Sense of deja vu

By Zubeida Mustafa

IS history repeating itself? It appears to be. Look carefully at the accord between Islamabad and Washington reached earlier this month that broke the seven-month impasse between them. Observers and critics have speculated about what led to the breakthrough.

The US said sorry for the Salala incident. Pakistan softened its stance on the price demanded for reopening Nato supply routes to Afghanistan. Drone attacks have been quietly ignored. But what is strange is that in the flurry of articles on this issue there has been no mention of the event that in all likelihood jolted Washington into action. It was the announcement in May that Russian president Vladimir Putin will be visiting Islamabad in September. He will be the first Russian head of state to do so.

Mr Putin’s visit will not be a routine diplomatic exercise. The fact is that in spite of the Cold War formally being over and Moscow and Washington having buried the hatchet, their relations have slumped of late and they are positioning themselves on opposite sides in global politics. They do not see eye to eye on Afghanistan, the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline and other regional matters.

Since its birth Pakistan has displayed great adeptness in manipulating its hand in international affairs. We extracted an invitation from Moscow back in 1949 to goad Washington into dispatching an invitation to Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, which was promptly accepted. The Russian invitation was ignored (though some diplomats who claim to be in the know insist that it was not formalised).

Our history is replete with instances of such balancing acts. We used our friendship with China as a countervailing factor against the US when Washington refused to support us in our conflict with India in 1965. Our friendship with China was welcomed because Beijing needed our support at a time when it was isolated and engaged in a territorial border war with India. In return China extended a helping hand by picking a squabble with New Delhi and mobilising forces on its western border while dispatching an ultimatum for the return of ‘800 sheep and 59 yaks’ that India had supposedly pinched from the Chinese side.

Russia came in handy at Tashkent in 1966 when a foreign mediator was needed. Later Pakistan took advantage of its friendship with Beijing to facilitate Henry Kissinger’s secret trip to China to win American goodwill during the 1971 crisis.

Why should one object to that? As a 19th-century British statesman so correctly observed, “it is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that is to be marked out as the eternal ally or the perpetual enemy of England. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”

Our problem is that we have created misplaced eternal interests. Our policymakers perceive India to be our ‘perpetual enemy’ and a permanent threat to our security. This view clouds our perception of our national interests. We tend to forget that we cannot stake our national survival on our foreign policy. We forget that no country can be an astute player on the world stage if its power base is weak.

National power does not come from military strength derived from weapons. It comes from cohesive populations that are educated, healthy, economically productive and show tolerance and acceptance of political plurality and sociocultural diversity. This is possible only when governments set the stage by introducing and managing a sound political and socio-economic system based on democracy, moral integrity and social justice. A country where one province is torn by civil war and others are decimated by violence cannot be considered strong. That gives us little leverage in foreign policy.

When I speak of déjà vu, remember what happened to the country in 1971, when a big chunk of it broke away to set up the new state of Bangladesh which is, from all accounts, doing so much better than us? Could our foreign friends help us in those days of crisis when the Pakistani military leadership claimed to be fighting for the country’s territorial integrity?

There were high expectations that our Chinese friends would bail us out. The Chinese, wise as they are, refused to intervene in the conflict between the two wings, declaring it to be Pakistan’s internal matter. Even during our war with India in 1971 our military leadership foolishly expected China to re-enact its 1965 performance. It did not. The Chinese had their own interests to guard and India had entered into a peace and friendship treaty with Moscow. China could not risk a war with the Soviets.

Similarly, many will still recall the hopes that were pinned on the American aircraft carrier USS Enterprise entering the Bay of Bengal in 1971 to check the Indian advance on East Pakistan. Some also spoke of the Enterprise serving as a rescue ship for West Pakistani civilians trapped in the east. But nothing of the sort happened, as the Americans had their own interests to protect.

We lost East Pakistan because we could not resolve our political differences with the Awami League and expected our foreign friends to pull our chestnuts out of the fire. We seem to be doing the same today as the country moves towards destruction brought on by our own domestic failures.

Source: Dawn

9 thoughts on “Sense of deja vu”

  1. Thanks. You are precise and brief in your article and have drawn the conclusion that the our salvation lies in resolving our dmestic issues. All political parties must realise that unless they develop common approach on all issues including Baluchistan, Fata, Religious extremism, the crisis will continue to deepen and there is every liklihood that
    we land in to situation from where only anarchy will prevail. The time is running out. The foreces of osbscurantism are gaining ground every day and we the civil society has no weight in the political scenerio of the country. iqbalalavi

  2. interesting points, especially the inability to reconcile with mujeeb – ironic that the same party is now in power that made that reconciliation then difficult with grave consequences – deja vu – i hope not.
    lessons within lessons, will we learn?

  3. a wise and sagacious summation; cunning is never a good substitute over long periods of time for principled directions of policy aimed at empowering the people/citizens from whom sovereignty flows.
    badri raina

  4. You have successfully analyzed the present by taking the example from past. History would tell us that "We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies:

    "We lost East Pakistan because we could not resolve our political differences with the Awami League and expected our foreign friends to pull our chestnuts out of the fire". In other words "ghar ka bhedi Lanka Dhaye" Vibhishan brother of Ravan helped Ram to win Lanka.

    It is also true that "National power does not come from military strength derived from weapons. It comes from cohesive populations that are educated, healthy, economically productive and show tolerance and acceptance of political plurality and sociocultural diversity". In 1971 Pakistan was having superior quality of Arms but still it lost. Similarly USSR was holding Arms and Nukes in quantity still it lost the 'cold war' due to its poor economics.

    But above all strange point is that why Pak makes friendship with China solely to counter india. And India with USSR to counter China and Pak. At present North and South Korea have also taken respective sides with China or Russia or India. India and Pak must choose to remain friendly – after all USA, USSR, China are dukandar.

    Let us hope that your efforts will soon yield good results and every nation would concentrate on the economics.

  5. ZM analyis is always spot on! we already know these facts and a vast majority of pakistanis also agree with these views. but how is controlling the ship of pakistani affairs? i mean the foreign and domestic policies since 60 plus years?
    obviously the trioka: meaning army, america and allah! while the former two are mortal enemies now i wonder if allah shall also forsake us now, as we have deluded ourselves for too long. its time to sense the impending doom till its on our doorstep!

  6. I could only add that we have been all along very honestly serving USA otherwise flirting with all the others and this is the basic priciple of our foreign policy if we have one as a state. Our present sufferings are the net conclusion of this behavior.

  7. An accurate analysis of the past history which has brought the country to yhis state. We have developed a habit of not learning from history. In fact we neglect history and put under the carpet issues of history which has many useful lessons to learn for the betterment of the country and its people. I cannot recall any historical event that has been taken into account to devise our foreign and internal policies. It appears we are on the wrong path and are there to travel in the wrong direction for long distance. The road is so narrow that there is no turning and the policies rebound and hit us badly.

    Although this is not the point under discussion, but I am a bit concerned about the role of civil society. Many issues that civil society can resolve on its own are neglected by the society for its own convenience. The face of the country and nation is well reflected on the discipline and organized behaviour of the people on road and in public places. Has the media played any role in this regard. NO NOT AT ALL

  8. Ms. Zubeida Mustafa, Vice President of Pakistan Association for Mental Health has been acclaimed internationally for her contribution towards health, education and social issues during her long journalistic career. She was awarded IWMF’s Lifetime Achievement Award 2012.

    Haroon Ahmed M.D

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