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No independent foreign policy possible with chronic dependence on West: Dr Lodhi

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KARACHI: Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations, Dr Maleeha Lodhi, has lashed out at Prime Minister Imran Khan’s public stance against the Western powers in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Writing for Pakistan’s largest-circulating English language newspaper DAWN, she has said that his foreign policy “seems to have become the casualty of a raging political war at home”.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s wider attack on the West struck an angry and belligerent note, she writes. “This was classic populist rhetoric and campaign oratory aimed to galvanize his support base. But it also played on a theme that his ministers and media apologists are now regularly churning out — of a leader heroically standing up to the West,” writes Dr Lodhi.

“In fact, his increasing criticism of the West has come in the backdrop of growing political pressure on him from the opposition’s no-confidence move,” she writes. “The more this pressure has mounted and public discontent intensified over inflation, the greater the ruling party’s resort to disingenuous narratives about an international conspiracy. The PM himself was reported as saying that “multiple foreign hands” were behind the opposition’s campaign to oust him.”

And then she asks: “Are these conspiracy theories setting up an alibi to project the prime minister as a martyr if he loses power? Is this an effort to find external scapegoats for domestic trouble?”

She believes it certainly seems that way. But then she goes on to analyze the circumstances of Prime Minister Khan’s stance.

“Since his Moscow trip and meeting with President Vladimir Putin the day Russia invaded Ukraine, the government has sought to blunt criticism of the visit’s timing by casting this as an effort to stake out an ‘independent’ foreign policy. This ostensible ‘independent’ policy prevented the government from taking a principled stand on the invasion of a sovereign state that clearly violated international law. Officials claimed Pakistan was neutral in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, but anodyne statements by the foreign ministry felled an impression of a soft stance towards Moscow. For example, official statements called on both sides of the conflict to “de-escalate”, raising the question of how a country that had been invaded was expected to de-escalate,” she says.

She points out that the government’s stance may seem to have as much to do with its disappointment with the US and the scant attention it has received from the Biden administration than with any significant stake in ties with Russia.

“In other words, past grievances with the West and a jilted lover syndrome with the US may have been a factor for its stance rather than any grand strategy,” she writes.

But then she says that if this was true, it would mean subordinating the country’s foreign policy to injured ego and not basing it on a rational calculation of interests.

“Grievances shouldn’t determine policy, only the country’s interests should,” she writes.

She also questions the claim pressed by the PM and his ministers that Pakistan’s foreign policy has acquired ‘independence’ on his watch.

“No one has explained what this means other than serving as a slogan or gimmick for a beleaguered government,” she says. In fact, Dr Lodhi writes, foreign policy under Khan has been marked by continuity, not departures from the past.

She concludes by stressing that an independent foreign policy has to rest on the country’s economic independence and inherent economic strength.

“Chronic dependence on bailouts, loans, and economic largesse from abroad for which governments have to seek perpetual help from other countries is hardly consistent with an independent foreign policy. Thus, the government’s claim of an independent foreign policy is just as hollow as its cry of ‘conspiracy’,” she writes.

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