The dark side of foreign policy

An important book questions Pakistan's view of the world, and the state that shapes it

On June 10, the Centre for Public Policy and Governance of the Forman Christian College University in Lahore invited Pakistan's ex-foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan to talk about his latest book, Afghanistan and Pakistan: Conflict, Extremism, and Resistance to Modernity (2011).

Not many foreign secretaries of Pakistan have critically examined the extremist elements serving as instruments of its foreign policy. Riaz Mohammad Khan was foreign secretary (2005-08), ambassador to China (2002-05), to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg (1995-98) and to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (1992-95). Before that, as a junior officer, he had started as a "China hand", trained in the Chinese language when he began his career in Beijing as third secretary. As a junior officer, he served in Pakistan's UN mission in New York (1979-86).

The book is about not only foreign policy but also the nature of the state shaping it. The reference to extremism and resistance to modernity in the title of the book is significant, and most Pakistani bureaucrats and retired generals will take it as a digression from the "pure art" of describing foreign affairs as practised amorally by governments in the pursuit of their national interests.

This, in fact, is the intellectual dimension of Khan's book. It threatens to expose the unfolding of Pakistan's foreign policy as a negative factor in the evolution of the state. This is something that no one serving Pakistan, in whatever official capacity, thinks of doing. The reason is loyalty to the employer and attachment to nationalism, where no impartial judgements are allowed.

He challenges opinion-making in Pakistan with the following observation: "regional and global issues, Pakistani reactions and commentaries often betray a besieged mentality verging on a persecution complex. In addition to an appetite for outlandish conspiracy theories, the political culture of the country shows a proclivity to look for extraordinary explanations, in particular for failures. Political changes in the country have often been attributed to foreign machinations rather than to mistakes committed at home."

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