Foreign Policy Trilemma

Junaid Wazir“Our objective should be peace within and peace without. We want to live peacefully and maintain cordial and friendly relations with our immediate neighbors and with world at large. We have no aggressive designs against any one. We stand by the United Nations Charter and will gladly make our contribution to the peace and prosperity of the world, said Quaid”.

In the confluence of events, when state resort to use religious toolkit for furthering political, strategic, economic and cultural ends, it takes on it like the proverbial Frankenstein monster eating into the very vitals of society. Pakistan was destined to inherit a generally lightweight political leadership, a hash of comparatively well-organized religious parties, and a much stronger and better organized army. This power equation was to play a very much important role in the emerging Pakistan.

In the wake of Pakistan’s checkered history, the state has engineered two contradictory strands to have characterized the country’s foreign policy template. One, the lingering sense of internal weakness and political instability drove successive governments-both civilian and military- to seek outside support to compensate for that weakness. Small surprise, this was turned out to be a poisoned chalice. And two, it was not infrequently conducted with little regard for its domestic ramifications.

Historical background of Pakistan’s policy is a mixed story of  misplaced orientations:

Era of neutrality (1947-1953);

Era of alliances (1954-1962);

Era of bilateralism (1962-1969);

Era of Non- aligned movement (1969-1981);

Era of revival of policy (1981-1990);

Era of regionalism (1990- 9/11) and

Foreign policy after 9/11.

In the events of grim progression, the first miscalculated move generated a syndrome of external dependence, which the country’s rulers found hard to escape, but was deeply disliked by the people and eroded the nation’s self-respect and collective psyche. This misguided, blind search for external means to solve internal problems paved the way for misgovernance, lack of scientific, impassioned analysis of domestic configurations, economic slump and criminal lack of culture of self help in the presence of abundant untapped natural and strategic resources. Institutional build-up and meaningful reforms never materialized.

Second, the pursuit of foreign policy goals while failing to foresee their domestic repercussions is another quagmire. First, the most obvious example is the country’s protracted entanglement in the Afghan war in the 1980’s and, again, in the wake of 9/11 against Taliban. For the first time, religion was used to tackle both domestic and external compulsions. Pakistani soil was used as a launching pad by the US, the West and the Gulf countries. The deadly blow-back and destabilizing consequences were not only poorly anticipated but also ineptly managed by ruling elites in pursuit of short-term goals and self-preservation. Interestingly, communism was depicted as godless and the mujaheddin as holy cows and divine heroes. Likewise, the recognition of the then Taliban government in Kabul resulted in the mushrooming growth of sectarian dissension that politicalized the militant forces which exert tremendous pressure on governments since then. Shockingly, it’s alleged that Punjab owes 41 constituencies to militant outfits which do not augur well for democracy.

This flawed strategic decisions-in the form of foreign policy trilemma-met with total disaster: US interests has been challenged in the region; Kashmir’s political movement morphed into terrorism; and, Pakistan is at war within, in the form of rampant militancy and communal bellicosity, and outside, on eastern and western borders with India and Afghanistan.

As a corrollry, a cocktail of extremist narratives developed: Pakistan was created in the name of Islam; Muslims are not supposed to own and identify with indigenous cultures; Sufism dampens the marshal spirit of jihad; modern notions of polity are against Islam; Islam but all other religions are false; the world has been plotting against the Muslim world; the Muslims of the Subcontinent or other Muslim countries do not belong to the land and culture of their ancestors and are to de-identify themselves as aliens; and, the primary cause behind the downfall  is owing to absence of puritanical and literalist Islam.

The following pragmatic, down-to-earth suggestions must be implemented in letter and in spirit:

1. Reinforcing Strategic Partnership with China in the form of trade and traffic, energy and infrastructure, and defense and diplomacy.

 2. Reaching out to Afghanistan and act bona fide by supporting Afghan-led and Afghan-owned efforts for democratic government and processes. Also, diplomacy and trade must prevail and the mantra of strategic depth had better do away with once and for all.

3. Improving ties with India; it is manifestly clear that South Asia cannot have durable peace and stability unless Pakistan and India make peace, trade, diplomacy and people to people contact.

4. Strengthening ties with the United States, comprehensively up-grading relations with EU, and Russia  must be pursued balanced and not at the expense of one another.

5. Re-invigorating relations with Saudi-Arabia, Iran Turkey and other Islamic countries must be based on geostrategic, geoeconomic and good governance basis rather than narrow, sectionalized straitjacket of sectarian and ideological orientations and underpinnings.

6. Promoting regional cooperation and connectivity is the need of the day. Pakistan’s close engagement with ECO, SAARC and OIC remains crucially important. In the wake of recent regional and global developments, Pakistan should come up with holistic, pragmatic foreign policy options. The 34-nation military alliance is rudderless and based on sectarian underpinnings and regional rivalries. Its objectives are still not clear. Pakistan had better play a more active role in SCO, SAARC, and ASEAN in a bid to accrue military and economic dividends. Logically, this could pave the way for better boarder management and prevention of human and drug trafficking. Resultantly, the monster of terrorism and militancy could be eliminated through active collaboration from China, Russia and other immediate neighbors.

8. Safeguarding national security, nuclear programme and geo-strategic interest and membership in Nuclear suppliers Group are important and must be perused in the guise of  nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

This must be done before its too late. For this, civil and military apparatuses must be on same page. Realistically, the ball is in Pakistan’s court.


Writer: Junaid Wazir

The writer hails from Bannu. He studies American-Canadian literature and Strategic studies at NUML, Islamabad. He can be reached at


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