Pakistan-Foreign Policy Important Points
Pakistan’s long awaited decision on Friday to appoint a new Director General to head the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy network, carries some pitfalls, though it has set the pace for greater stability.
The move precedes the scheduled retirement of Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha on March 18 this year. Though not necessarily always acknowledged, the ISI plays a key role in Pakistan’s vital foreign relations, notably with the US.
After Pakistan’s relations with Washington dipped into a cooling-off period in recent months following the killing of 26 Pakistan army soldiers on the Afghan border in a western helicopter attack from Afghanistan, it was hardly surprising that the ISI became involved with advising the government over how best to proceed. In the aftermath of this attack, Pakistan immediately banned the use of a land supply route through the country for western military cargo heading to Afghanistan.
Though the matter is currently being discussed and debated by the Pakistani parliament’s committee on national security, institutions like the ISI have played a key role in these discussions. But going forward, Pakistan needs to evolve a broad consensus on future ties with the US.
Almost four years after the present civilian government took charge of the country and ended the rule of military dictator General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan however remains surrounded by many challenges. Many of these challenges are indeed of the government’s own making, driven mainly by its failure to improve the management of politics and the country’s economic outlook.
For instance, events leading to the change at the top-level of the ISI themselves adequately demonstrate the gaps in the way Pakistan is run. For weeks prior to the change, Pakistan witnessed widespread speculation over how the country’s premier spy agency will function in the future.
Some even speculated that a delay in the announcement of the parliament’s national security committee’s findings may have in part been driven by the delay in the appointment of a new head of the ISI.
Rather than rely on an army-run agency to conceive a vital element of foreign policy, Pakistan needs to instead focus on strengthening its key political institutions. Instead of an agency like the ISI guiding the government and the parliament, the country needs to be guided by its elected representatives.
The upside of the change at the ISI may however be that it has finally taken place. Not too long ago, Pakistan was surrounded by speculation that Gen Pasha, already the beneficiary of his term of office being extended twice, may get another extension. His departure now at least creates the hope of establishing fixed tenures for individuals in high places.
As for future relations with the US, Pakistan now needs to focus on promoting its best national interests. This must be done with the parliament firmly taking charge of a process to adequately review not just events of the past few months since the killing of the 26 Pakistani soldiers. Indeed, there must be a consideration of the history of US-Pakistan relations and the best way forward.
The lack of an institutional approach and the recurring imposition of the military’s rule over Pakistan has meant that the country has been locked periodically in phases of adhocism. This has ultimately meant that an unstructured approach has prevailed over ties with the US. The most glaring example of this lack of structure surrounding Pakistan’s ties with the US came in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Within hours of those attacks, Musharraf, Pakistan’s military dictator at the time, jumped in the fray and offered his country’s support to the US-led “war on terror”.
The downside of that choice, which continues to haunt Pakistan to this day, was the failure to document the terms under which the relationship was to be built. It is hardly surprising that on matters like the use of pilotless drones by the CIA to target suspected militants on Pakistani soil, there is still no document that outlines the terms agreed to by Pakistan.
In the absence of a structure surrounding Pakistan’s relations with the US, it is hardly surprising that the helicopter attack of last November immediately froze the relationship. Taking forward Pakistan’s relations with the US is not just about repairing the damage. More vitally, it must be about how the relationship must now be conducted in the country’s best interests.