Should Pakistan have participated in the Heart of Asia conference? Probably not. There are many who argue one way or another. We should be clear about the reasons. Not because India sabotaged the SAARC conference in Islamabad some months back. But because once again India and its regional allies have used the platform to gang up and embarrass the Pakistan government.
What prompted Sartaj Aziz to lead a delegation to India despite the obvious series of snubs that the Modi government have served to the Pakistan government. Aziz had argued that the Heart of Asia conference was not India’s show. But with the manner in which he has been mistreated, who do we blame.
The sabotage of the SAARC summit should have been a wake-up call for the Sharif government. The fact that India along with Afghanistan and Bangladesh and not excluding Bhutan and Nepal managed to have the conference aborted illustrates the failure of Pakistan’s misguided foreign policy. We are becoming increasingly isolated and our foreign policy continues to suffer setbacks in one way or another. And yet the Sharif government insists that all is well.
Our PM is not very serious about foreign policy. Despite the passage of several years, he continues to rely on the ever-present and persistently disappointing Sartaj Aziz, whose role as advisor is not clearly defined. One never knows who is serving whom. The foreign office is stuffed to unimaginative and old-fashioned mandarins who have no clue on how to chart the country’s course in the ever-challenging waters of foreign affairs and diplomacy.
We seem to be content with the fact that China is our best friend and that Russia is making overtures to us. What we do not understand is that aside from China, our relations with the rest of our neighbours are on a slide, if not completely in tatters. With India, the issues are clear and evident. But when it comes to relations with Afghanistan and Iran, we have purposely pursued policies that antagonized those governments and their people. The foreign office works in tandem and the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.
The quality of our diplomats stationed abroad is relatively good. But they are not being employed in the work of public diplomacy as they should. As has been the case in both the Peoples Party and the PML-N governments, our diplomats seem to work more for the pleasure of the civil and military bureaucracy as well as our corrupt and inept political leaders – be in government or in the opposition. Diplomats confess that much of their time is spent in protocol duties for our rich and powerful and less in engaging with the people in whose country they are posted.
The work done by our embassies abroad leaves a lot to be desired. One only has to look at the service level of the Pakistan Consulate General in New York (possibly one of the most prestigious outposts for diplomats in Pakistan). No one answers the phone, the website does not work and hundreds have complained that no one follows up on basic services like visa applications and passport issuance. Why is this connected to the Heart of Asia conference – the answer is simple: our foreign office has become a hallmark for inefficiency, short-sightedness and corruption. How can we expect any good to come out of this?
As a country, Pakistan has its national interests and priorities. It is the work of the foreign office to ensure that these are pursued. In the past we have seen that instead of this, the foreign office works actively to pursue the interests of individuals in power. We are friends with two dictatorships – Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and continue to pursue our relations with these governments.
Both the foreign affairs ministry and our foreign policy need a complete overhaul. We cannot continue to be mistreated and attacked. Our people cannot suffer poor and substandard services. There must be some accountability. Take for example the decision to send political envoys to “explain Pakistan’s stand on the Kashmir issue” all over the world at a cost of millions. Whatever came of that?