When the geographical and geopolitical map of South Asia changed following the emergence of Bangladesh in December 1971, India’s dominating role in the region became a formidable reality and a challenge for the defeated state of Pakistan. When the Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi proudly and arrogantly asserted after the surrender of the Pakistani armed forces in Dhaka on December 16, 1971 that her country had sank the ‘two-nation’ theory in the Bay of Bengal, the die was cast - exposing New Delhi’s expansionist designs in South Asia.
On December 20, 1971, the Chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, as a minority party leader of “United Pakistan” assumed the charge of Chief Martial Law Administrator and President, and in his first address to the nation, immediately after taking the oath of office, vowed that he “would build a new Pakistan” and will deal with the prevailing environment of gloom and pessimism with new hope, vigor and determination.
The “New Pakistan” which emerged from the ashes of Jinnah’s Pakistan was geographically compact, but faced several challenges in dealing with the wounds of 1971 and moving on in order to make a place for itself at the international level. Pakistan’s foreign policy had to be revitalized following the emergence of Bangladesh, and shifted its focus to West Asia and the Middle East. The Shimla Pact of July 1972 transformed the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir into a ceasefire line, resolving to settle all outstanding disputes between India and Pakistan, including J&K, bilaterally. The Shimla Pact also resolved not to seek unilateral alteration of the Line of Control, which Pakistan tried to challenge arbitrarily during the Kargil War of 1999.
With his enormous experience in diplomacy and foreign policy, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the new ruler of Pakistan, tried to revitalize the country’s external relations along pragmatic lines. Six new characteristics in Pakistan’s diplomacy and foreign policy in the post-1971 era were figured out by the Bhutto regime. First, strengthening relations with the People’s Republic of China and mending fences with the then Soviet Union. Second, new opportunities for expanding relations with the Middle Eastern and Gulf countries were explored. Third, promoting unity among the Muslim world was articulated, which led to the holding of second Islamic summit in Lahore in February 1974. Fourth, revitalizing relations with the United States in the midst of US suspension of its military and economic aid to Pakistan. Fifth, normalizing relations with India following New Delhi’s significant role in redrawing the map of South Asia. The Shimla Pact and tripartite Indo-Pakistan-Bangladesh agreement of 9 April 1971 paved the way for the normalization of relations with New Delhi and Dhaka; return of Prisoners of War (POWs) and return of stranded Pakistanis from Bangladesh, and the return of Bengalese from Pakistan to Bangladesh. Pakistan’s recognition of Bangladesh on the eve of the holding of Islamic Summit in Lahore was termed another realistic decision.
The most important strategic decision of the Bhutto regime was to proceed in seeking nuclear capability, which received an impetus following the Indian atomic test in Rajasthan in May 1974.
Sixth, Bhutto’s dynamism in foreign policy and diplomacy was unquestionable, particularly when Pakistan had lost the war and its majority province of East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Using his diplomatic skills and the art of persuasion, he toured several countries in the Middle East, Europe, Russia, India and the United States to restore his country’s confidence and prestige, which had suffered heavily following its defeat with India.
The most important strategic decision of the Bhutto regime was to proceed in seeking nuclear capability, which received an impetus following the Indian atomic test in Rajasthan in May 1974. The fact that there was a deep psychological trauma which Pakistan was engulfed in because of the loss of half of its territory motivated the Bhutto regime to seek nuclear power, in order to protect itself from future dismemberment. In 1976, Pakistan signed an agreement, to the opposition of the United States, with France for acquiring a nuclear reprocessing plant, which reflected Islamabad’s determination to protect its security from any future act of aggression. Yet, Pakistan earned the wrath of the US Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger, a warning which he gave to Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto during a meeting in governor house Lahore in the summer of 1976 to make a ‘horrible example’ out of him in case he continues with the nuclear program.
These six characteristics of diplomacy and foreign policy in post-1971 Pakistan failed however to keep in mind the absence of the factors which had dismembered Pakistan, namely political pluralism, strengthening democratic institutions, rule of law, good governance, and inclusive rather than exclusive development. Merely by focusing on some hard elements of national security and state building rather than nation building, the new state of Pakistan failed to deal with critical issues which led to its dismemberment in 1971.
Yet, the proactive diplomacy of the Bhutto regime - by mending fences with Moscow; revitalizing its relations with the United States; consolidating ties with the People’s Republic of China; normalizing relations with India; the diplomatic recognition of Bangladesh and opening new avenues of friendship and cooperation with the oil producing Gulf and Middle Eastern countries put vanquished Pakistan back on the track.
Pakistan’s regional diplomacy in the aftermath of the emergence of Bangladesh is a phenomenon which needs to be analyzed from three angles. First, the ‘diplomatic offensive’ from Pakistan after the December 1971 debacle reflected the resolve of the state to move forward instead of being bogged down in the trauma of 1971. In view of diplomatic skills and prudence of Mr. Bhutto, within a span of 2 years, Pakistan was able to rehabilitate itself regionally and internationally. The agreement with the Soviet Union to construct steel mills in Karachi and generous financial assistance provided by oil producing Arab countries to support Pakistan’s economy, along with a focus on Muslim and Third World unity demonstrated the success of Pakistan’s foreign policy goals. The deepening of strategic, security and economic ties between Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China provided adequate space to post-1971 Pakistan.
When religious extremism, terrorism, drug trafficking and sectarian violence began to take a toll on Pakistani state and society because of the Afghan jihad supported by the US, Islamabad paid a heavy price for its involvement in Afghanistan.
While picking up the pieces, as Bhutto had sought to in his December 20, 1971 speech, Bhutto proved the resilience and courage of the new state of Pakistan to restore its image which was shattered following the East Pakistan crisis of 1971. Getting support from oil rich Arab states and developing personal rapport with leaders like Shah Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Qaddafi of Libya, the Shah of Iran and Hafez al Assad of Syria, Bhutto’s diplomacy managed to place Pakistan in the center of Muslim and Third World leadership. Second, the fault lines in Pakistan’s diplomacy also began to appear in the post-1971 era when the martial law regime of General Zia-ul-Haq, succumbing to American pressure, cancelled the deal with France on the supply of the nuclear reprocessing plant. The paradigm shift in Pakistan’s diplomacy and foreign policy after 1977 reflected a compromising position on national interest and sovereignty, when Islamabad deepened its nexus with the United States to support the Afghan jihad against the Soviets, which destabilized the state and society of the country.
When religious extremism, terrorism, drug trafficking and sectarian violence began to take a toll on Pakistani state and society because of the Afghan jihad supported by the US, Islamabad paid a heavy price for its involvement in Afghanistan. Along with the Afghan jihad, the ‘Kashmir Jihad Project’ of the regime of Zia-ul-Haq also questioned the effectiveness of Pakistan’s diplomacy. Pakistan’s ranking in the human development index receded, and the fragile political process negatively impacted the country’s diplomacy and foreign policy. If Bangladesh, despite its serious economic and political crises had suffered in the post-1971 era, it began to take off by enhancing its exports and GDP through the empowerment of women, promotion of education, and a focus on human development. If Pakistan was being marginalized regionally in the recent past, Dhaka made remarkable progress in human and social development.
The way out from a reactionary foreign policy rests with political and economic stability in Pakistan, which can only be achieved through a focus on good governance, rule of law, accountability, human and social development.
Finally, compromises on sovereignty and the national interest of Pakistan, particularly after the regime of Z. A. Bhutto caused great damage to Islamabad’s place in global affairs. The marginalization of Pakistan in the context of the Kashmir conflict and its failure to prevent the Taliban regime in Kabul patronizing TTP are one of many diplomatic failures. The fact that since 2016, SAARC has been in limbo and its 19th Summit, which was scheduled to be held in November 2016 was boycotted by India along with Bhutan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan tends to raise questions about its diplomacy and foreign policy. The lessons which should have been learned from the tragedy of East Pakistan were forgotten by post-1971 regimes, and neither democracy nor political pluralism or inclusive developments based on social justice were taken into account. As a result, with the passage of time, Pakistan drifted into the web of religious extremism, radicalization of youth, militancy and terrorism.
Proactive diplomatic practices, which during the Bhutto’s time, were given priority, lost their focus. The nuclear test of May 1998 transformed Pakistan into a nuclear state, but it failed to salvage its national security when India absorbed Jammu & Kashmir after passing J&K Reorganization Act in August 2019. Islamabad, despite the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in August 2021 faced repeated security threats from the Taliban regime. The regional isolation for Pakistan that the Modi regime sought since 2016, finally became a reality.
The way out from a reactionary foreign policy rests with political and economic stability in Pakistan, which can only be achieved through a focus on good governance, rule of law, accountability, human and social development. Without ameliorating the quality of life of 240 million people of Pakistan, the country can neither salvage its sovereignty and national interest, nor can it restore Pakistan’s image at the international level. Policies which are pragmatic, realistic, and focus on planning for human and social development can have an impact on the country’s diplomacy and foreign policy in the years to come.