A Post-Pandemic
Foreign Policy

The image of a country is determined by the quality of its domestic policies
that are supposed to serve the interests of its people rather than the
damage limitation skills of its external policies.

By Ashraf Jehangir Qazi | February 2021


Writing about Pakistan’s foreign policy is not easy. It is a function of Pakistan’s national policy which is determined by domestic realities and structures that have by and large proven inimical to the interests of its people. What needs to be done to break free of these domestic vice-like limits on Pakistan’s potential is generally known. The media is full of it. But the will and confidence to do anything to change the drift and stasis that afflicts Pakistan is effectively absent, even though the existential costs of such national dereliction are well-known.

If all that is wrong at home is seriously addressed, foreign policy will, by and large, take care of itself. But if it is not, foreign policy, however, brilliant, can never be more than damage limitation and an exercise in the postponement of the inevitable. This minimal function has been discharged quite well. But it can only reduce costs in the short-run at the price of maximizing them over the longer-term. The image of a country is determined by the quality of its domestic policies that are supposed to serve the interests of its peoples rather than the damage limitation skills of its external policies. Moreover, a country’s image determines the range of options available for its foreign policy to have its voice heard in the capitals of the world.

Domestic policies, which provide the parameters for the possibilities of foreign policy, include governance in accordance with constitutional authority; human resource development such as healthcare, environment, science and education policies; essential freedoms, human rights protections and non-discriminatory policies; reducing social, economic and political inequalities that hamper nation-development, national solidarity and respect for national institutions; elaborating and implementing economic, social and institution-building strategies to meet the challenges besieging Pakistan today; etc. A recent Grand National (Intellectual) Dialogue (for Reform) listed a number of areas on which to focus, including Democracy; the Constitution; Legal Reforms; Electoral Reforms; Institutions and Governance; Legislative Efforts; Civil Service Reforms; Local Governments and Devolution of Power; the Judiciary and its interaction with institutions; etc. This list could easily be expanded very considerably. In this regard, Budgetary Reform, including the allocation of resources which should be a transparent process, is a precondition for national priorities to be rationalized and national development to be possible.

The afore-stated is a massive undertaking without which foreign policy is left with little or no basis to develop its potential to serve the national interest other than damage limitation through passive and reactive diplomacy. This massive undertaking has never really been assumed because political and representative institutions have not been allowed the space within which to develop and mature. Interloping and constitutionally subordinate institutions have taken over without the competence or capacity to discharge responsibilities for which they have no constitutional authority.

As a result the Pakistan that Allama Iqbal dreamed of, and which Quaid-e-Azam and the Pakistan Movement brought into existence, was buried within the first 25 years of the country’s existence. Moreover, no lessons from this trauma were learned because the institutions of the unconstitutional power structure of the country never permitted it. Undoubtedly, so-called elected democratic leaders and their parties were also to blame since many preferred to be relieved of the risks of insisting on the discharge of their constitutional and democratic obligations to the people who elected them, and to settle instead for the perks and privileges of elected office.

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