National Interest Versus Political Machismo

This piece was originally published in Daily Times on Friday Feb 18, 2011

Picture courtesy GTAP Pakistan

Every nation has a foreign policy that it uses to push forward its agenda of national interest and national security. This important area of any nation’s existence enjoys a unique political and renewable legitimacy if it is under democratic civilian rule.

In the case of a struggling democracy like Pakistan, civilian supremacy on foreign policy works to ensure domestic progress as well as international harmony and peace in the backdrop of our peculiar position vis-à-vis economic challenges, as well as the peril of terrorism. It is in this context that it makes it incumbent on us to behave responsibly and maturely as opposed to those who can be fooled on the hysterics of deceitful and gigantic concepts like ‘honour’ and ‘esteem’, massively used to create false perceptions about ‘public opinion’ to jeopardise the policy preferences of a civilian democratic rule.

The quandaries Pakistan has been caught in are largely due to this euphoria about ‘ghairat’ (honour) among other similarly deceptive concepts that are likely to get further exacerbated if the leaders do not behave maturely.

In the recent case of Raymond Davis, an American who shot down two people in Lahore last month, the media-created hype has been picked up by certain leaders to further their own personal and political interests against national interests. There would be little doubt that the man has acted in a violent manner, even though the otherwise meticulous media has still not told us his motives for this act. It is also fair to say that his victims deserve justice.

Having said that, one still wonders at what makes us believe we can get away with not complying with an international law we signed of our own free will. International law, fortunately or unfortunately, cannot be signed to pick and choose clauses that fit our particular convenience. The international law that we signed protects diplomats even if they are spying under the cover of being a diplomat.

We received Senator John Kerry who came to soothe our nation’s hyped emotions on the issue. This moment could have been seized by Pakistani politicians to rise up from their petty political gains, and think about a change in the national interest, which at the moment hugely depends upon our relations with the world’s sole superpower.

Once more, Mian Nawaz Sharif chose to play up popular sentiment to further his politics, joined by Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the former foreign minister. Qureshi’s conscience only awoke after his supposed ‘demotion’ from the ministry of foreign affairs to another. In a crowded press conference, he trumpeted with all his lungpower the already over-played sentiment of ghairat and waqar as opposed to rationality, realism and national interest.

Nawaz Sharif has a history of playing the same game between 1988 and 1990, when he painted Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, then prime minister, as an ‘American agent’ for his political gains in Punjab as its roaring lion (Sher-e-Punjab). History is witness to how he succeeded in this and gained enormously while Pakistan came under tremendous pressure after the infamous Pressler sanctions. Economic downfall from 1990 to 2001, in the absence of financial support, pushed us down in terms of the economy. Then came 9/11 and the military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, tried to rebuild Pak-US relations but only for military gains.

Pakistan is now witnessing the same unfortunate and selfish politics by Mian Nawaz Sharif and Shah Mehmood Qureshi under the garb of ghairat once again. Both of them are irresponsibly trying to squander the opportunity of good relations with the US for Pakistan’s gain under the civilian government. One wonders how they can overlook that those who have sent them to play on this pitch will sequester and strike at civilian rule and cut a deal with the US on their own terms, which are not going to be any different from those Musharraf struck post-2001. In that case, both Nawaz Sharif and Shah Mehmood Qureshi are not going to get even an inch of political space for which they are letting themselves be used.

The people of Pakistan need to decide between rationality and emotionalism on the basis of what can win greater opportunity to progress and ensure their own prosperity. We have received around $ 28 billion from the US in the last 63 years in civilian and military aid. This is in addition to other multilateral donor support programmes that Pakistan gets because of American support. We are one of the top five recipients of aid from multilateral agencies like the World Bank ($ 18.5 billion), International Monetary Fund ($ 16 billion) and the Asian Development Bank ($ 15 billion), making a grand total of almost $ 80 billion. In addition to aid, the US is our partner in trade, which is essential in enabling us to build our economy. The US is a significant importer of Pakistani goods and remittances from Pakistani-Americans bring in an average of $ 4 billion every year to the economy. Can we afford emotionalism to be the basis of our foreign policy against realism?