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Editorial

September 13, 2017

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On the foreign policy front

On the foreign policy front

The second leg of Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif’s multi-country tour took him to Iran, where once again Afghanistan dominated the agenda. Pakistan’s plan seems to be to convince as many countries in the region as possible to reject the US plan for Afghanistan and to then go to Washington armed with this support. Asif’s meetings with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif ended with agreement that the war in Afghanistan can only be ended through a negotiated conflict and such problems are better addressed by regional countries who have a much bigger stake in Afghanistan’s stability. This is essentially the position Pakistan has long held, and after securing China’s support, Pakistan now has Iran on board. In the last few years, as it has become clear that the US-Pakistan relationship is fraying, we have actively sought out alternative partners. Our relations with Russia are stronger than they have ever been before and with Iran being one of Russia’s closest allies, this visit allowed us to shore up support from this emerging bloc. Asif told his hosts that US forces have failed in Afghanistan – an uncontroversial assertion given that Nato troops have been in the country for 16 years and the Taliban are as strong as ever, but one which the US still refuses to admit.

Next on Asif’s itinerary is Turkey, another country that has gradually moved away from the US and is trying to carve out a place for itself as an independent actor on the international stage. There too he will find a receptive audience for his message that Afghanistan does not need further US war-making.      Back at home, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has tried to ward off fears that the US, in a fit of pique, will impose sanctions on Pakistani individuals who the US feels may be involved in supporting militant groups. It is feared that the US may put military figures on a targeted sanctions list to pressure Pakistan to support its Afghanistan policy. Abbasi explained how such a measure would be self-defeating as it would hurt our ability to battle militancy and hence hurt the US and the troops it has stationed in Afghanistan. The prime minister has pointed out that the more US cuts aid and blocks the sale of military equipment, the more we will have to turn to Russia and China. Pakistan and the US have been in such stand-offs before but the difference this time is that Pakistan has other options, particularly given that our relationship with China is the closest it has ever been. For once, Pakistan will not have to line up behind the US and its doomed Afghanistan plan just because it could not stand up to pressure.

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