(Raza Rashid )
The popular TV series Game of Thrones has earned laurels for depicting an uncouth and unadulterated portrayal of the dynamics of power politics. With a handful of protagonists curated with impeccable finesse and supplemented with intricate subplots to emphasise their character development, it is easy to see reflections of these fictional personas in real life politicians and power players alike. Art, after all, imitates life.
It is less simple however, to draw parallels between the constitution of a character with not just another person or a group of persons, but an entire state. Yet it remains possible, and offers an illuminating juxtaposition in this case.
Robin Arryn, a recurring character throughout the series, holds the august title of Lord of the Vale in waiting. Ostensibly, the title confers command of a formidable army of knights and all the authority that comes with. Yet, not only is Arryn a mere boy, his flimsy demeanour and delicate nature betrays anything but a commander in waiting. The reason being the sheltered upbringing bestowed by his mother, Lysa Arryn.
Paranoid and insecure about the safety of the young boy since being bereaved of her husband in mysterious circumstances, Lysa raised Robin in perennial fear of imagined conspiracy to inflict the same fate upon him as his father. Thus, every decision regarding the boy is propelled by security considerations. Withdrawal from public life, striking of alliances to ensure protection and disregard towards any social, intellectual and physical cultivation is borne out of the same inward proclivities. The fundamental purpose then is to simply survive, rather than thrive.
At the time of its independence, Pakistan found itself contiguous to a bitter and affronted neighbour, bent upon reversing the “catastrophe” of partition. The Indian zeitgeist in this moment was encapsulated by Deputy Prime Minsiter Vallabhbhai Patel when he said, “sooner than later, we shall (Pakistan and India) again be united in common allegiance to our country”.
In this context, the slow and incomplete manner in which India transferred to Pakistan its share of military equipment and the treasury of the British Raj was seen as being perpetrated by India’s sordid desire for a reunification. The first Kashmir war as well as Indian rapprochement with Afghanistan seemingly aimed at encircling Pakistan gave further weight to the claim that India sought to resign the newly born state into submission and attempt to reunite the subcontinent.
The combination of these factors fused to instil a deep sense of vulnerability within the Pakistani ruling class vis-à-vis it’s demographically, economically, and militarily stronger neighbour. The extent and subsequent implications of this insecurity cannot be understated. Pakistanis felt that they were virtually building their country from the ground up, as well as being economically, politically and militarily besieged by a muscular India. Thus, to deal with an existential threat of this magnitude, all ulterior considerations pertaining to independent economic growth, institution building and federalism were swept aside for the sole purpose of survival.
The Pakistan of 1947 then begins to seem uncannily similar to the Lord of Vale in waiting, preoccupied by a sentiment of fear and the desire to secure itself, which in turn ossified the pursuit of any holistic development or prosperity.
Domestically, the result was the crystallisation of the shift from a federal to a unitary state, as distinct provincialism was seen as a possible weakness that could be exploited by India to harness discord and separatism within the state. Globally, Pakistan’s foreign policy was aimed at soliciting a patron state to offer it protection against the India threat. Rather than adopt an independent foreign policy alignment and develop economic relations across the cold war divide as the Indian leadership chose to do, Pakistan allowed its overwhelming desire for a safeguard to exhort it into committing to one side of the divide, thus placing all its eggs in the same basket.
The USA was its chosen basket.
In return for using its soil to run clandestine operations against the Soviet Union, the US bestowed generous military and economic assistance upon Pakistan. This marked an initial period of wellbeing in the relationship as Pakistan edged ahead of its subcontinental neighbour in terms of economic and social development.
However, the subsequently capricious nature of the Pak-US relationship revealed the inherent myopia of a foreign policy that is dictated by security considerations and wagers solely on a single powerful ally.
The first reality check came during the 1965 Indo-Pak war, when the US simultaneously halted its arm sales to both warring countries, a decision that shook its South Asian ally to the core as unlike India the majority of its military equipment was US made. A bitter and wounded Pakistan then began to make its first overtures towards China, in a pledge to consolidate the vacuum created with the loss of what it had believed was unequivocal US support in a conflict with India.
But the China of the time could hardly replace the kind of military and economic reinforcement the US provided, and so the Pakistani establishment soon found itself back in consortium with the US owing to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This acrimony lasted only as long Pakistan’s utility as a proxy against the Russians however, with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as the collapse of the Union plunging US-Pakistan relationships into a vitriolic cycle of sanctions pertaining to its fledgling nuclear program and accusation vis-à-vis the latter’s facilitation of militancy in IOK.
US rapprochement with India and its political support for its narrative on Kashmir in the 90’s served as a specially damning indictment for Pakistan’s foreign policy choices since independence. Despite having served as an eager mercenary to the US in the epochal cold war conflict, it found its significance to Washington dwindled in comparison to the previously ambivalent India who had treaded a carefully non-aligned path.
Instead of adopting an expedient patron-client foreign policy approach as Pakistan, India had chosen the protracted and arduous journey to building a self-sufficient economic structure. Although it may have missed out on the early surge in development that was witnessed in Pakistan immediately after independence and through to the 1960’s, its economy’s eventual coming of age in the early 1990’s allowed it to offset Pakistan’s decreasing strategic importance through its viability as being one of the most valuable emerging markets in the world.
What was required after this second full circle of Pak-US relations was a critical rethink of our foreign policy paradigm. Yet, Pakistan continued to shun the notion of widening its trading horizons with India and Iran due to security concerns, whilst simultaneously funding a medieval horde of men in their conquest to capture Kabul for the purpose of providing “strategic depth” against Indian encroachment.
Again, Pakistan’s military minded approach in Afghanistan was counterbalanced through political and economic means by India. The result of these two diverging policies has been that today, the youth of Afghanistan sees India as a trustworthy ally whilst holding nothing but contempt for its Pakistani brothers across the border.
Today, we find ourselves at the conclusion of the third cycle of our relationship with the US, with Pakistan rapidly losing relevance in Washington post 9/11 and being scapegoated for US failure in Afghanistan. This time around, the powers that be seem to have finally decided to call it a day on our continued dependence on the US, promulgating a shift towards all weather friend China in the wake of its $56 billion investment for the CPEC.
This would be a grave mistake. The repeated itinerary of Pak-US relationships in the past 70 years has proven that a foreign policies curated around security barometers rather than a social, political and economic premise are brittle and erratic. So are those which make the economy of your country reliant on a sole benefactor. The continuance of an archaic foreign policy exposition based on the fear of India today when only a handful of fanatics who still believe in the idea of reunification remain is an exercise in self-immolation. If Pakistan continues to ignore a broader foreign policy approach that includes normalising trade with India and Iran, and instead co-opts the Chinese due to its geo-strategic utility as an irritant towards India and a conduit to Central Asia, it will be leaving itself vulnerable to the same ills that befell its US alliance.
China’s strategic needs will determine just how fell endowed the Pakistani economy or its security remains. Already in 1971, it refused to act as a diversion for the Pakistan armed forces during the East Pakistan war out of fear of Soviet retaliation. Just like the US, the Chinese will by no means prioritise our interests over their own, neither will they hesitate in repeating their 1971 precedent. It is thus time we give history the respect it deserves, rather than forcing it to repeat itself over and over again.