Implications of the Internal Struggles of Pakistan for its Foreign Policy
The power struggles within Pakistan’s domestic politics directly affects the foreign policy of the country; it specifically affects how it protects its interests and carries out the fight against terrorism at this crucial juncture in its history. At the same time, different international actors supporting different power centers in Pakistan creates tremendous tension among these centers, while the country is struggling economically and needs foreign assistance. A lack of leadership that is genuinely supported by the Pakistani people and that can produce consensus on controversial policies results in confusion with no coherent direction on important matters, at a time when it is most needed.
As increasingly unpopular strongman Musharraf has left the scene, all indicators signal a vacuum and confusion at the helm of state. Based on his background, President Zardari is at best suited for shrewd local politicking and feuding. An argument can be made that the roots of the Mumbai attacks lay in his controversial comments to Wall Street Journal, in which he labeled the Kashmiri militants terrorists. Later, he made comments in a live video conference organized by a prominent Indian newspaper, claiming that citizens of both India and Pakistan soon would not need visas to visit.
Both of these comments reflected President Zardari’s naivete in dealing with issues with long histories, and his ignorance of the power dynamics in Pakistan. A claim could be made that these were deliberate efforts of President Zardari to rein in the Institution of the Army. Another example of this strategy was the notification issued by the government before the Prime Minister’s hastily arranged visit to the U.S, last year, to bring Pakistan’s ISI under the control of the Ministry of Interior. The government had to retract the notification within hours. Thus, even if these were deliberate acts, i.e., for Zardari to go for the Army when he himself had not established personal credibility, they were premature.
The issue of President Zardari’s personal credibility arises not just because of his corrupt background but also because he became president by sidelining heavy-duty Pakistan People’s Party personalities and because he retracted his promises to Muslim League-N about reinstating the Supreme Court judges. Zardari did capitalize on sympathy for the tragic death of Benazir. But delivering when eyes of the whole world are focused on you is a different ball game all together.
The local political scene in Pakistan consists of three main power centers with various tilts:
Zardari and his Pakistan Peoples Party currently form the coalition government. There is at present no functional opposition. In fact, the ruling alliance also encompasses the opposition, Muslim League-N, in a bizarre alliance whose utility has long expired. The alliance includes PPP’s former bitter rival, MQM. MQM shares anti-Taliban sentiments with PPP, reportedly opposing the growing influence of the Taliban in Karachi. JUI-F is another coalition member and an influential religious party known to carry sway with the Taliban; it opposes the U.S. and NATO war in Afghanistan. Awami National Party (ANP) is from North West Frontier Province. Composed mainly of Pushtuns, it has been entrusted by PPP with carrying the fight against its own brethren in the form of the Taliban. ANP frequently is ignored when the PPP makes key decisions, while ANP is still happy to be in power in NWFP. At best, the ruling coalition is made up of parties with contradictory principles and visions.
The Army, Security Establishment, and Bureaucracy
The Army, of course, is not only responsible for protecting the country but also serves as the institutional memory and provides much needed continuity. Along with civil servants and other bureaucrats within the foreign-policy establishment, members of the military really are the ones with formal and sophisticated comprehension of the long-term challenges that the country faces. These are the institutions where India is still perceived as a threat and Jihadis carry their strategic importance in face of Pakistan’s traditional threat perception. This establishment is increasingly at odds with the PPP government, — a conflict reflected in the firing of national security advisor Durrani.
For all practical purposes, the opposition is composed of Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI), Jamatey Islami (JI), and Pakhtoonkhawa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP), even though they did not take part in last elections out of protest. Their interests and voices are increasingly aligned with that of Muslim League-N, particularly as it relates to reinstatement of the Supreme Court judges fired unconstitutionally by former President Musharraf, and matters dealing with the 17th amendment of the constitution. Furthermore, these parties and groups oppose the aims of the War on Terrorism and its conduct, and Muslim League-N, in particular, has taken a supportive stand on the Kashmiri issue. Muslim League-Q, the former kingmaker and ruling party, also can be considered part of the opposition. Both the government ruling alliance and the opposition parties are trying to recruit them to their fold.
The three power centers have support from different actors in the world, which further complicates Pakistan’s domestic struggles. The Army trusts China more than the U.S., as China provides for most of it long-term needs, and China’s outlook and interests match that of Pakistan. On the other hand, the PPP government needs the support of the U.S. to remain in power. But it has to deliver on goals related to the War on Terror and still remain reasonably popular with the public. Pakistan has depended on the Saudis for financial support in time of need, and Saudis are the closer to the Muslim League-N and other Sunni-religious parties, such as JUI-F and JI.
Politicians in Pakistan come and go, serving and balancing various domestic and foreign interests to stay in power. On the other hand, the Army and the country’s security establishment, has a consistent and studied perspective on the direction of the country that often collides with visionary politicians and foreign powers. In the absence of strong and credible political leadership, the Army and the security establishments backstop the politicians. When there is a deficit of shrewd politicians, the Army can go haywire with its conventional security concerns. All of these are signs of a lack of visionary and credible political leadership working coherently in the interest of the country. Foreign influences complicate these internal struggles, and the country often undermines itself with foreign help, while the public welfare is neglected or compromised.
At the same time, the interests of China, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Iran often play out advantageously when Pakistan acts in a coordinated fashion. The interest of powerful countries in Pakistan cannot be taken for granted; there are many international actors struggling for attention and advantage. With involvement of these powers comes an opportunity for Pakistan to play these influential actors with or against each other, using diplomacy as a tool, while getting its way.