EWI Board Member Ikram Sehgal writes about Pakistan's role in the post-Cold War world.
In an increasingly globalised world, we are geographically very beneficially at the crossroads separating South Asia with Central Asia and the Middle East, this must be converted to our geo-political advantage. The new nation state of Pakistan felt quite vulnerable because of Indian hostility on its eastern borders and by Afghanistan's obstinate refusal on the western borders to recognize the newly formed state. The early compulsions formulating Pakistan's foreign policy were such that we had no choice but to find strong support in the world to help guard its very existence. There is no certainty as to what would have happened if Pakistan had opted for Soviet Union's support instead of choosing US as an ally. Given the social and mental setting of our early leaders, the evolving global cold war scenario found Pakistan aligned with the US as a natural choice, the Pakistan Army relying fully on American weaponry and equipment for its defensive needs. Our membership in SEATO and CENTO severely limited our foreign policy options.
US-Pakistan relations have been a roller-coaster ride from the outset. Not many remember American Gary Powers piloting US spy plane U-2 from Badaber air base near Peshawar before being shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. Our precarious situation was highlighted by Khrushchev publicly putting us in the Soviet nuclear crosshairs. Though for decades Pakistan continued solidly siding and furthering US national security interests in the region and the world, the 1963 border agreement with China went against the grain. Similarly our interests were always not identical as the 80s Afghan War of the eighties and the one since 2001 has shown. Issues Pakistan considered dear to our national interest like the Kashmir and the crisis in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) never got more than verbal support. The Nixon-Kissinger "tilt" towards Pakistan involved only a symbolic show of force in the Indian Ocean by the US Sixth Fleet. The US has always come to our rescue with massive aid during national disasters like floods, cyclones, earthquakes etc, otherwise millions of lives would have been lost. For this we must remain ever grateful.
With the break-up of the Soviet Union, the bipolar world which came into existence after the World War II came to an end. The so-called 'non-aligned' bloc of which India was a driving force lost its importance even before the demise of the Soviet Union. This was capitalism's final victory over all alternative ways of life and development, the US war machine seen as vitally contributing to this victory. For a couple of decades, the world became unipolar, the US being the only superpower standing after almost five decades' of competition for global supremacy. Samuel Huntington's 'Clash of Civilizations' perceived Islam and the Muslim world that owned a large part of the oil and gas reserves of the planet as their new enemy. For a couple of years Russia, the defeated giant, was graciously given the role of a junior partner in the global game.
The happenings of 9/11 triggered a new wave of global polarization and warfare kept the world occupied while quite unnoticed the collapse of the Soviet Union saw a China-Russia rapprochement begin to take place. Declaring in 1992 that they were pursuing a "constructive partnership"; in 1996, they progressed toward a "strategic partnership"; and in 2001 signed a treaty of "friendship and cooperation" that led to the foundation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Eurasian in its design this new organisation reminds one of the European Union (EU) in its principles of association. Drawing new members it has developed into a new political, economic and security-related focal point that has quietly changed the relations in Asia. India and Pakistan together have becoming new members since 2017but that has not automatically solved our problems. As the sudden thaw in cross-border firing across the LOC has shown, could this be changing? This new SCO platform promises stability and options for negotiated resolution of crises. While the Arab Middle East is up in flames and destabilized for the time, the Asian mainland has generally avoided such turmoil. Without much fanfare the economic counterpart of Baghdad Pact and the CENTO, the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD),has been replaced by the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO). Compared to three countries forming the RCD,ECO has more than a dozen countries of the region as members. Could this be the harbinger of a Baghdad Pact "in reverse", with Russia and China the new sponsors for Iran, Turkey and Pakistan instead of the US and UK?
Despite coming in for constant criticism, Pakistan's foreign policy has astutely availed the new opportunities. Diversifying our security-related cooperation towards China and Russia, we have taken a hands-on attitude in promoting the peace process in Afghanistan. The Army has succeeded in stabilizing the tribal areas by clearing the Haqqanis and other militant bases in Swat and FATA as well as fencing the vulnerable border to avoid illegal border crossing of militants. The legal foundation for a full-fledged integration of the tribal areas into Pakistan to bring them at par with the rest of the country has been laid. Despite the anti-Pakistani attitude and consequent rhetoric among certain circles of the Afghan civil and military, the US must take cognizance of our vital role in any initiative to achieve their goals in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is the crossroads bridge between the different regions of South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. Our foreign policy commitments have to mirror our special responsibility to keep the region stable. Pakistan needs to work hard to improve relations with our immediate neighbours, this forbids our joining any bloc or having relationships with one country to the exclusion of others. The decision not to join the war in Yemen but to join the Saudi-initiated military alliance against counter-terrorism is an example of how to keep a balance between our next-door neighbour Iran and an old friend Saudi Arabia. Similarly we must maintain the balance between an old ally US, our deep friendship with China and the newly developing relations with Russia. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a great economic force-multiplier for us, it is fortunately for us a Chinese economic strategic compulsion. We need to work hard to revive our relationship with the US to an even keel. Pakistan's national interest lies in being a member of no bloc but to be friends with all the blocs.
Read the piece on Business Recorder.