Of people and states | Pakistan Today

Of people and states

  • Moving forward

Much like personal relations, states also need to depend on each other for a chance at healthy co-existence. In pure neo-liberal terms this comes in the form of economic integration, trade liberalisation and international political integration. Survival of the fittest in this sense translates at the state level as both; the states that can rise to fill the power vacuum, and those that can align themselves with the set of ethos that prevail and govern this international system.

For the hegemon/s of the world, rising to the occasion has sustained their presence while for weaker states it has always all come down to how quickly they could align themselves with the international order. For Pakistan, since independence, non/aligning with the right ideological partner has been the greatest foreign policy challenge. A country whose advent was based on a religious ideology, somewhere in the 1960’s we became more pro-American than we ever thought of being.

However, over the decades, this relationship much like that of humans, has been a conditional one, with US calling the shots and Pakistan always getting the wrong end of the bargain. What makes matters even worse is the fact that there is very little that Pakistan has been able to put forward as part of its legitimate demands for mutual concerted efforts aimed at rooting out terrorism.

Lost domestic consensus

Robert D Putnam’s Two-level game theory can be applied here to understand the actual costs to Pakistan as the front-line state, and siding with US against the War on Terror. What initially created a sense of discomfort and uncertainty amongst the Pakistanis was quickly changed to a sense of control and pride when Pakistan sided with the US, following the terrorist attacks at the Twin Towers.

However, it quickly became apparent that the status of Pakistan in this US-led NATO’s direct action against the Taliban and their sanctuaries on either sides of the border had reduced the status of Pakistan from a state to a mere launchpad, access route to fight this war. While we all suffered from off days at school, long security checks, a constant fear of large crowds and a nationally shared amnesia of an unsafe Pakistan since its inception, the US-led coalition went on to breach our sovereignty, never accounted for the large number of civilian casualties, and the economic hardship that the state suffered for ‘doing more’ to combat the issue, while the problem outpoured to our side from a rather permeable border.

To think that we might finally be at better grips with the situation because of a stronger advocate for the country both at the national and international level, however, only solves one side of the problem

Governance at the hands of this was served a devastating blow, and not only because everyone underestimated the magnitude of the problem and focused only on short term plans. But this can also be contributed to how for the longest time the security establishment (who decided to take up the mountainous task of engaging with the problem head on) mainly focused on their defense and security expenditures for almost a decade, and the latter more democratic governments took more advantage than do good under the banner of political instability.

Moving forward

The reason why this article makes a stark comparison of states to people is because each head of government or security institution runs a state in a particular way that is synonymous to how they are as individuals. While this can be seen as an over-generalisation since a state is more than just one person at the top, this theory is in line with how diplomats engage at the international level, and also shows how drastically states’ narratives and popular discourses change with a change in government. Albeit this is more relevant a case for the third world countries, America under President Trump is an example that goes on to show how quickly and drastically a state’s narrative or its popular discourse can change with a change at the top of the government.

While the idea that Pakistan has done too little to get a better hold of the terrorist sanctuaries on its own soil remains a constant in the US leadership; the language, mode of communication, and blatant blaming with little constructive dialogue from President Trump shows what little knowledge or control US actually exercises over the war now. On the other side, the front-line state, the greatest ally, Pakistan under Prime Minister Imran Khan, for the first time, stood on its own side of the history. The eloquent speech by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the United Nations General Assembly session earlier this year rightfully gave due credit to Pakistan and the many Pakistanis who have stood by the government in all of its operations. The same sentiments were shared by PM Khan in his tweets to President Trump and a follow-up interview by the Washington Post. The thousands of civilians who have died and the devastation of the north-western areas of the country at the hands of US’ ‘hired gun’ were more eloquently put by Khan than anyone else from this side of the world at the international level.

To think that we might finally be at better grips with the situation because of a stronger advocate for the country both at the national and international level, however, only solves one side of the problem. While this gives us more leverage at the international level to negotiate as is evidenced by the fact that Khan’s tweets have led US to take a more constructive approach at the Greater Afghanistan Problem; we still have to see how the state handles relations with US and Afghanistan, moving forward.

Remshay Ahmed

Remshay Ahmed is a Lahore-based freelance journalist and a published author of Foreign Policy of Pakistan (2000-2016): A Game Theory Analysis. She can be reached at [email protected]