The myth of our isolation


Hina Butt

A trick question: can any one point out at a time in our history when it was generally assumed that our foreign policy was going where it ought to? Perhaps the answer to this question is no, but that is the not the point here. The fact that almost all of us are made to believe, almost all the time, that Pakistan has become isolated in the community of nations; or that somehow we have been left behind while other countries have become tigers or panthers of a particular region; or that we have always played at the hands of the great powers, and have put aside our own national interest to become relevant in the great games, and that too at the cost of our own peace and security is something that should worry us.
While some of it is true, most of it is based on generalisations. Take the first one for example.
The narrative that we are increasingly getting isolated has taken roots in most of the contemporary discussions involving foreign policy. Opinion makers, opposition leaders, retired civil and military officials, diplomats, people from media and general public at large seems worried sick over the fact that we are losing friends left right and centre.
The argument is that India got the civil nuclear deal and we, the ones who have given most sacrifices in the war against terror, are regularly asked to “do more.” And then there are comparisons with the so-called proactive foreign policy of Narendra Modi who appears to have made inroads into the traditional support base of Pakistan including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Gulf countries, and is also believed to be scheming with Afghanistan and Iran to make Pakistan irrelevant in the geopolitical chessboard.
The fact that all of this is scary makes it news worthy, and that is the reason we hear this version more. But like all good stories there is another version as well, the one where we don’t appear that isolated. And it goes as follows.
Pakistan and China have always been friends. Both countries have now decided to upgrade their historic relationship by injecting serious money into it; 46 billion dollars to be exact, which we all know will be used to finance various projects in the famous economic corridor.
Even when we disagree on the routes and argue for equitable distribution of gifts from the goody bag of CPEC, the nation as a whole agrees that this is amongst the few good things that have happened to us in a long time. The civil and military leadership is on the same page when it comes to the resolve of making these plans work, and the masses are standing behind them. Someone recently wrote that after the nuclear programme and cricket, friendship with China is one thing all Pakistanis have consensus on.
Now we might be fools who are often working in the self-destruct mode but the fact that China, who is becoming a real challenge to the superpower status of the USA, is wiling to bet on us, and we are happy to tag along is something that disproves the assertion that we are isolated in the world.
We are in fact exactly where we have always wanted to be as a nation: in the middle of the action, seeing the great drama of mighty nations fighting for dominance with best seats in the hall. We knew that this policy was always going to come with consequences. But we as a nation have made a rational and informed choice. We knew letting China sit in Gwadar would hurt the ambitions of the USA in the Asia Pacific region as it would allow China to become a major player in the politics of the Indian Ocean, and we still went ahead with it.
Only time will tell how this plays out eventually. It will depend on how all the players, including us, act but the world in not-so-distant future may be a very different place and we have gambled on it in a good way.
There are many other successes of our foreign policy that, unfortunately, are not used to disprove the argument of our international isolation. India, to mention here once more, is trying to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council since mid-1990s. Pakistan, along with other like-minded countries in the UN, has been preventing this from happening courtesy some exceptional diplomacy and extraordinary planning. Year after year, our diplomats have been able to thwart Indian plans but this has never made headlines.
If one needs to find a country that is truly isolated one only needs to look at the DPRK. Pakistan is not North Korea, we never have been, and there is no sign that we will ever be, even though we too have an active nuclear programme and are developing our missile technology at an accelerated pace.
Isolation is a big word. It has its own unique meanings. So when you find someone taking liberty with the usage of this concept next time, you must remind him that an isolated country looks very different than the one we are living in.