On 15 August 1947, Quaid-e-Azam outlining Pakistan’s foreign policy stated: “Our objective should be peace within and peace without. We want to live peacefully and maintain cordial and friendly relations with our immediate neighbours and with world at large.” However, unfortunately, the civil-military strife in Pakistan always remained a significant obstacle to making robust foreign policy. Often, our military wants nemesis with its eastern neighbours. In the past, civilian governments tried their best to establish a good relationship with India. However, the ongoing animosity between the two powers of the country did not let it happen.
Despite this civil-military strife, Mian Nawaz Sharif & PMLN knew the importance of independent foreign policy and its positive impact on Pakistan’s economy. So, after the 2013 general election, they tried to safeguard the country’s national security, territorial integrity, and political sovereignty and project Pakistan’s image as a progressive, modern, and democratic state.
The current PTI government has destroyed the image of Pakistan as a progressive, modern and democratic state by unnecessarily supporting the Afghan Taliban and presenting them as victorious against the west despite their human rights violation and rigid Islamic ideology. As a result, we lost our image internationally. Despite the sacrifices made by Pakistan in the so-called global war on terror, our efforts in this regard have been seen with suspicion internationally and often perceived as the “terror exporting country”. PTI leadership’s naive and myopic attitude brought the country to the verge of collapse.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan criticised the European Union and the US on a few occasions needlessly and sank every boat of good relations with the west and the US. One of his blunders was vising Russia on the eve when Russia attacked Ukraine despite our biggest trading partners being the US and EU. The ppl of Pakistan would likely face repercussions and pay the price for such needless statements and policies due to following reasons:
Pakistan is highly dependent on international financial institutions to fulfil its economic and financial needs. It is feared that Pakistan would become more vulnerable to such coercive tactics by superpowers & international institutions like International Monetary Fund (IMF). Pakistan has to go to the IMF to keep its economy on track when it faces trouble amid sanctions or balance of payments. Unfortunately, the decision-making power of these financial institutions is also in the hands of world superpowers. To receive a bailout package from the IMF requires diplomatic support from the US and European countries, which is looking extremely difficult under the current regime and their hostile statements against the west and the US in particular.
Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has placed Pakistan’s name on the “jurisdictions with strategic deficiencies” known as the grey list of FATF. The placement of Pakistan’s name on the grey list is far more political than financial. It has been viewed as an attempt of coercion by the US and EU, critical influencers at the FATF. The US & EU can undoubtedly make it difficult for Pakistan to remove its name from the list.
In general, within a short span of 3 & a half years, the incompetency of PTI has landed Pakistan in dire strait through a series of economic, diplomatic and domestic policy blunders. Only PML-N can achieve the much-required economic turnaround as this party has an experienced team who works under Mian Nawaz Sharif’s leadership. It has a strong Finance Minister, Mr Ishaq Dar, who possess a proven track record of improving the economy.
Given that Pakistan lies in a critical and fragile regional and domestic environment with constant security threats, the turnaround is urgently required as Pakistan cannot afford such vulnerabilities. Only competent and robust leadership can steer Pakistan back to peace and economic growth by finding a balance in promoting its economic and diplomatic security. PML-N has a rich record of success and its fair share of mistakes done in the past, which would propel it to ensure a quantum leap when mistakes are avoided.
A few examples of the success and some mistakes committed by PML-N in its last government are mentioned below:
The success illustrates how we managed our economic and security needs by keeping the long-term interests of the people at heart, which was demonstrated on the occasion of nuclear tests in 1998. Desiring good relations with world powers does not mean we sacrifice national interest, and also guarding national interest does not mean we isolate from the international arena. We are facing this situation now where the former Prime Minister’s sense of achievement hinges on receiving a phone call from Mr Biden and Mr Modi. Despite the pressure from the US, EU, Japan and other world powers, Mian Nawaz Sharif decided to test the nuclear capabilities in the interest of Pakistan’s security. The consequence of the sanctions was foreseen and addressed by Mr Dar, who kept the dollar within an acceptable range and maintained economic stability.
The economic figures are well known to everyone. The declining GDP growth, sinking rupee value, unprecedented inflation, poor investment, the highest borrowing rate domestically and from international lenders, stagnant exports, widening negative balance of trade and payment are worrisome. While several factors play into it, the lack of a savvy economic and diplomatic team contributed significantly to this decline, mainly when the previous PM was clueless. When we need the continuation of GSP+ in the EU, the outgoing PM publicly humiliated EU envoys. There was an excellent opportunity to reset our relations when the Biden administration took over with our see-saw relations at their lowest ebb.
Undoubtedly, when PMLN comes into power, we will have the team for reforming our economy and bringing about a meaningful foreign policy that will contribute to our domestic needs. We would be able to synchronise our economic, foreign, domestic and security policies.
However, let us be open to questioning our party PML-N. We have to ask that if we indeed performed much better than any other party, including the military, why have it not achieved better results and why we could not achieve the critical mass to turn the destiny of our people? We have to look at our mistakes dispassionately and objectively.
- We failed to realise the power of the people’s mandate in the 1997/2013 elections. PML-N won as people wanted their economic well-being as they learned from our first government that only we could deliver. I think we forgot this. If we had continued to deliver economic well-being to people instead of being distracted by the president, judiciary, military etc., no power, including the military or judiciary, could have acted against us. People fuelled by betterment in their economic lives would have come out against the destroyers of democracy.
- We didn’t act immediately to nip the issues in the bud and let them linger on till it achieves critical mass, by which it is too late to act. At the very instant the military spread its wing, we should have cut it. If they spread propaganda like Dawn Leak, instead of appeasing them by offering sacrifices, action to remove some elements should have been taken. Once the ISPR dares to publicly say that the explanation of the PM house is rejected, it is too late to reign them in. PML-N and Mian Nawaz Sharif have personally paid by refusing to concede civilian authority.
- We did not explain the true nature of the verdict against Mian Nawaz Sharif to the Masses. We did not vocalise sufficiently why and how the SC disqualified him. People have no idea that he was declared non-Sadiq and Ameen due to controversy on the definition of accounts receivable. Instead of depending on Pakistan’s income tax law, the term defined in some conspicuous Black dictionary was quoted. People do not know the black law of NAB when the accused is guilty unless his/her announcement can be proven by delivering evidence of how one could afford a particular level of affluence.
In conclusion – we need good relations with the US, EU, China, and Russia. Our dependency on the western world is too significant in trade, exports, FDIs, remittances, and technology. We can not afford to act rogue. However, with finesse, as demonstrated by Mian Nawaz Sharif, we can keep harmonious relations while maintaining our heads high. On the domestic front, we need to focus on the economic welfare of Pakistan and not be distracted or engage in civil-military strife. We also need to weigh our economy and foreign policy, plug the loopholes in the system and strengthen participatory democracy. We need to do people’s centric governance so that we must win the confidence of our ppl in the state and the system. Last but not least, we must continue global multilateral engagements with the international community to eliminate either scenario where Pakistan is pushed to choose between the United States and China or Russia.
The contributor, Dr Nadeem Sheikh, is a multidisciplinary health professional who has been based in Sydney for over thirty years. He is the incumbent patron-in-chief of the PML(N)’s Australian wing.