The changing parameters of external policies

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As warfare has altered over the decades with the shifting of the ‘centre of gravity’ and the notion of the cold war evolving into Hybrid warfare, so diplomacy and the domain of what was referred to as ‘foreign policy” – but now is more cohesively understood as a state’s external policy – have also altered qualitatively.

Just as the Gnomes of Zurich lost their relevance once Swiss banks had to provide access and data of foreign accounts, so the Mandarins sitting in the enclosed ‘foreign offices’ across the world, conducting closed-door state-to-state diplomacy, are fast becoming an anachronism. Democracy and parliaments have been a factor in challenging the Mandarins’ closed-door approach to foreign policy, but even dictatorships and monarchies have had to move beyond the old style of diplomacy conducted behind closed doors where the internal dynamics of their states were neither a foreign policy agenda item nor an issue to be commented upon by other states.

The bipolar global structure in place after the end of World War II and the advent of the nuclear age saw shifts in the conduct of foreign policy. The cold war epitomised this changing paradigm with the two superpowers seeking alliances beyond Europe, where the bipolar lines were strictly drawn. The battle for hearts and minds began, as did the massive interventions in developing states by the two superpowers to place in power regimes favourably disposed towards their interests. Can one forget the folly of Pakistan in allowing a U2 spy plane to fly from the US base at Badaber which almost led to a Soviet attack on Pakistan? US political interventions in Latin America are part of recorded history.

It is difficult to pinpoint one event or time when the whole approach to external policy altered globally, but some events clearly helped change the strictly state-centric parameters of a state’s external policy emanating from the closed-door corridors of foreign offices/state departments/ministries of external affairs. The growing UN conventions focusing on rights of the child, the political and economic rights of citizens and on a host of other human rights issues certainly have been a major factor in expanding the scope of the external policies of states.

While the international system was traditionally defined as anarchic, the growing number of international conventions/treaties and supplier cartels in the field of arms control and disarmament gradually built up bodies of laws – international regimes – that states agreed to abide by, thereby giving a semblance of a loose world order. Another interesting development has been the assertion by some states, of the principle of humanitarian intervention to prevent genocide – in the wake of the Rwandan crisis. At present, though, this principle remains controversial and has not gained universal acceptance. Then there is the International Criminal Court (ICC), although it still awaits a wider acceptance of its jurisdiction.

The challenge to the post-1945 status quo posed in the 1970s by OPEC and the demands for a New International Economic Order (NIEO) – sadly now long forgotten – also had a role in altering the dynamics of international politics. As did unconventional wars, the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Iranian revolution (which gave the US a bogey to fill the ‘evil empire’ gap left after the demise of the Soviet Union) and the growing political asylum and refugee crises springing up in the wake of the West’s haphazard approach to what was claimed to be a ‘democracy agenda’ but has reduced itself to an agenda of bloodshed and chaos in the Middle East with fallouts far beyond.

So how is this relevant in the context of Pakistan? Many countries have totally revamped their external policy focus. Public diplomacy, economic and trade diplomacy along with civil society activism have become endemic to the external policies of these states. As a result, human rights and trade have become central to the external policies of entities like the EU, especially when concessions like the GSP Plus are involved.

Countries like Germany use the Stiftungs attached to their different parliamentary political parties for advocacy purposes – pushing forward what the Germans feel should be priorities within the developing countries they are active in. The UK uses DFID as a central operative for its external policies. USAID and other US institutions also play an ever-increasing role in US external policies even though the US still has a strong traditional politico-security policy framework it operates on.

Let us not forget the multiple non-state actors who have now been playing an interventionist role in many countries – such as Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and so on. UN bodies like the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have also grown in importance in terms of proactive diplomacy. The Kashmir Report is one reflection of this.

Nor can states make pledges to UN bodies and then forget about them. Pakistan, of its own volition in May 2017, pledged to invite two UN Rapporteurs: one on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association; and, two, on the Right to Food. To date, we have not moved on this and the EU has taken this up in its GSP Plus demands.

Thus, even within the scope of traditional external policy parameters, the mandate of multilateral diplomacy through the growing body of conventions that countries ratify has expanded from peripheral areas of diplomacy to acquiring a central role. This demands the availability of a division of international law experts within each external affairs ministry – to deal with human rights conventions, trade laws of the WTO, FATF and so on.

Unfortunately, the Mandarins of the old Scheherazade Hotel have yet to change their traditional operational mode. In an age of specialists, generalists dominate. Commerce, economics and human rights are kept on the peripheral edges as much as possible even when confronted with their primacy in dialogues on GSP plus, international treaty obligations, women and child rights, journalist protection and a host of issues that are now as critical to external policy as traditional politico-diplomatic and security interactions.

Security is still a crucial component of any state policy – internal and external – but security, like warfare, has acquired new expanded definitional parameters. The main stakeholders in external policy are multiple government bureaucracies, of which the Scheherazade Mandarins are just one component. Civil society and public diplomacy have also to be taken into account. States that have made the adjustments to hybrid external policy have effective external policies.

In contrast, we should ask ourselves why we have failed to effectively expose Indian state terrorism in IOK effectively on international forums – even in the aftermath of the OHCHR Report on Kashmir. Why have we failed to use international conventions to our advantage to show the progress we have made in the field of human rights?

While we still have a long way to traverse, we have made progress and are continuing to do so. Just as the Gnomes of Zurich had to confront new global realities of financial disclosure, the Mandarins of traditional ‘foreign offices’ have to confront the complex demands of hybrid external policy, which require greater inclusivity not exclusivity.

The writer is the federal minister for human rights.

Twitter: @ShireenMazari1

Originally Published in The News

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