COMMENTARY
 
Pakistan’s Foreign Policy in 2006
Weekly Pulse
December 29, 2006-January 4, 2007
Pakistan’s foreign policy in 2006 confronted a number of challenges, some tackled by its leadership effectively but many others were not. In particular, its leadership’s inability to translate public will into policy outcomes may have indeed accentuated a crisis whose political implications will be more visible in 2007 and beyond.

Just as 2005, Kashmir and Afghanistan remained the focal points of concern in Pakistan’s foreign affairs in 2006. And, in both cases, the policy outcomes for Islamabad have been less than satisfactory.

Kashmir Issue

Since the start of 2004, India and Pakistan have been trying to negotiate some eight unresolved issues between them, the most fundamental of which being the Kashmir dispute, in a diplomatic peace process called the Composite Dialogue. The peace process is led by the foreign secretaries of the two countries, who held two rounds of talks during the year.

The peace talks produced additional Confidence-Building Measures, especially in the field of conventional arms ties between the two countries. Progress was also made in furthering Indo-Pak communication and transportation links, including a hit line between the foreign secretaries, as well as enhancing trade and people-to-people contacts. The two sides also negotiated other unresolved issues such as Siachen and Sir Creek.

However, insofar as the major dispute of Kashmir is concerned, India’s response to Pakistan’s overtures on the dispute continued to be far less than expected, or hoped. There were hopes, for instance, that at least in the aftermath of the October 2005 earthquake across the Line of Control—which added a new humanitarian element to the issue—New Delhi would show a similar zeal as expressed by Pakistani leadership in using the natural calamity as a means for resolving Kashmir.

Instead, India’s approach towards Kashmir continued to by characterized by politics of realism, or indifference. The Indian strategy has all along been to delay Kashmiri settlement, or to divert international attention from it even in the aftermath of a humanitarian tragedy that specifically hurt Kashmiris. New Delhi’s decision to postpone the July round of foreign secretaries talks was a case in point.

The reason advanced by India for postponing this round was its allegation that Pakistan-based jihadi organizations, still having links with Pakistani security agencies, were responsible for the terrorist bombings of commuter trains in Mumbai. Like before, India attempted to prove that terrorism emanating from Pakistan was the main issue—a notion that New Delhi has long advanced with reference to Kashmir.

The September 2005 meeting between President Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh helped revive the peace process, as the two countries agreed to constitute an institutional mechanism for counter-terrorism—that, in fact, was a Pakistani proposal in the aftermath of the Mumbai bombings. Finally, the November 2005 round of foreign secretaries’ talks in New Delhi created such mechanism.

For its part, however, the leadership in Pakistan continued to highlight the need for over all political settlement of Kashmir. For the purpose, it attempted to build upon the new proposals it had already floated during 2005, especially after the earthquake. These included demilitarization, self-governance, no change in borders and joint supervision of the disputed region.

These four-points were further elaborated by President Musharraf in his memoir, In The Line of Fire, published in September 2005. In December 2005, President Musharraf went a step further by telling an Indian television that Pakistan was willing to surrender its claim on Kashmir if New Delhi agreed to his four-point formula. This was followed by Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson’s proclamation that Islamabad never claimed Kashmir to be its part.

The Indian leadership’s reaction to such radical pronouncements on Kashmir by its Pakistani counterparts has been rather measured. Just as it did in 2004, New Delhi contends that they have not been communicated through official channels. However, both Prime Minister Singh and his Minister for External Affairs Parnab Mukherjee have come put publicly in saying that India has to make adjustment in boundaries if Kashmir has to be resolved, and that there is nothing sacrosanct about Kashmir being an integral part of India as stated in an Indian parliamentary resolution.

Whether in the months ahead in 2007, such Indian willingness to compromise on Kashmir will be reflected in the outcomes of additional diplomatic rounds, one of which was scheduled for January 2007 at the foreign ministers level, is an intriguing question. Perhaps the back-channel diplomacy by President’s special envoy Tariq Aziz and Indian Prime Minister’s special envoy S K Lambha may result in some sort of a breakthrough on Kashmir in 2007. However, an agreement on Sir Creek seems to be within reach. So can be the case with Siachen, over which Indian still shows some reservations. As for Kashmir, as long as the Indian priority is only on expanding trade and transportation links, or bring the two people together socially and culturally, the leadership in Delhi will continue to talk in abstraction over Kashmir. Islamabad, on the other hand, will continue to make sure that the Kashmir dispute remained alive internationally.

War on Terror

Since 2001, Pakistan has been America’s frontline state against terrorism in the region, especially with regard to the Afghan leg of the war on terrorism. Like 2005, or a couple of years before, Pakistani leadership’s ability to combat terrorism is constrained by a couple of factors.

First, there is this problem of handling the ‘infiltration issue’ in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. Since 2004, Pakistan had deployed some 80,000 troops in the most sensitive areas of the tribal regions; namely, North and South Waziristan to fight the alleged Taliban and their Pashtun sympathizers crossing the Duran Line into Afghanistan.

The strategy was to handle the problem with the use of force. A number of violent instances took place since the deployment of this force in early 2004 and September this year, and yet there was no end to allegations regarding ‘infiltration’ from the Afghan authorities and Western media. The use of force strategy also seemed to be counter-productive, causing public uproar in the tribal belt.

Consequently, Pakistan had to undertake a shift in strategy by co-opting the tribal elements and convincing them not to assist Taliban and their sympathizers in the tribal regions. A peace agreement was concluded between the government and a tribal Jirga at Miranshah in September 2005.

In fact, prior to traveling to the United States the same month, President Musharraf paid a visit to Kabul and explained to the Afghan leadership that a better way of managing the growing insurgency in Afghanistan was to reach out to the insurgent leadership, since the insurgency was “rooted among the people.” In fact, since signing the Miranshah agreement, Pakistani leadership has proactively argued in favour of an accommodative strategy—one that aims to exercise options other than mere use of force within Afghanistan.

The second factor impinging upon Pakistani leadership’s ability to combat terrorism vis-à-vis Afghanistan flows essentially from the first one. Thus far, neither the Afghan government nor the United States seems willing to buy Islamabad’s contention that the only way of defeating Afghan insurgency, or those allegedly assisting it, is to talk to them, instead of isolating them and crushing them with force.

This makes sense: for the current militancy in Afghanistan cannot be seen in isolation from what has happened in Afghanistan since 1979. There are still millions of Afghans on Pakistani soil. The Durand Line is a porous border, inhabited on both sides by Pashtun population. The Afghan refugees as well as Pashtun population inhabiting Pakistan’s tribal belt has sympathies with the relevant Afghan population.

Given the lack of understanding or appreciation, intentional or otherwise, of these broader issues on the part of the Afghan leadership and its key international supporters, the issue of ‘infiltration’ has been as alive in 2006 as it was in 2005 or 2004—the years during which insurgency has grown. In fact, just in December, it came to the forefront with renewed allegations by President Hamid Karzai against Pakistan, also projected in two simultaneously published reports by the International Crisis Group and The New York Times.

Thus, insofar as Afghanistan is concerned, Pakistan enters into 2007 in a rather unhappy situation. The issue of ‘infiltration’ has caused obvious strains in its ties with the United States. At least in public perceptions, a couple of bloody incidents—the bombing of a madrassa in Bajaur being the most recent one—are directly associated with the United States’ attempt to violate Pakistani sovereignty.

The same issue may continue to haunt Islamabad in 2007 and beyond also, unless the Afghan leadership as well as counter-terrorism forces operating under NATO command realized the potential in Pakistan’s key proposal of 2006 regarding the conclusion of peace deals with the insurgents. In the absence of that, if Islamabad goes ahead with its peace diplomacy, it is likely to confront greater criticism from the United States, the Afghan leadership and Western media and think-tanks.

Quest for Energy

Apart from Kashmir and Afghanistan, another major foreign policy issue for Pakistan in 2006 was the country’s quest for energy, which makes sense given the continued growth in its economy in recent years. Like its other counterparts in the developing world, Pakistan is exploring diversified sources of energy at home and abroad. Since there is inter-provincial division on the construction of dams, the row over Kalabagh Dam in particular, the country’s leadership has opted for three alternative sources of energy.

After India concluded a nuclear deal with the United States, Pakistan has urged Washington to offer a similar deal to it. However, citing domestic political sensitivity regarding the A Q Khan nuclear network, the US leadership has plainly refused to accept Pakistani request to be treated at par with India, despite Islamabad’s status as a frontline state against terrorism in the region. When President Bush visited South Asia in March, Islamabad hoped the American leadership would offer something concrete to address the country’s genuine energy-related concerns.

Since then, Pakistan has been proactively exploring two other alternative sources of energy needed for its future economic growth. One is the construction of a gas pipeline from Iran—a project that also includes India. In the later half of 2006, Pakistan and Iran have been busy chalking out the modalities of the deal so that the pipeline project is realized as soon as possible. However, this project’s realization is essentially linked to what happens with regard to Iran’s own nuclear pursuits.

That 2006 concluded with a Security Council resolution against Iran is not a good omen for Pakistan in the sense that if Iran continues to go ahead with its uranium enrichment activities, a follow-up Security Council resolution may impose further stringent restrictions against Iran, thereby preventing Pakistan to realize the initial stages of the Iran pipeline project in 2007.

The third alternative for Pakistan is to construct more nuclear plants with Chinese help. One of them has been operating for years at Chashma, and another one is under construction at the same site. During his recent visit to Pakistan, Chinese President Hu Jintao has not signed a formal treaty, but discussions have been under way between Islamabad and Beijing for the construction of a number of nuclear plants in Pakistan.

Other Policy Concerns

It is Pakistan’s growing relationship with Pakistan that can be termed a success in 2006, just as it has been the case in the years before. Unlike ties with the United States, the strategic dimension of this relationship was further enhanced in 2006 with the signing of a Free Trade Agreement and progress on Gawadr and commitment by the Chinese leadership for expanding the country’s transportation and communication links.

As for Pakistan’s ties with the Muslim world in general, the leadership in Islamabad proactively expressed its concern over the Hezbollah-Israel Lebanese war, especially the maddening response by Israeli forces. Since 2003, President Musharraf has been a leading voice among Muslim leaderships campaigning for the resolving the injustices facing a segment of the Muslim population. Even though Lebanon cannot be categorized as a purely a Muslim state, it is nonetheless a member of the Arab League and a natural concern for the Muslim world leadership for having a Muslim majority population.

It was with active campaign on the part of Pakistan that led to the passage of an important resolution by the Organization of Islamic Countries in Malaysia condemning urging the international community to hold Israel accountable for its ‘ear crimes’ in Lebanon.

Even in the case of the war in Iraq, Pakistan’s strategy has been to campaign for such option as would limit the growing sectarian warfare. No surprise that prior to the release of the Iraq Study Group report, President Musharraf warned against a quick withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, which, in his opinion, could leader to even greater bloodbath among Iraq’s three ethno-sectarian groups and their relevant backers in Iraq’s neighbourhood. Just as Islamabad has urged the international community to adopt a strategy of engagement with insurgent forces in Afghanistan, it has desired that the Americans should engage with Syria and Iran—an option recommended by the Iraq Study Group as well.

Predictions for 2007

In retrospect, it can be safely stated that the two rather gigantic shifts that the Pakistani leadership has undertaken in 2006—one, further distancing itself from the traditional stand on Kashmir and, two, floating the ‘peace deal’ idea to counter Afghan insurgency—can only materialize if India and Afghanistan, respectively, also respond to them positively. Without Indian response, Pakistan’s new outlook on Kashmir will remain as unilateral as it has been in the recent past. And, without Afghan or American/NATO willingness to shed force for the sake of diplomacy in Afghanistan, Islamabad may not be able to realize political dividends of its diplomacy by deals with its own tribal Pshtuns.

However, there is always a glimmer of hope: If the Americans start talking to sectarian elements in Iraq, which they have, and if they start to talk directly to Iran and Syria, which they have not, then there is a hope that the US leadership and NATO command may attempt to emulate deals such as Miramshah as a means to counter growing insurgency in Afghanistan.

As for Kashmir, as stated before, the only glimmer of light is that the Indian leadership may be as forthcoming on Kashmir in 2007 and beyond, as its Pakistani counterpart has been in 2006 and before. More CBMs and greater people-to-people interaction between the two countries—and also within the framework of SAARC—must pave the way for resolving fundamental issues such as Kashmir. However, we can only hope that the Indian leadership will not try to use them as a means for delaying or diverting Kashmiri conflict resolution.

Finally, as for the third important item on Pakistan’s foreign affairs in 2006, that of the quest for energy, Islamabad is expected in 2007 to pursue more vigorously the second and the third alternatives cited above: namely, the gas pipeline project with Iran and the acquisition of nuclear power plants from China.

There are visible constraints in both cases, especially the fact that the pipeline project’s realization is very much linked to what happens with regards to Iran’s nuclear issue. China itself is growing economically and aims at using whatever sources of energy it has domestically for its own use. There could be external pressures on it not to help Pakistan in the nuclear sphere. However, given the depth of strategic ties between Islamabad and Beijing, Pakistan’s best bet in its quest for energy in 2007 and beyond will be China.