Foreign policy disaster: Pakistan paying heavy price of missing foreign minister


pak foreign


The ebb and flow of US-Pakistan relations have historically been based on expediency and thus are primarily transient in nature. They are once again coming under serious strain due to the unfolding events in Afghanistan, which highlight the great divergence that exists regarding how to deal with the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. The release of Shakil Afridi, who has been jailed for spying for the Americans and clandestinely assisting US efforts in locating Osama bin Laden, also remains a sore point. Pakistan considers him a traitor whereas he is lauded by the Americans for being a critical source in locating the whereabouts of a global and most wanted terrorist. The US also views the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Pakistan’s growing economic, defence and strategic convergence with China suspiciously. The strong Indian lobby in the US has been able to successfully prejudice members of both houses of Congress against Pakistan, which is creating hurdles to the sale of F-16s and other military hardware. Pakistan is also under pressure from the US to restrict the development of intermediate-range missiles, stop or reduce the production of fissile material as well as there being concerns over other nuclear and military related issues. Pakistan’s foreign policy is in a mess due to absence of a foreign minister. The opposition’s demand for a full-time foreign minister is justified, and Mr Sharif should ensure the vacant slot is filled without delay. Having said that, it must also be acknowledged that when it comes to foreign affairs, as well as other ‘sensitive’ portfolios, the civilians play second fiddle to the men in khaki. It is a barely disguised reality that significant ‘input’ from the security establishment goes into setting the foreign policy agenda. In a democratic dispensation, where parliament is supreme, this state of affairs is unacceptable. The military should be consulted on key issues linked to national security, but decisions about foreign affairs must be made in Islamabad, not Rawalpindi. Of course, the control of external affairs is but one part of the overall lopsided civil-military relationship in Pakistan. The country needs a dedicated foreign minister, empowered by the prime minister and cabinet and answerable to parliament, to steer it through the often turbulent waters of external affairs.