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Wednesday May 22, 2024

Foreign policy dilemma

By Nauman Ahmad Bhatti
May 02, 2022

Pakistan has on multiple occasions found itself trapped inside a global conflict where it has been forced to pick one side. But in doing so it had to miss out on the prospects and opportunities offered by the side it gave up.

Giving up relations with the then-Soviet Union and now-Russia was a mistake that our policymakers have started to realize. But atoning for this mistake is not an easy task. It is difficult to practise one’s impartiality in this complex, polar world. Playing both sides is possible only by pleasing both sides. What it requires is a shrewd, spontaneous foreign policy – the kind of policy Indian policymakers drafted and made functional.

Besides India’s growing domestic issues, often gone violent, it has so far successfully endured the pressure from the West for reinvigorating its ties with Russia, especially during the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. It has abstained several times from voting against Russia in the UN while maintaining stable relations with the West. When the US and its allies targeted Russia with sanctions, food shortage became its fate. It turned to India for supplying food to meet the requirement. India complied. Recently, Russia and India also agreed to make defence deals. On the other hand, India is the biggest US strategic partner in the Indo-Pacific region in countering the rise of China.

How did India survive playing both sides? India finds itself in the same ‘geostrategic location’ Pakistan once held. Being a partner of the US in containing China in the southeast Asian region helped India build grounds for its neutral relations with both the US and Russia. India also remains safe from the possibility of a confrontation with China. Russia, being the ally of both China and India, would play the role of a mediator, for Russia cannot have its arms buyer fighting its biggest strategic partner.

The US could sanction India for its growing relations with Russia. But in this time and space it is not in favour of the American interest to do so. The US is in the process of acquiring support from its Quad allies amid the Russia-Ukraine war. This is well-known to India, which is why it is determined to seize this opportunity in its favour. Even after the war is over, the US would still need India’s support in competing with China.

This shielded foreign policy, which is also praised by the former PM Imran Khan, will help India strengthen its stance on various issues vital for Pakistan. On the Kashmir issue, for example, India has now two of the five permanent members’ votes in the UN Security Council on its side. The Security Council will, like it has so far, continue to pay lip service to the voice against Indian atrocities in Occupied Kashmir raised by Pakistan.

Had Pakistan built similar grounds in the past and the present, it could have been made feasible for Pakistan to remain non-aligned in such conflicts. Pakistan could not build up its strategy to form simultaneous relations with the US and the rising regional power Russia. Instead, owing to its unmet economic needs, it has to involuntarily take the traditional side all over again.

The economy of Pakistan, crippled with foreign debts, has never allowed its foreign policy to live up to its whims. But even still, a strong and uncompromising foreign policy can portray the weakest of a nation formidable through its diplomatic setting. Foreign policy is one of the modules of our state that has consistently been weak.

Can Pakistan ever manage to draft such a policy? Not anytime soon with a constant state of megalomania within.

The writer is a scholar of history and politics. He tweets @naumanbhatti_1 can be reached at: naumanahmadbhatti @gmail.com