy, which predicates on rounds and rounds of negotiations. Before the BRICS declaration, the “ghairat” (honour) of Pakistanis did not allow them to host a meeting with Ms Alice Wells (the Acting Assistant Secretary of State in-charge of South and Central Asia), who was about to visit Pakistan. However, after the BRICS declaration, the “ghairat” allowed Pakistanis to send the foreign minister immediately to visit the four-countries for negotiations before he visits the US. The point is simple: if Pakistan had not closed the door of negotiations with visiting US officials, there would have been left much with Pakistan to save face and avoid isolation. Moreover, the urgency showed by Pakistan after the BRICS declaration is of little use. The BRICS is the forum of economic cooperation amongst member countries for their collective economic growth. This allows India bracket itself with China and Russia. On the other hand, Pakistan relies on the economic aid from China and Russia and this point subordinates Pakistan to these countries.

 

There is another dimension of the issue. The panic overwhelming the foreign office indicates that Pakistan was not taken into confidence before the BRICS declaration and one of the reasons for the same may be that China changed its mind during the BRICS conference. The unconfirmed reports are that, much to the chagrin of China, at least two member countries of the BRICS conveyed to China of their intent not to issue (or put their signatures on) a joint declaration of the conference if their concerns were not taken into account. In this way, China was left with the choice of either signing the declaration in its present form or issuing no declaration at all. For China, the embarrassing moment stared it in the face especially when the BRICS conference was taking place on its land (Xiamen). China failed to afford this mortification and signed the declaration in the present form. However, one favour China offered to Pakistan was the exclusion of Pakistan’s name from its direct association with terrorist groups functional in Greater Asia. Nevertheless, for other countries, the name of Pakistan is present implicitly. On the one hand, China became able to save the future of the BRICS while on the other hand China saved Pakistan from any direct allegation.

 

The post-BRICS scenario has left Pakistan with the choice of brooding and figuring out the reasons for receiving the regional and global rebuff. Nevertheless, there are three main conclusions Pakistan can draw. First, the (national) security policy cannot dictate the (national) foreign policy. That is, the GHQ cannot run the affairs of the foreign office, which has to be empowered instead of reducing it to respond to panic moments only. Second, localism (or domestic situations) cannot dictate regionalism or globalism. It is the other way round. That is, regionalisation or globalisation is no respecter of a country’s drives and desires touted locally. Third, Pakistan overestimated its position by assuming that it could divorce (or even antagonise) the US and take shelter under China and Russia. Pakistan overlooked the fact that, unlike its own disastrous penchant, China and Russia do not look for isolation. The Cold War is over and the alliances are now more economic than strategic. Even in any strategic alliance, the economic factor assumes the central importance.



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