The international horizon as well as the regional South Asian scene remained fraught with dangers to international peace and security. The controversy over the impeachment of President Donald Trump striking against the strong walls of the White House and creating a tumult in the USA politics; the US trade wars with China on one hand, and Japan, South Korea, Mexico and Canada on the other adversely impacting the global economy particularly in the Southeast Asia and Pacific regions; the persisting clouds of war in the Gulf; the unceasing rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Middle East; the uncertainty surrounding the Afghan peace talks; the growing agitation against the Citizens Amendment Bill (CAB) in the width and breadth of India and the prolonged lockdown in the Jammu and Kashmir valley with the possibility of prompting the Hindu nationalist regime of Narendra Modi to indulge in a diversionary move igniting a military conflagration along the Line of Control were some of the flux issues which kept agitating the minds of the observers of the international and regional scenes.
Some of these issues will keep the world community on tenterhooks in the year 2020. Pakistan could not remain indifferent to these flux issues. Some of these involved very important countries of the region and were of direct concern to Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s earlier hopes that a heavily mandated BJP regime in India would be in a better position to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the festering Kashmir dispute were dashed as soon as Narendra Modi started unveiling the ugly face of Hindu majoritarianism. The dynamics of the BJP politics in India are purely based on Hindu fascism. History is a witness that fascists with undiluted power tend to indulge in more fascism. Mr. Modi is a shrewd politician, a populist and a committed RSS worker and has been thriving on anti-Muslim and anti Pakistan Hindu nationalism as reflected in the intensified violations of LoC in February 2019 by India to create hubris of war to win elections. The flagship event of Pulwama brought the two countries to war. Pakistan exercised restraint to foil the designs of Narendra Modi.
The Narendra Modi’s gamble of revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and locking down the entire territory by imposing curfew and cutting down all the communication means turned the valley into an open dungeon. The situation on the LoC has since remained hot and explosive. The Pakistan’s leadership was caught with pants down and gradually grasped the complexity of the situation and the intensity of the anger and anguish of the people of Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the LoC and within Pakistan. However, the weeklong stay of Prime Minister Imran Khan in New York and his interaction with the world leaders, media houses, think tanks and human rights commissions and particularly his address to the UN General Assembly brought the Kashmir dispute into sharp focus spotlighting the serious violation of human rights and the persecution and prosecution of the hapless Kashmiri populace by enforced disappearances, abductions, arrests of young boys, rapes. There has been no relief in the lockdown of the valley since the last 5thAugust.
We continued to have a hostile leadership on our western borders – always prone to be misled against the nationalist interests of Pakistan notwithstanding the long border between the two countries and the populations of the same ethnic tribes straddling it. They unfortunately identify their interests with a country not directly linked with them by land and allow it sufficient space to indulge in subversive activities in Balochistan of Pakistan. This has been so since decades notwithstanding the complexion of the regimes in both countries. Their peace talks with the Taliban under the aegis of the US require an active role of Pakistan to yield positive result. The civil war in Afghanistan has gone too long and created many power centers with deeply entrenched vested interests of their own in that country. All these forces will be vying with each other to derail the peace talks. Pakistan has to walk a tight rope in this field – infested with booby traps – to play its due role in the talks.
We are always caught in the cross fires between Saudi Arabia and Iran – one being the next door neighbor and the other being the custodian of the sacred places of Islam and a friend of rainy days. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s undertaking to mediate between the two rivals was tantamount to punching the bag more than our weight. The dynamics of power politics in the Middle East have drastically changed. With the elimination of strong autocrats like Saddam Hussain, Moammar Kaddafi; the badly mauling of Bashar ul Asad in the bloody Syrian civil war; the prolonged blockade of Qatar with the US policy heavily tilted to Saudi Arabia and allies, the young Saudi leader finds it difficult to scale down his ambition of dominating the entire region. This rivalry will continue to rock the region unless both countries come to a mutually acceptable compromise. There are many conflicting historic, economic, geo-political and strategic forces and causes underlying this rivalry. It is too difficult for Pakistan or for that matter Prime Minister Imran Khan to address these complex causes and forces.
Diplomacy is the art of possibility. We cannot afford to antagonize our next door neighbour – Iran. We have had a dicey relationship with Iran after the revolution of 1979. The trust dented by the astronomically different policies of the two countries in the wake of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and the cataclysmic consequences of the events that followed could never be restored to the previous levels notwithstanding the endeavours of successive regimes in Pakistan – both military and civilian. Our efforts to deepen our relationship with Iran boiled down to the American coercive policy against Iran and the dynamics of the Saudi-Iran rivalry in the region. We needed extraordinarily careful diplomacy to put our relations with Iran on even keel. This was what PTI regime endeavoured to do. This is what we need to do in the current year.
States cannot afford to take decisions without examining pros and cons of a diplomatic move. Leaders do their home work. The staying away from the recent Islamic Summit held in Kuala-Lumpur by the Prime Minister despite his initial commitment was a diplomatic faux pas. We can initiate a damage-control process forthwith to remove the misunderstandings created by our last moment decision to stay away. To us Malaysia and Turkey are equally important. While endeavoring to make our foreign policy compatible with those of friendly countries on any issue of regional and international import, we can least afford to relegate our national interests or peril our national sovereignty at the behest of a country. In this world of power politics, there is no free lunch. Economic dependency is the ruin of sovereignty of a state. The previous regimes equally share the responsibility of bringing the country to a pass where it finds it difficult to take independent decisions due to economic hardships. Hence, the overriding need for economic independence and reliance on our own resources.