ISLAMABAD — With thousands of Indian and Pakistani troops on high alert facing each other across front lines and global concern over the confrontation between the two nuclear-armed neighbors remaining high, Pakistan faces the challenge of revitalizing its foreign policy.
The growing global profile of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s government may appear to indicate there is little need to be concerned about the country’s foreign-policy credentials. The Bush administration and other Western governments remain appreciative of Pakistan’s support in the international fight against terrorism.
But as Pakistan prepares to move toward its promised return to democracy in October, it is clear that the quality of the democratic transition will trigger criticism from within and outside the country in coming months. Musharraf’s apparent plan to make his own position as president unassailable after the transition to civilian rule has already cast doubt over his commitment to a full restoration of democracy.
The fallout from Islamabad’s decision to support the fight against al-Qaeda may include more violent terrorist attacks in Pakistan. This situation will only be aggravated by the dangers faced by Pakistani troops deployed to fight al-Qaeda forces in areas bordering Afghanistan, which could result in more casualties. The consequence of Pakistan’s commitment to the cause of rooting out al-Qaeda could cause the country’s internal security to deteriorate, adding to the already considerable political and economic uncertainty.
Facing such a situation, Pakistan’s foreign policy challenges will grow, leading to a point where U.S. support may not provide all of the solutions. The outcome of these challenges will depend on the extent of Islamabad’s success in achieving the following important objectives: the future of its relations with its closest neighbors, increased international support for its efforts to reform its economy and its ability to convince the world that it has successfully implemented a new and progressive reform agenda.
Pakistan’s energies are now almost all geared toward realizing a diplomatic solution to its military standoff with India. Policymakers in Islamabad realize an Indo-Pakistani war would not only devastate the nation’s economy, but also slam shut the window of opportunity opened by renewed global economic support for Pakistan.
In the end, a solution to the Indo-Pakistani military standoff may require a series of compromises between the two sides. Although it could take months for tensions to subside, overcoming the danger of a war with India could help Pakistan deal with differences with other important neighbors such as Afghanistan and Iran.
Kabul and Tehran must be keeping a close eye Islamabad’s fight against domestic militant Islamic groups. Afghanistan has reason to fear the resurgence of the Taliban; Pakistan’s success in clamping down on Islamic militants would help to assure that such a resurgence would not take place. As Iran has long been bitter over the activism of Pakistan’s hardline Sunni Muslim groups against the country’s Shiite Muslim minority, it would welcome the repression of such groups as well.
Another diplomatic challenge for Islamabad is to ensure international support for its economy continues.
Pakistan’s economy has suffered in the wake of last September’s terrorist attacks, with exports and foreign investment substantially decreasing. Despite widespread international support, including a restructuring of Pakistan’s foreign debt, economic growth lags expectations and there’s little hope for a significant improvement in the country’s levels of unemployment and poverty. Pakistan’s economic outlook suggests that it will require considerable international economic support for years, especially if it continues to suffer periods of turbulence.
It is possible that controversy over the quality of Pakistan’s democratic transition may not immediately lead to fresh international sanctions, especially if Musharraf’s support in the war on terror continues to be viewed as indispensable. But it would be complacent to assume that concerns over a return to civilian rule will not once again dominate the global agenda once the fight against terror begins to die down. Pakistan will eventually be judged for its ability to reform itself rather than for the support it contributed to the war on terrorism.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.