The right to decide
06 March, 2013
By Malik Muhammad Ashraf
In international relations, the foremost considerations are serving, protecting and upholding national interests, mutuality of interests between states and fulfilling obligations that come with being a member of the international community. The point of reference invariably should be the advancement of national objectives in consonance with the aspirations of the people. But the Pak-US relationship, regrettably, has been contrary to these considerations.
The relations between the two countries have mostly served Washington's strategic and global interests at Islamabad's expense. Successive Pakistani governments have maintained this one-sided relationship, despite high anti-US feelings existing among the people. Several examples can be quoted, which reveal that rulers and people in Pakistan have been poles apart on international and foreign policy issues.
Pakistan's alliance with the US, by choice or coerced partnership (as seems to be the case in the war on terror), has greatly jeopardised its national interests. For more than six decades, both civilian and military governments never dared to change the direction and focus of the country's foreign policy.
Surely, Pakistan's policy of building alliances with the West, especially USA, on unequal terns have been a negation of its national interests, as well as geographical realties, inextricably linked to this region.
Having said that, the present PPP-led government, despite having a number of inadequacies and failing to deal with the challenges it inherited after the 2008 elections, has - in the domain of foreign policy - certainly made a marked departure from the past philosophy of heavy reliance on the US and other western nations. It has further developed relations with China and Russia, building regional alliances, joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), reactivating the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) and giving a new direction to our sagging relations with Iran. This paradigm shift in the conduct of foreign relations is a remarkable move, keeping in view the emerging geopolitical realities of the South Asian region.
The federal government's decision to go ahead with the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project, despite unrelenting pressure from the US and its tactics to lure Pakistan out of this commitment, speaks volumes about its boldness and political sagacity. The project, which has remained in doldrums since it was conceived in the mid-nineties and, consequently, no government took the risk of annoying Washington, is like a lifeline for the energy-starved country.
Undoubtedly, the civilian government has proved its credentials as the custodian of national interests by having the project approved from the Cabinet on January 30, followed by President Asif Zardari's visit to Iran for the signing of the agreement. In the wake of signing the agreement, the US has again threatened to impose sanctions on Pakistan in case it went ahead with the project.
It is encouraging to note that the government has stood firm and refused to accept any pressure. President Zardari, while recently talking to senior journalists and media men in Lahore, said: "As an independent nation, Pakistan is free to decide its future and the IP gas pipeline project will be completed at every cost. Nobody has the power to halt it, as the project does not violate any international law." This statement, indeed, reflects the unflinching determination of the government for the project's completion and its commitment to respect international laws.
Here it is important to mention that the sanctions imposed on Iran by the UN pertain to the oil sector only and do not cover the ventures concerning gas transmission lines. Also, the US and EU have imposed some sanction on Iran on their own, but Pakistan is not bound to honour them.
Pakistan is located in the South Asian region. Its security and economic prosperity is inextricably linked to this region and mutually beneficial relations with neighbours. Following this approach is in the long-term interest of Pakistan.
Against this backdrop, the US claims to be a friend of Pakistan, but acts quite contrary to what a friend is supposed to do. It wants Pakistan to refrain from going ahead with the IP project because of its differences with Iran. However, it must remember that relations between nations are not conducted on the basis of 'my enemy is your enemy'. Every nation in its sovereign capacity has the right to decide what is in its best national interest.
It is said that "there are no permanent friends or enemies" in international relations. The relations between the US and Iran during the Shah era and now is a case in point. Further, if the USA and Russia can cooperate with each other in the international field on case to case basis despite being rivals during the Cold War, then there is a possibility that we might see a reversal of the enmity that exists between Washington and Tehran.
Perhaps, Pakistan - being a friend of both the US and Iran - could play the role of an intermediary and help them to tide over their differences like it did in the rapprochement between the US and China in the early seventies. However, if Pakistan keeps toeing the US line in the matter, it will undoubtedly have adverse affects on its relations with Iran; and in case Washington and Tehran re-establish their ties, Pakistan will find itself in an awkward position.
Needless to say, the US must adopt a realistic approach. It must not allow its relations with Iran to affect its relations with Pakistan. The pressure tactics used by the US to keep Pakistan away from the IP gas pipeline project are viewed as an unfriendly act that will precipitate anti-American sentiments in Pakistan. The US, therefore, needs to revisit its approach to the issue.
As a final word, the PPP-led coalition government has taken the right decision and it must stick to it like it has done so far. It is, indeed, a monumental step in regard to national interests and quest to regain our lost sovereignty.
The writer is a freelance columnist.