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Dignity in foreign relations

Muhammad Amir RanaAugust 25, 2019

The writer is a security analyst.

THE desire for dignity, self-esteem and appreciation motivates humans and nations alike, significantly impacting their behaviours. This desire partially originates from a fear of humiliation. Dignity is capital that a nation earns through a cultured polity, strong economy, and its geographical and strategic strengths. Eventually, it determines the friends and foes of a nation.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s statement on the silence of the Muslim ‘ummah’ over India’s oppression of Kashmir reflects that Pakistan lacks some essential component to develop equal and robust bilateral relations with other nations. Fed with the narratives of the ummah and Muslim brotherhood since the country was founded, many in Pakistan wonder why the ummah only showed solidarity with their country when it was internally and strategically strong. It also vindicates the view that religion and ideologies do not provide any foundation for strong relations among nations. In reality, these remain secondary, and largely come into play when aligned with national interests of economic and strategic significance.

Read: Any permanent member can create hurdles for Pakistan at UNSC: FM

When so-called friends do not stand with Pakistan in its hour of need, it hurts, and many Pakistanis feel humiliated. In this age of a growing identity politics, populism is not only confined to domestic political contexts, but also factors in an identification of friends and foes in international politics. Francis Fukuyama, in his recent book Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, contextualises contemporary identity politics by explaining three parts of the human soul. The first is about primitive desires, such as thirst or hunger. “The second is more rational – like the voice that tells us to avoid rotten meat even when we’re hungry. But independent of these is a third part, thymos, which yearns for dignity and recognition from other people.” He argues that identity politics is rooted in thymos because it revolves around a particular group’s fight for dignity and recognition.


Does Pakistan need to do some soul-searching to re-evaluate its friends and foes? Perhaps it is high time for us to rid ourselves of the illusion of a united Muslim world. One international wire service report provided a rationale behind Gulf countries’ muted response over India-held Kashmir. These countries have more than $100 billion in annual trade with India, making it a prized economic partner. In contrast, Pakistan has lost its economic balance with its Arab allies; rather, it looks to them for bailouts whenever its economy is in a crisis. A dignified relationship with Gulf countries will remain a dream unless Pakistan’s economy and self-esteem recover.

Does Pakistan need to do some soul-searching to re-evaluate its friends and foes?

Pakistan’s relationship with the Arabs and Iran has never been easy. To influence Pakistani state and society, both have been managing their sectarian proxies in the country, which contributes towards making the militant landscape even more volatile. Pakistan’s reliance on the Arab world started when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto changed its foreign policy alignment from Cento-centric to Arab-focused. The Shah of Iran had then warned Bhutto that these relationships would not prove strategically worthy. The Shah also boycotted the International Islamic Summit held in Lahore in 1974. Still, he helped Pakistan in the aftermath of 1971, which Bhutto used as an opportunity for realignment with the Arab world.

Alex Vatanka, an expert on Iranian affairs, provides fabulous accounts on this in his book Iran and Pakistan: Security, Diplomacy and American Influence, and describes how the Lahore summit had weakened Pakistan-Iran relations, despite the fact that the Shah dispatched his foreign minister to Lahore on Bhutto’s insistence. The realignment paid off for Pakistan. Before 1974, Islamabad did not receive direct financial aid from any Arab country. Bhutto changed that, and Arab oil money began to flow.

However, after the regime change in Iran and military coup in Pakistan, things quickly changed. The West’s reliance on its Arab friends increased to sustain peace in the Middle East and to partner in Afghanistan to defeat the Soviet Union. Pakistan changed its policy direction as well for its own geopolitical reasons. While contexts have changed now, Pakistan’s growing reliance on Arabs for deferred oil payments and bailouts hurts its equity in relations with them.

The support for Kashmiris and Pakistan has come from three corners. First, from the international media and human rights organisations, which are highlighting the issue and building diplomatic pressure on India. Second, from China, which has helped to make the United Nations Security Council take notice of the issue. And third, from the US that is constantly offering mediation, which is irritating India. Turkey and Malaysia’s responses were also adequate.

Read: China to 'uphold justice for Pakistan' on Kashmir issue

The rationale and politics behind these responses are not difficult to understand. The US needs Pakistan in Afghanistan, and China is one of the parties to the Kashmir dispute. China may also have concerns in the context of CPEC and the Belt and Road Initiative, as the Kashmir issue has disturbed the regional political landscape, which is not a good sign for economic connectivity.

Historically, both the US and China have remained a significant pillar of Pakistan’s external relations, and Pakistan has managed ties with both at functional levels, and extracted advantages. Perhaps Pakistan needs the same balance between the two, as China’s investment is crucial for Pakistan apart from sharing with it strategic and political interests. The relationship with the US is crucial, not only for economy and strategic interests but also for its global image. Pakistan’s image determines the level of dignity and respect it holds among nations.

It may be difficult for Pakistan to develop a new geostrategic partnership with Iran in a contemporary context. But geo-economic connectivity with Iran in partnership with China can help Pakistan balance its ties between Gulf countries and Iran, and will help improve its image within regional Muslim countries.

However, major fundamentals of earning dignity in the global community are domestic, and these entail continued cooperation with the global community in its efforts to counter terrorism and extremism, and achieve peace in Afghanistan. The militants hurt the thymos of Pakistan the most, and they must not be allowed to come back.

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2019


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