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Pakistan’s foreign policy: Escaping India?

By Raza Rumi:

As Pakistan negotiates with a critical moment of its 64-year-old existence, there is nothing more urgent than to review its foreign policy goals and the assumptions that define them. It is an open secret that the unelected institutions of Pakistan for decades have designed controlled and implemented its foreign policy, often at variance with Pakistan’s own pragmatic self-interest. Such have been the contours of Pakistan’s foreign policy perspective, that the institutional interests of its all-powerful military and the allied intelligence complex dominate the definition and outcome of an imagined “national-interest”. Considering how Pakistan finds itself locked in a battle of nerves with the United States since the strike on Osama bin Laden’s compound in the garrison town of Abottabad, on May 2, 2011, there is perhaps no better time for its elites to review and redefine what passes for foreign policy. […]

October 17th, 2011|Culture, India, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times|4 Comments

Fatal obsession

It is a matter of public record that the founder of Pakistan had stated that Indo-Pakistan relationship will resemble that of the USA and Canada. Even before the Partition, Jinnah in a 1946 press conference stated, “the two states (Pakistan and India)… will be friends and will go to each other’s rescue in case of danger and will be able to say ‘hands off’ to other nations. We shall then have a Munroe doctrine more solid than America…” This vision along with other pronouncements by Jinnah is buried in the debris of Pakistan’s national security paranoia. The spectre of India and its ‘hegemonic designs’ to use an oft-quoted phrase remain central to Pakistan’s security paradigm.

The unwavering view on India is what explains the context for the discussion paper entitled, The Sun in the Sky: The Relationship between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan Insurgents -authored by Matt Waldman from the prestigious platform of the London School of Economics. Pakistan’s real power-centre, its security and intelligence apparatus are a self-sustaining reality. Other than the financing, of which plenty comes from the Western Capitals, there is a solid national opinion behind the xenophobic worldview carefully cultivated by a decades’ long well coordinated state policy. The centre of this argument is the ‘Indian threat’ and any conception of Pakistan’s security is linked to the evil designs of the powerful ‘enemy’ across the border.

Waldman’s report is neither authoritative nor presents a credible set of data to back up its central argument. But who does not know of the Taliban’s patronage by the security establishment. Confessional labels such as ‘patriotic’ and strategic assets are all too well known. Ask a random passerby on a Pakistani street and one will be amazed at the level of understanding by the common citizen. If you happen to travel a bit northwards and step out of the boundaries of the Punjab, even more riveting insights and stories will be related. Waldman is not telling us anything that we don’t know nor is he giving us a new perspective of how we frame our security interests and strategic priorities.

The report also alludes that Pakistan’s policy is coloured by its India-centric worldview. However, what is critically missing from the discourse at home is to tackle the India-problem, if one were to coin this phrase for simplifying a complex reality. Is this India-obsession sustainable, healthy and in our longer-term strategic interest?

Admittedly, India has not been that wise either. From its flawed strategy on Kashmir to the 1971 intervention it has provided enough ammunition, both literally and metaphorically, to the Pakistani establishment. If we were to ignore the transgressions such as Kargil, Musharraf’s unprecedented offers of revisiting the troubled history on Kashmir related UN resolutions fell on deaf ears. The usual refrain has reflected the typical South Asian emotionalism loosely packaged as ‘trust deficit’. If there is a military government it cannot be trusted, if civvies are in power, they are not the real masters. The end result is status quo thereby feeding into the military-industrial complex that cuts across national boundaries. […]

History’s ghetto – (Geneva Camp, Dhaka)

My recent piece for the The Friday Times – about the bitterness and destitution in a Dhaka camp for Biharis

It was almost by accident that I visited the Mohammadpur Geneva camp in Dhaka – one of the largest settlements housing thousands of stranded Biharis in Bangladesh. On my last visit to Dhaka, my guide Ronny offered the possibility of getting the best bihari kebabs in town. He told me that his house was near the place and I could meet him somewhere close.

This was an extraordinary afternoon when the receding sun was converting the sky into a field of unimaginable colours that artists can only aspire to create through their limited palettes. Dhaka, the noisy, overcrowded megapolis can be enchanting at times, especially during late springtime when the Krishnochura trees (the Flame of the Forest) bloom all over with their fiery flowers. I almost cancelled the trip thinking that a walk in the park might be a better alternative to the usual South Asian gluttony. Quite soon, I arrived at the meeting point having rationalised my proclivity for indulgence.

Little did I know that the meeting point was nowhere but at the doorstep of Dhaka’s underbelly, the easy to ignore Bihari camp. Not until I had reached there had I realised how the wounds of 1971 were festering for hundreds and thousands of men, women and children who have waited for all these years to attain identity and citizenship of Pakistan. As if it were a curse, the Pakistani state soon forgot about their existence as its ethnic politics dominated the policy commitments of Bhutto. And for the Bangladeshis these were the “traitors” who continued to wave Pakistani flags when the vast majority of East Pakistanis revolted against the excesses and the might of Pakistan army following the infamous and mischievous army action of 1971.


In a few minutes I had all but forgotten about the famous Mustaqeem kebabs and parathas and forced Ronny to take me inside the camp. Very soon I realised I did not need any Bangla-speaking guide as the ghetto was Urdu speaking, and portraits of Pakistani leaders and flags could still be spotted despite the passage of three and a half decades. Ronny knew the locals and found his younger friends, child workers and idle youth who took charge of our little tour.

Shamed by guilt and excited by the real experience, I wandered the smelly, open-drained and dark streets of the ghetto. I have frequented other slums but this one was special for it reeked of the contemporary elite politics, bloodshed and cold inhumanity that Pakistanis are shy of confronting. The living conditions would put any half-concerned South Asian to shame. The homes for most of the families comprised tiny little rooms, with all the belongings and large families concentrated in the inner space. No proper toilets and water supply – as if civilization had taken a backseat here. […]