The United States Institute of Peace* and the Jinnah Institute have together produced a report titled “Pakistan, the United States, and the End Game in Afghanistan: Perceptions of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Elite”. The foreign policy elite that the report’s authors consulted are “retired civilian and military officials, analysts, journalists and civil society practitioners” and their names are listed from page four of this more comprehensive version of the report (an earlier version of this post claimed that the interviewees were not named; my apologies for the error and thanks to @raza_naq for pointing it out).

I found the document quite disturbing, or at least one section of it. Check this bit out on the preferences of the “foreign policy elite” as they concern Afghanistan (on page 2 of the first PDF):

In terms of the end game, Pakistani policy elite see their state as having two overriding objectives:

• The “settlement” in Afghanistan should not lead to a negative spillover such that it contributes to further instability in Pakistan or causes resentment among Pakistani Pushtuns; and

• The government in Kabul should not be antagonistic to Pakistan and should not allow its territory to be used against Pakistani state interests.

Translated into actionable policy, these umbrella objectives lead Pakistan to pursue three outcomes:

i. A degree of stability in Afghanistan: Pakistan’s interests are best served by a relatively stable government in Kabul that is not hostile towards Pakistan. There is across the board realization among the policy elite that persistent instability in Afghanistan will have numerous fallouts that Pakistan is ill-prepared to tackle.

ii. An inclusive government in Kabul: Pakistan would prefer a negotiated configuration with adequate Pushtun representation that is recognized by all ethnic and political stakeholders in Afghanistan. Some opinion makers insist that a sustainable arrangement would necessarily require the main Afghan Taliban factions — particularly Mullah Omar’s group and the Haqqani network — to be part of the new political arrangement.

iii. Limiting Indian presence to development activities: Pakistani foreign policy elite accept that India has a role to play in Afghanistan’s economic progress and prosperity. However, many believe that the present Indian engagement goes beyond strictly development and thus raises concerns in Pakistan. As the Pakistani security establishment sees the dynamic, a reluctance to address Pakistani misgivings increases the likelihood of a growing Indian footprint, and in turn, New Delhi’s greater ability to manipulate the end game negotiations and the post-settlement dispensation in Kabul.

Here’s what gets me: this same “foreign policy elite” gets its khaki knickers in a twist if and when other countries seek to meddle in our affairs. But when we do it, it’s normal and natural. It’s as if we want to be Bismarck in a world of Kofi Annans.

A recent report found Bismarck's poster in 107% of Pakistani military cantonments

Just imagine the reaction amongst our “foreign policy elite” if a think tank in the US published a report which said the things above. Just substitute some names and see how it reads:

The “settlement” election in Afghanistan Pakistan should not lead to a negative spillover such that it contributes to further instability in Pakistan the region or causes resentment among Pakistani Pushtuns Indian Hindus/Iranian Balochis; and

The government in Kabul Islamabad should not be antagonistic to Pakistan India/Afghanistan and should not allow its territory to be used against Pakistani Indian/Afghan state interests.

And what if we were to read that, translated into actionable policy, the US should pursue outcomes such as:

An inclusive government in Kabul Islamabad: Pakistan the U.S. would prefer a negotiated configuration with adequate Pushtun pro-Western representation  that is recognized by all ethnic and political stakeholders in Afghanistan Pakistan. Some opinion makers insist that a sustainable arrangement would necessarily require the main Afghan Taliban PML(Q)/MQM/PPP/PML(N)/ANP/insert  party you hate factions—particularly Mullah Omar’s group Zardari/Wali Khan/Altaf Hussain/Nawaz Sharif/Chaudhries/insert politician you hate and the Haqqani network insert another politician you hate—to be part of the new political arrangement.

and

Limiting Indian Chinese presence to development activities: Pakistani U.S. foreign policy elite accept that India China has a role to play in Afghanistan’s Pakistan’s economic progress and prosperity. However, many believe that the present Indian Chinese engagement goes beyond strictly development and thus raises concerns in Pakistan the U.S. As the Pakistani American security establishment sees the dynamic, a reluctance to address Pakistani American misgivings increases the likelihood of a growing Indian Chinese footprint, and in turn, New Delhi’s Beijing’s greater ability to manipulate the end game negotiations and the post-settlement dispensation in Kabul political and military status quo in Islamabad.

Seriously, how do you think they’d react? One thing’s for sure, a few NATO oil tankers would get burnt the next day by “miscreants”.

Here’s my point: you can either choose to live in the world of realpolitik or not. If your realist claim is “this is how the world works, and everyone does it,” okay fine, I buy it. But then don’t be surprised or offended when other states do it to you. If it’s the natural order of interstate politics, then accept it as the overarching natural order of interstate politics. No selective application allowed.

If there’s one thing that unites the “right” and the “left” in Pakistan, it’s the belief that big bad foreign powers behave in an imperialistic manner toward us. What’s interesting to me is that very, very few people question our own behavior in Afghanistan. Our imperialism just goes by a different name, it’s called “strategic depth”. And it’s an absolutely unquestioned state of affairs.

Just sit back for a second and think about this: we, the country that regularly sees 16 hour blackouts and an economy in free fall, sees fit to push its agenda abroad, aggressively at that. Who died and made us king of the world? How many times have you seen a bureaucrat, general, politician or journalist say “Hmmm, maybe we don’t have the right to impose our preferences on Afghanistan? Maybe they should, you know, figure it out for themselves, and if they like India better, you know, that’s cool”? I just don’t get it.

*Full disclosure: I am on a USIP predoctoral fellowship this academic year.