Khan’s foreign policy

Writings and commentaries abound on the PTI chief Imran Khan following his game-changeing Lahore rally. As the punditry on Imran Khan’s capacity to lead and manage matters of state and society continues amidst his own claims of washing existing political forces through an electoral tsunami, we also need a clearer sense of Imran’s approach to Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Originally published as: Imran on foreign policy
Author: Qudssia Akhlaque

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Let us see what Imran will do on Pakistan’s three key foreign policy issues – India, Afghanistan & the United States. Of course, it’s easy with China. We have a genuine strategic relationship, there is no serious worry. Imran’s comment about needing to be friends with China had no real value-added. Amounted to saying the sky should be blue!

On India, Imran’s statement echoes the present government’s position that Pakistan should go ahead with expanding trade with India and grant it the MFN status while seeking resolution of other bilateral issues including Kashmir, through dialogue.

Interestingly, despite Imran’s repeated emphasis on dialogue with the Taliban, he currently appears to be the best-selling Pakistani item for the Indian media! Significantly on the militant groups, Imran has said that he would not allow any militant groups to operate in Pakistan. In an interview to the CNN-IBN, he told anchor Karan Thapar that if his party comes into power he will make sure no terrorism takes place from Pakistani soil or else he would resign. Also that he would insist on civilian supremacy over Pakistan’s military and ISI, in a hint that the head of the government would be calling the shots on Pakistan’s foreign policy.

On Afghanistan, a critical but troubled area of Pakistani foreign policy, Imran supports an Afghan-led reconciliation process. Noticeably though, contrasting with his vocal advocacy of dialogue with the Taliban, he has been muted in his condemnation of the Taliban’s violation of human rights and particularly of women rights.

On the US, Imran vehemently says he hates American policies not the Americans. The critique is largely valid, with much critique needed at home too. Pakistan’s own conduct of policy, mostly military-managed, has been a problem. The military rulers, Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf, made the controversial policies of the eighties and then post-9/11. The problem of doublespeak and disconnect on the home-front made matters worse.

For example, on the issue of US drone attacks that continue in Pakistan’s tribal areas, despite the government’s unconvincing protests and demands that the US discontinues these attacks, few Pakistanis believe that the government actually wants these stopped. If the former military ruler cleared these initially, WikiLeaks tells us about the consent of this government and the Army. Imran has meanwhile announced that he would adopt a two-pronged strategy: public pressure within the country and litigation before the international court of law.

The humanitarian, political and financial cost of the US foreign policy with respect to Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East – and the intolerance it has bred – has been correctly criticised; as have horrors of Abu Ghraib, daisy cutters and Guantanamo Bay. However, at home, we cannot overlook our own weaknesses. Blustering rhetoric such as “breaking the begging bowl” and “look into eyes of Americans,” is no substitute for sober policy. Genuine leaders opt for a composed critique of another’s policy and a viable, corrective and resolute action on one’s own policy.

Any leader wanting to put Pakistan’s foreign policy on a genuine national interest track would do well to candidly review the pattern of our relationship with these three countries. Pakistan’s repeated mistakes both in content and conduct of policy with India, Afghanistan and the US is often ignored. Old mistakes are repeated and elected or military rulers and their propaganda machines make up for lack of will or capacity with rhetoric and bluster.

Hijacking of formulation and conduct, or outright sabotage of a certain shift in the foreign policy by security agencies has been a perennial problem in Pakistan. A classic case in point is former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s landmark February 1999 Lahore Summit with his Indian counterpart Atal Behari Vajpayee, which was sabotaged by the then Chief of Army Staff Gen Pervez Musharraf’s Kargil misadventure.

Imran Khan, who seems all set for the hustings, will be closely watched at home and abroad, for his understanding and options on Pakistan’s key foreign policy challenges.

The writer is a senior journalist and has been a diplomatic correspondent for leading dailies. She was an Alfred Friendly Press Fellow at The Chicago Tribune in the US and a Press Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge, UK. She can be reached at qudssia@hotmail.com

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