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September 19, 2018

On the diplomatic front


September 19, 2018

One of the biggest challenges faced by Pakistan’s newly-elected government is managing its strained foreign relations. The year 2018 began with Donald Trump’s explosive anti-Pakistan tweets that blamed the country for not doing enough to counter terrorism.

This undiplomatic claim was rebutted by Pakistan’s foreign ministry. But the sentiments of the West were only made more obvious through the decision to place Pakistan on the FATF’s grey list in February 2018. It is no wonder then that the new government has had to work on bridging these increasing gaps.

Predictably, the new government’s instant challenge was to look into Pakistan’s deteriorating relations with India, Afghanistan and the US. Its relations with the US took an awkward turn when Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi denied America’s version of their phone conversation in which the US claimed to have highlighted the need for Pakistan to take serious steps to not provide safe havens to proscribed extremist elements. US-Pakistan relations took a further dip when it was announced that America would oppose the IMF’s bailout for Pakistan and, a few days later, when a Pentagon spokesperson announced the US government’s intention to cancel its $300 million contribution to the Coalition Support Fund to fight extremism in the region. The timing was unfortunate given US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s then impending visit to Islamabad. However, Pompeo’s visit was so short that there was hardly any scope for reconciliation.

Pakistan’s troubled relations with India and Afghanistan are also connected to its strained relations with the US owing to their common grievance: Pakistan’s apparent lack of action against elements hostile to their security. The Afghan government views the recent spate of security breaches on its territory to have emanated from elements within Pakistan whereas Pakistan has counter-alleged that Afghanistan hosts anti-Pak militant sanctuaries.

One of India’s contentions is Pakistan’s inability to bring to justice those who they claim to have been involved in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Obviously, the recent move by Pakistan’s apex court to allow a group led by individuals boycotted by the international community under UN Security Council Resolution 1267 to run their charitable organisations is not likely to help soften these relations.

Nevertheless, some steps have been taken in the right direction. Despite India’s unwillingness to start a constructive dialogue in relation to the Kashmir issue, PM Imran Khan’s reconciliatory tone towards India at the Pak-India water talks – which took place in Lahore last month – and his willingness to provide relief support to the Kerala flood victims reflect a mature stance. Similarly, despite the setback caused to Pak-Afghan relations due to the closure of the Pakistan consulate in Jalalabad, Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s visit to Afghanistan to establish talks on contentious issues is a positive sign.

Pakistan would also have to be careful in choosing its allies. Although relations with China are only improving with the CPEC projects advancing rapidly, reports of the Chinese government’s mistreatment of ethnic Uighurs could alienate Pakistan in its relations with Muslim countries.

UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s recent meeting with our foreign ministry and his acknowledgment of Pakistan’s contributions in fighting extremism along with Canada’s decision to revise its travel advisory for Pakistan seem promising.

However, the caretaker government’s decision to support Saudi Arabia in its standoff with Canada over human rights issues is exactly the kind of misstep that the new government must avoid. Similarly, preferring a meeting with local journalists over the French president’s call might appear to be undiplomatic.

It comes as a sign of relief that there has been an emphasis on improving bilateral ties in a recent phone call conversation between the French president and PM Imran Khan. Only a rights-sensitive, progressive approach can lead the country towards an improved international standing.

The writer is an advocate of the high court.

Email: [email protected]

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