By now it is a cliché to say that these are trying and difficult circumstances; they have been for quite some time and nothing on the horizon suggests that they will change anytime soon. For a developing country such as Pakistan – things are doubly tough! Particularly when it comes to foreign policy challenges. Thus, Pakistan’s instruments of foreign policy need to be at par with the best if they have to be successful in 2022 and beyond. Consider.
Foreign policy is the cornerstone of any country’s peaceful existence in the international comity of nations. Pakistan is no exception!
Janne Haaland Matláry, a Norwegian political scientist writes that there are generally two types of instruments available to address foreign policy challenges. One, soft tools which include typically cooperative, mostly non-coercive and characteristically traditional aspects of foreign policy. Two, hard tools whereby comprising coercive and hard-line actions in the interest of shaping favourable foreign policy outcomes.
For Pakistan – just like any other country – soft tools must be the primary instruments for achieving foreign policy objectives. First, the art of diplomacy. While Pakistan needs to have a balanced relationship with the US, it still needs to find other avenues of similar alignment with China and Russia. Regionally – it needs to keep on engaging with Afghanistan at least in light of the humanitarian support if nothing else and seek further reproachment with Iran while keeping Saudi friendship at an even keel. Although not readily possible perhaps, but Pakistan should be able and willing to stretch an olive branch to India as and when a favourable regime presents itself. Meanwhile, further efforts to cement relationships with Turkey and Malaysia should be afoot. This is indeed a tall order but foreign policy manoeuvres are nothing but a tight-rope and need to leverage the spirit of cooperation, persuasion and co-optation to further its agenda. Second, the vagaries of propaganda. It is an open secret that marketing is a massive part of the foreign policy initiative. Pakistan will need to continue to plead its case – that of being a moderate and sensible nation – more vociferously and at as many forums as possible. It may not be easy keeping recent incidents of extremist ideology in mind but unfortunately, they are a reality, like in so many other countries. Think what you may of Imran Khan, but he is better than almost all his predecessors to further Pakistan’s cause in chambers such as the UN and OIC. The eloquence of Shah Mahmood Qureshi – Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister – is legendary even if his competence and consistency may not be. Social media, another battleground for propaganda wars, will need additional focus as narratives and trends are won and lost in this arena of 5th generation warfare.
Think what you may of Imran Khan but he is better than almost all his predecessors to further Pakistan’s cause in chambers such as the UN and OIC.
Third, the largesse of economy. These measures are highly crucial but highly abstract. They are generally two-fold. One, increasing the inherent strength of the economy – ensuring trade deficit and current account deficit is narrowed and finally eliminated. Two, economic measures against other nations to push foreign policy objectives through. For Pakistan, the first is important and doable but the second not so much because it is mostly meant for high performing economies which run surplus trade and current accounts and have the ability to penalise nations who don’t tow their favoured narratives. One thing Pakistan can do is improve the first to make the second a possibility! And in the process escape the clutches of international monetary structures such as the IMF and World Bank, which incidentally are one of the instruments of American foreign policy!
Along the way, Pakistan will need to bank on hard tools, which generally come in three flavours. First, the existence of military and the nuclear deterrence. In a region that is relatively hostile – not to say that the world at large isn’t – Pakistan will need to continue to maintain this deterrence. Unfortunately for a developing country it is easier said than done because of budgetary limitations. Maybe the need in 2022 and afterwards will be to maintain a balance between spending i.e. spend smarter not bigger! Second, the threat of sanctions – in one form or the other. While this is a good instrument to be used by developed countries, for Pakistan it only has limited efficacy and only where it may be possible. Specifically, some lightweight sanctions in trade and military knowledge transfer – and that too towards countries that may not be too relevant in the global calculus. Therefore, this too – just like the soft tool of economic measures – will take time and consequently should be made part of the next five- or ten-year plan. Third, the option of tit-for-tat retaliation. Although for a developing country such as Pakistan imposing sanctions may not be a feasible option but like-mannered retaliation at the diplomatic front is still viable. In the absence of other alternatives this becomes extremely crucial and can manifest in responding in kind in diplomatic rows, withdrawing of Pakistan foreign office dignitaries where needed and ejecting foreign diplomats to signal policy displeasure. It is true that this is a meek choice at best but still better than nothing until Pakistan can develop leverage in the foreign policy instruments of economic measures and sanctions.
Pakistan’s instruments of foreign policy need to be at par with the best if they have to be successful
Foreign policy is the cornerstone of any country’s peaceful existence in the international comity of nations. Pakistan is no exception! While occasionally it may seem that the deck is stacked against it, there is no reason not to endeavour a logical mix of foreign instruments – comprising of soft tools and hard tools – to ensure that foreign policy provides a well-deserved pay-off even in this tough and dynamic international climate. After all, “do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better, do better”!