Our Foreign Policy Gap

By Farakh A. Khan:

What is Pakistan’s foreign policy regarding Middle East following one year of Arab Spring? Firstly we have to define what is Middle East. Some people consider the Arabic-speaking people including countries of North Africa as Middle East. The Arabic speaking people of North Africa claim to be descendants of Pharaohs in Egypt while others claim to be descendants of Berbers. Others include Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan also as part of Middle East. For this article let us take the Arabic speaking area as Middle East.

The Arab Spring starting in Tunisia one year ago shook the traditional long-standing dictators/kings in the Arabic speaking world. The movement was peaceful in some countries while it was all out war in others (Libya, Yemen and Syria). In all cases the transition from dictatorship to democracy will not be easy and one year on people and former rulers are finding the new system difficult to digest. What is common is that many of these states are falling back on Islam for an ill-defined system of governance. There also strong tribal links in many Arab countries, which is anti democracy. Many Arab countries saw monarchs fall only to be replaced by life long repressive dictatorships with no change in the life of the people. Led by Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Arab Spring is now resurfacing in many Arab countries. Let us hope present change does not lapse into a new form of dictatorship based on religion.

‘Operation Unified Protector’ was launched air attacks in Libya to ‘protect civilians’ threatened by Qaddafi’s army on March 27, 2011 by 14 countries under Nato umbrella. For the US the cost was $1.1 billion. It is significant to note that Nato did not loose a single soldier in the campaign where aircrafts and drones were used (Daalder, Ivo H and Stavidis, James. Nato’s victory in Libya. Foreign Affairs. March/April, 2012). This may be the future of warfare. After more than a year of removal of Qaddafi Libya is drifting into chaos. Tribalism and warlords have not allowed federalism to take root (Pack, Jason. Federalism in Libya: tried and failed. Cutting Edge. April 26-May 2, 2012).

It has been claimed that Qaddafi fed many of our past and present leaders with dollars. Perhaps this is the reason why we still have Qaddafi Stadium in Lahore. Pakistan’s interest in Libya is more than oil. During the upheaval of anti Qaddafi movement we were told that hundreds of Pakistani workers were uprooted. We need new job opportunities under the new Libyan government.

Tunisia has al Nahda Islamic party in coalition after ouster of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. However the Salafi group is out to use force to get power. In Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh was removed from power and is presently facing Al Qaeda attacks. In Libya Muammar al-Qaddafi was killed. In Bahrain House of Khalifa is under threat (Ajami, Fouad. The Arab Spring at one. Foreign Affairs. March/April, 2012).

Egyptian Spring managed to get Hosni Mubarak out but his military is still in command and their Spring is still not at an end and the gestation period is continuing. Meanwhile Muslim Brotherhood, Salafi groups and other pressure groups are jostling for power. The Egyptian army (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) is the most powerful group used to ruling the country is not going to easily give up its powerful hold. The army has built a huge commercial empire and need to keep it intact (Mousa, Sarah. The return of Tahrir? Cutting Edge. May 3-9, 2012). After the first free presidential elections (May 24-26) in Egyptian history two candidates have emerged. The run-off presidential election is now between Mubarak era prime minister former air marshal Ahmed Shafiq and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammad Morsi. The final outcome is hotly debated. Many feel the two candidates are unacceptable since one is Mubarak man and the other wants to impose Islamic government in a multi religious society. There are also cries of foul by loosing candidates. Behind the scene the army is still all-powerful ruling through Supreme Council of Armed Forces. Although the catalyst for change was the uprising of the people of Egypt but it was the army coup, which finally removed Hosni Mubarak. In Syria only an army coup can remove President Bashar Asad regime but by now the opposition has been militarised and lot more bloodshed is expected. We can only speculate what form of democracy shall finally emerge in the Middle East used to kings and dictators. The core issues of unemployment, corruption and soaring prices have been lost in the din of Arab Spring.

Arabic speaking world has a long history of oppressive kingdoms, which are still continuing, in some countries. In 1516 the Turks created the Ottoman Empire. At the turn of the 20th century Middle East experienced the Great Arab Revolt against the Turks followed by ‘liberation’ under kings. In late 19th century Jamaluddin Afghani declared kingship as un-Islamic. For this he was kicked out of India and proceeded to Egypt where he was again deported to Turkey with the same result. He finally ended up in France and eventually in Russia. In recent times book by a non Muslim George Antonins ‘The Arab awakening’ published in 1938 has been a source of inspiration. More recently book by Gene Sharp ‘From dictatorship to democracy’ first published in 1993 has had an impact on the Arabic speaking world even though the setting is in non-Arabic world. Sharp has in detail recommended non-violent means to topple dictators.

With all the turmoil in the Middle East Pakistan has remained a silent spectator. The question to be asked is who controls our foreign policy? I do not have a ‘chira’ (bird) like Najam Sathi or a ‘mokhbar’ (informer) as claimed by TV star Azizi but I can speculate. Most people would say it is the GHQ directly or indirectly controls our foreign policy. The blithering civilian idiots cannot be trusted. The army top brass has its own limitations and look up to US for directions since military supplies and to some degree funds come from them (Rahman, Tariq. Who controls foreign policy in Pakistan? The Express Tribune. April 10, 2012). Saudi Arabia is our master in more than one way. They are Pakistan’s spiritual home and oil depot. To a large extent Pakistan’s Middle Eastern policy is dictated to us by Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia brokered a deal between Nawaz Sharif and Gen Musharraf and when Nawaz Sharif flew back to Pakistan the Saudi leadership intervened directly in our internal affairs and whisked off Nawaz Sharif. The Arab Spring is a threat to Saudi Arabia the worst form of dictatorship/kingship where the House of Saud controls the kingdom through hundreds of princes. Saudi king has marched his army into Bahrain to prop up the kingdom against the Arab Spring. The Saudi king knows that if Arab Spring is successful in Bahrain his kingdom would be next on the list. In the long term Saudi kingship is doomed. Nevertheless the Saudi kings and princes have directly interfered in Pakistan’s internal affairs. In case of Nawaz Sharif’s exile and aborted return Saudi king openly interfered in support of military dictator Gen Musharraf. People also claim the Taliban and Sunni organisations are being funded by Saudi and UAE people. The Saudi hardliner Salafi brand of Islam is also promoted in Pakistan. The Iranian government counter Saudi manoviours leading to sectarian clashes. Pakistan’s leadership is hostage to Saudi Arabian involvement in our internal and external affairs. The Saudis’ are hostage to the Americans because of oil.

Having just come back from Jordan all does not seem to be well there. Corruption, acute water shortage and spiralling prices of basic goods may not keep away the Arab Spring for long.

Middle East is also divided by Shia Sunni rift and ethnic/tribal divide. Sunni minority is ruling in Syria and Bahrain. The rift is more serious in Saudi Arabia and Iraq where minority Shias or Sunnis are treated as second-class citizens. Governance through religion will create risky problems. Functioning democracy is the only option for future Middle East.

Pakistan’s foreign policy regarding Americans is complex. Musharraf give a blank cheque to former President Bush following 9/11 to save his seat. The civilian government brought in 2008 continued Musharraf policy. The killing of Osama in Abbottabad followed by air attack on Salala check post in North Waziristan Agency jolted the civilian and military leadership. For Pakistan American goodwill is crucial and dire economic necessity.

The ire of the people of Pakistan against the Americans was too difficult for the Pakistan army to handle, which normally determines our foreign policy. They passed the buck on to the civilian leadership. The decision was again too hot for the civilian leadership caught in its own corruption scandals and the issue was placed on the shoulders of the parliament. In early April 2012 joint sitting of the National Assembly and Senate debated on the revised recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) regarding future ties with America. The core issue was opening of Nato supplies linked to stopping drone attacks with Maulana Fazlur Rehman and religious parties and groups taking a hard line. Cameron Munter the US ambassador has wooed Rehman. Toned down recommendations was passed back to the PM who in turn absolved any responsibility regarding future relations with US. After the Chicago Nato meeting the US Pakistan relations are at an all time low. This will impact on our Middle East policy.

Pakistan’s Middle East policy is based on Saudi desires, American threats and Pakistani needs. We need oil and our large workforce in Middle East is dependent on Arab money. Nevertheless we should start with changing the name of Qaddafi Stadium.

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