Pakistan’s unhealthy focus on US, UK, India

Published: June 18, 2010
Email

Hussain Haqqani is one of the few ambassadors that Pakistani media finds relevant.

Pop quiz: do you know Pakistan’s Ambassador to Chile, Malaysia, Venezuela, Brazil, or Russia?

It is very likely that you don’t and, there is a reason – these countries don’t get adequate visibility in Pakistan.

Hussain Haqqani (USA), Wajid Shamsul Hassan (UK) and, Shahid Malik (India) are the few ambassadors that Pakistani media finds relevant, relegating all others to secondary and tertiary positions.

Every country has their list of top 10, top 25, top 50, and “rest of the world” often referred to in international parlance as “ROW” but Pakistan’s foreign policy lacks depth and width.

At the United Nations in New York, a venue that provides effective medium to socialize ideas of national interest, Pakistan has no traction in South-South diplomacy. And, the reason is rather simple; our foreign policy is so focused on the US, and India that Pakistani diplomats at the UN have no clear directives from Islamabad.

One can argue that maintaining friendship with the US and keeping an eye on the threat from India consumes so much energy and resources that we are unable to adequately interact with rest of the world. But, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that diversity in ‘diplomatic contacts’ will yield multi-faceted benefits for our country.

Unlike our engagements with the US, diplomacy with fellow developing countries are premised on the principle of voluntary partnerships – free from conditionality’s typical of neo-colonial interactions.

Would it benefit Pakistan to build a relationship of trust with Venezuela? Caracas can play strategic role in improving Pakistan’s position among developing nations – and provide Pakistani entrepreneur another destination to export. Google “Pakistan ambassador to Venezuela” and you will be disappointed with the result.

The cynics among us will proclaim: we can’t afford to build stronger ties with Venezuela without ruffling feathers in Washington and that is why we don’t do much with Caracas. But Chile is a trusted American ally.

And we have established a mission in Chile – a state that shares several similarities with Pakistan. Chile is often described as an American proxy state, had been under military rule for a major part of it’s post colonial history, and a country where a powerful intelligence agency had become the state within state. Sounds familiar?

Pakistani Ambassador to Chile Burhanul Islam seems to be gaining some ground with local political and business elite. Ambassador Islam says that Pakistan opened Embassy in Chile to establish multidimensional cooperation with particular focus on politics, economy, commerce, culture, defense and education. But these areas of focus were overshadowed when a Pakistani man with alleged terror ties was briefly held in Santiago. It was the first time you may have heard of Ambassador Islam or that we have a presence in Chile.

Why was Saif-ur-Rehman held – only time will tell but we know the evidence against him are so flimsy that the local judge finds it impossible to hold him behind bars.

It is easy to digress in conspiracy theory: Pakistan had started to make progress with Chilean elite and Americans felt it had to be contained. Or the American version of conspiracy theory: Pakistanis have established Chancery in Santiago to facilitate terror activities and export fanaticism to America via South America. Neither of these assumptions can be verified. And, let’s leave it at that.

Saif-Ur-Rehman’s arrest was not the only story about Chile-Pakistan relations lately: The provincial government of Balochistan has decided to terminate a multi-billion-dollar agreement with a Canadian-Chilean joint venture company to develop a copper and gold mine at Reko Dik. (This is a separate story which I plan to follow shortly).

In Brazil, an emerging power that should be our top priority, we have an embassy but no ambassador. First Secretary Ali Haider Altaf holds fort at the capital. Financial and cultural hubs of Sao Paulo and Rio De Janeiro are represented by honorary personal.

Google “Brazil” and look this country’s key performance indicators and tell me if you would want your top guy or gal to represent you in this rapidly emerging power. I bet you would. But, those who formulate our foreign policy in Islamabad don’t think so.

Take for example, Colombia – another important nation that we can easily call our friend – and we are represented by a Honorary Investment Counselor in it’s capital Bogota.

Going back to the pop quiz above – we do have embassies in Malaysia and Russia but chances are you have not heard names of these ambassadors. And, that is because these missions receive no visibility in Pakistani media – and old proverb “out of sight out of mind” is apropos.

Over the past 30 years, there has been an upsurge in South-South cooperation – ties that go far beyond trade and investments: education, science, agriculture, medicine, health services and information technologies.

I believe that this decade has been a truly transformational one in the South-South relationship. Many milestones have been met. Interactions between developing nations have yielded rich dividends in terms of cooperation between countries in many areas, underscoring the vitality and the relevance of strategic partnership.

The transformation in South-South relationship have taken place against the backdrop of developing nations’ initiatives to reform their economy and the geopolitical changes in the post-Cold War world.

To my mind, there are three main drivers that have led to this transformation.

First are shared values of democracy, pluralism, and tolerance and respect for fundamental freedom, which provides the underpinning of a durable relationship.

Second, there is the reality of growing economic linkages and people-to- people contact. Over the last two decades, businesses have formed strong and mutually beneficial partnerships; cooperation touching the lives of ordinary people about the power to connect and reaching out to the common denominator.

And, third, there is an increasing convergence of interests on major global issues. The imperatives of a multi-polar and interconnected world today set the stage for developing nations to work together to address global challenges whether it be the rising threat of terrorism and extremism or ensuring a balanced, equitable, and sustainable development for all — energy security and food security for the world at large.

Diplomacy plays a critical role in statecraft and foreign policy and Pakistan needs to start making it a priority. If you attend international ceremonies and festivities in Islamabad or Washington DC, you will often find that diplomats are called “bridge” between nations. There is more to that: diplomatic representatives abroad are the eyes, ears, and the mouth of the foreign office back home. If foreign policy is devised appropriately, diplomatic representatives in the field can fulfill their symbolic, legal and political roles. But effective execution by the foot soldiers is only possible when the visionaries at the head office are doing their job well.

Islamabad appears to be so focused on maintaining friendship with Washington and keeping an eye on Delhi that it has no time for rest of the world.

Ibrahim Sajid Malick

Ibrahim Sajid Malick

A Pakistani-American writer, technologist, and social entrepreneur. Malick graduated from New School for Social Research with a masters degree in anthropology. He holds several technology and management certifications.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.