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August 29, 2018

Foreign interests


August 29, 2018

For all the talk of change that a new government brings when it comes into power, there is need for a certain amount of continuity too, particularly in the realm of foreign policy. Allies need to be reassured that the new dispensation will not disrupt ties and Pakistan has to assure the world that the country will continue to meet it international obligations. At the same time, a change of direction can also be required. Nowhere is the need more pressing than in our relations with the US, which have floundered since the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. The government did not get off to an auspicious start when the details of the congratulatory phone call US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo placed to Prime Minister Imran Khan were disputed by both sides. The US claims that Pompeo asked Pakistan to take action against terrorists based on Pakistani soil while we insist there was no mention of terrorism. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is likely to run up against the same obstacles as his predecessor in dealing with the US: the Trump administration has essentially ended its alliance with Pakistan and there seems no way of reviving it in the near future at least.

The second challenge faced by the government is dealing with Narendra Modi’s India. The PTI government has been saying all the right things about seeking peace but it should know that it does not have a willing partner in India. Qureshi’s first press conference showed that the government may be naïve in its dealings with India as the foreign minister mentioned that Modi had written a letter to Imran Khan offering talks. In fact, Modi had only offered talks on terrorism and not Kashmir, a position he has held since coming into power. The PTI’s first diplomatic interactions with India will be on disputed dams tomorrow and there is a chance the two country’s foreign ministers could meet at the UN next month. These interactions should go a long way in showing whether the Indian government is ready to tone down its aggression.

There are other challenges ahead too. Many of our CPEC loans will soon be due and he may need to negotiate new loans from China or forgiveness of debt. Pakistan will have to balance its desire for close ties with Iran and the need to keep Saudi Arabia happy. There are sure to be bumps in the road ahead as we pursue peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban. This all is in addition to any of the inevitable crises that crop up. Having held the position before, Qureshi will be familiar with the contours of our foreign policy. Still, he may find that balancing Pakistan’s competing interests is more difficult than anyone anticipated.

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