Aziz says better ties with neighbours necessary for peace and stability

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Dec 27, 2013.

Islamabad -Better relations with regional neighbours and an attempt to tackle Pakistan’s domestic security challenges should be the country’s main objectives for foreign policy and national security respectively, said Sartaj Aziz, the Prime Minister’s Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Policy, on Thursday.

Aziz was delivering the keynote address at a seminar titled “Rethinking National Security of Pakistan: Challenges and Opportunities” at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI). The seminar was held to commemorate the institute’s 40th anniversary.

Aziz, who enjoys the status of Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, said better relations with India and Afghanistan should be the first objective in spelling out Pakistan’s foreign policy and linking it with the country’s national security.

“If we have a peaceful neighbourhood, a very substantial part of our security dilemma gets sorted out,” he said. “Sorting out our relations with India is a top priority.”

He said Pakistan’s “peace offensive” with India had continued despite the hiatus caused by the elections and also linked economic stability with regional peace.

“We cannot achieve our economic objectives without peace in South Asia,” Aziz said.

After regional peace, he said Pakistan needs to reset its relationship with the US after 2014 in a new “lasting” framework, one that goes beyond Afghanistan and in which the world superpower does not view Pakistan through the Afghan lens.

Aziz termed the uncertain situation in Afghanistan ahead of the NATO troops’ withdrawal, the continuous problems with India, restoring Pakistan’s image abroad and reconciling global alliances with policy as some of the challenges. But he also highlighted the potential economic opportunities Pakistan has because its geographic location serves as a land bridge between south, east and west Asia.

Regarding national security, he said internal security challenges need to be tackled first.

“If we can address our domestic security challenges, it will be long before we overcome our external challenges,” Aziz said. “We need to put our house in order.”

Aziz said the mechanisms to deal with the complex national security issue in a broad sense have unfortunately never been developed in the country.

But he mentioned that the government has formed a cabinet committee on national security. The committee’s efforts, he said, will eventually lead to an integration of foreign policy, national security policy and defense policy.

Earlier, Maria Sultan, Director-General of the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute, and Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, director of Quaid-e-Azam University’s School of Politics and International Relations, gave academic talks on national security and military strategy respectively.

Sultan said 21st Century changes have made institutional strength the centre of gravity for national security. She said Pakistan, like any other state, needs to develop an effective communication strategy and ensure that the institutional strength does not get eliminated.

Rasul Bakhsh Rais, the Director-General of ISSI, said the traditional paradigm of security studies is premised on external military threats and is not capable of fully explaining the national security problems in post-c0lonial states such as Pakistan. He said the traditional national security approach obscures Pakistan’s domestic security issues such as internal contestations of power, militancy, sectarianism and coercive enforcement of religion by private groups among others.

“Security studies cannot be confined to military and external threats alone,” Rais said. “Internal security should be made a part of the discussion.”

The ISSI, an autonomous research and analysis nonprofit organisation, was established in 1973, following a directive issued by the then-president Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

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