Tuesday July 05, 2022

Pakistan’s foreign policy: Transition, prospects and perspectives

August 14, 2018

In the international political and strategic system where multiple world orders are contending for power and projection, Pakistan has sailed through the murky waters in the past seven decades of existence with ambitions set forth by its founding forefathers. It was a rollercoaster bumpy ride for the country over the years, adjusting itself with emerging changing strategic environment. Even being one of the largest Muslim nations, bordering Afghanistan, Iran, India, and China, Pakistan has remained as a key player in the Middle East and Asia. Although carrying along significant national assets that include strategic geographical location, complex historical past, size and nature of the population, abundance of national wealth, Pakistan has remained dependent upon external and internal actors and factors.

Our construct of relations with the countries remained also dominant by our quest for economic prosperity and cooperation subject to peace, security and stability at the domestic level. These themes have not only defined our past but will remain dominant in coming years as well. Moreover, the role, perception and style of leadership helped in shaping, designing and implementing the foreign policy and nature of relations in the international arena.

Over the years, Pakistan has managed to adjust itself with the changing geo-strategic and security environment of the international system through tough and tumultuous decisions. From isolation to integration, descent to ascent, compromise to cooperation, Pakistan’s foreign policy translates trends of challenges, trials and prospects over the past seven decades.

Pakistan remained unable to adopt balanced foreign policy choices to achieve its strategic, political, security and economic interest as were desired. Now as the new democratically elected government is all set to take oath with the vision of change and revolution as an engaging slogan, Imran Khan in his victory speech outlined the foreign policy dimension of his government. With domestic stability, Pakistan is expected to set the course towards evolving regional and international politics in the direction of cooperation, integration with an aim towards economic prosperity with peace and stability. This new outlook will help Pakistan to come out of its varied challenges to play a positive role at domestic, regional and international levels.

At the time of Independence, during evolutionary phase of foundation, our founding fathers laid down a roadmap for Pakistan’s constructive engagement based on basic fundamental principles explained in the 1973 Constitution. The Article 20 of 1973 Constitution states: “The State shall endeavour to preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic unity, support the common interests of the people of Asia, Africa and Latin America, promote international peace and security, foster goodwill and friendly relations among all nations and encourage the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means.” This provision provides solid direction to Pakistan towards developing comprehensive foreign policy with the fellow Muslim countries, close and extended neighbouring countries of the region and beyond. However, there was also notion of balance maintained in the guiding principles but the tilting towards the west. There was not a particular mention about dealing with the major powers. However, with its liberalism driven and western tilt had resulted into Pakistan’s diversion towards the US and west since the time of its inception.

This western ideological orientation caused Pakistan not to send the envoy till the end of 1949 in Soviet Capital. Soon after, the invitation from Russia was ignored as a result of this western minded elite and the then Prime Minister moved to Washington for his first official visit. With growing closeness to the western camp, Pakistan moved away from the other major powers causing the misperception, existing till today including Russian Federation. However, understanding of changing parameters of international, regional political and security environment, Pakistan must continue to have a thrust towards developing close relations with Russian Federation at equal level for having a balanced foreign policy.

Although new trends have been witnessed recently in Pak-Russia relations; however there is a strong need to have a pragmatic and diversified foreign policy based on the principle of having close and cordial relations with all major powers.

During the early years, the foreign policy pundits made a substantial contribution towards declaring People’s Republic of China as close friend to Pakistan. This lasting friendship is growing ever since and beyond any challenge and hindrance is considered to have passed the test of time. Later we have witnessed support of China during Pakistan’s wars with India, maintained a steady economic cooperation over the years with recent emergence of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and recent induction of Pakistan in Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Pakistan needs to tap this opportunity of the recent growing trend wherein after many centuries; the centre of gravity of the world is shifting from west to the east with Asia with abundance of economic dividends. With wisdom and farsightedness, Pakistan can build a prosperous future for its people through its closeness with China. States follow their national interests and there is not permanent friend or enemy in the international system however we need to capitalise and learn from the Chinese experience of eradicating corruption and especially their program on poverty alleviation. China is our corner stone of foreign policy emerging as the largest economy of the world, Pakistan needs to capitalise the recent trends without missing any chance now.

Since the last several decades, Pakistan remained involved in Afghan war and aligned itself with the US, before supporting the Taliban who became powerful to rule Afghanistan in the ‘90s. Pakistan-Afghan relations also remained at the hot water as a result of this western notion of Pakistan’s foreign policy dimension. The decision of joining the US-led alliance in the aftermath of the 9/11 has long impacted on Pakistan’s political, strategic, economic and social landscape. Pakistan’s relationship with the US remained as a marriage of inconvenience for long and had fraught relations for the past three decades or so. Pakistan became the non NATO ally and faced brunt of the terrorism more than any other country in the coalition against the war on terror, unleashed after the incidents. But these sacrifices and support in the War on Terrorism made by Pakistan have been overlooked by the successive US governments.

The US and west has always asked Pakistan to do more and the accusations of deception, lies and providing safe haven to terrorists are few of the allegations that the US has continued to level, putting Pakistan into difficult situations. With recent motion, backed by the European nations, to put Pakistan on global terrorism financing watch list, there is another blow to the long time tough relations.

Now it is time for Pakistan to have a constructive and balanced engagement with the US and west on equal, reliable and strong footing. Pakistan also needs competent Ambassadors in all the capitals of these countries of the west and US to put the case in a better manner, without having any political favours whatsoever. Apart from that, the new government needs to work with the military to help develop a political settlement with lasting peace in Afghanistan

Pakistan also needs to look critically towards its engagement with India. Both states remained at loggerheads especially on the Kashmir dispute which requires both states to dialogue involving the wishes and aspirations of the Kashmiri people. Over the decades, various twists and turns and position change by Pakistani leadership on Kashmir dispute, has created mistrust and disappointment amongst the populace in the disputed region especially denting their just resistance movement. Now with the new emerging trends and changing regional dimensions, Pakistan, after standing firm on its Kashmir policy without compromising the sovereignty, should began positive engagement with India through trade and business cooperation. Pakistan has missed abundance of water under the bridge and now it is time to make some rational and positive choices to further the objective of resolving the Kashmir dispute. This can only be achieved through political dialogue and economic engagement with India.

On Iran, Pakistan has missed the bus on several occasions in the past seven decades. The relations remain tricky, challenging and complicated between Pakistan and Iran. Both the states, though important countries in the Islamic block, remained suspicious of each other over the decades. Recently Pakistan became the member of the Saudi-led alliance while Pakistan is concerned with the Indian presence in Chabahar with fear of Indian involvement in neighbouring Balochistan. With Iran being keen to join CPEC, Pakistan possesses a chance to amplify the marine potential of Gawader, adding to that Iran can prove to be a long-term ally. There is nothing more sensible than having a pragmatic neighbour who is on-board. On Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries of the Gulf region, Pakistan needs to take a neutral stance and should play a pragmatic role in resolving the issues rather than taking sides to anyone.

Pakistan is at the cross roads now when the new democratically elected government is in power wherein it is on the statecraft as to how it utilises and seizes the moment to translate it into benefits for the national, regional and at global level. With its robust, capable and fully functional foreign office and a full time focused and dedicated minister of foreign affairs, Pakistan will be able to put forward its national and international relations.

Tantalising the aroma of the emerging trends, Pakistan needs to extend its way forward via its new leader in the shape of Imran Khan, who has pulled overwhelming response from all quarters of the world, even before taking oath as the next Prime Minister. Amid all such changing political and economic state of affairs, challenges are great, both external and internal. Sincere efforts and devotion can really bring about the change that is being dreamed off for “Naya Pakistan.”

—The writer is Founder President, Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies and Pakistan Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Friendship Forum. She is currently doctoral fellow at School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University with special focus on Public Diplomacy