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Tuesday February 07, 2023

Foreign tests

By Editorial Board
June 09, 2022

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari hit all the right notes during his meeting with his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock on her visit to Islamabad. On the crucial issue of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, which had previously alienated Pakistan from much of the world after former PM Imran Khan’s now-infamous visit to Russia on the day it invaded Ukraine, Bilawal Bhutto has said that Pakistan would like the conflict resolved, with limited casualties, while also reminding the world that Pakistan too is suffering as a result of the rise in prices of wheat and other commodities resulting from the war. The foreign minister also condemned – and asked for the world’s condemnation – on Modi’s fascist policies against Muslims and on Kashmir.

The other crucial issue for Pakistan as far as its foreign policy is concerned is Afghanistan. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto has asked for help for the 97 per cent of Afghan people who face severe poverty. Encouragingly, the foreign minister of Pakistan was unequivocal in expressing his hope that the Afghan Taliban would be responsive to the world community’s expectations regarding human rights and inclusiveness. He also rightfully highlighted the need for effective action against terrorism that has plagued this region for long, while also asserting that Pakistan would not want to be dragged into another conflict after Afghanistan. Pakistan has been bearing the brunt of the upheavals in Afghanistan, and it is about time we took stock of the decisions that our policy wonks have been making for at least 40 years now. Nobody can gloss over the fact that a majority of people in Afghanistan are now food insecure, and that food insecurity is now threatening Pakistan itself, in the wake of the current economic situation in the country.

Overall, our foreign policy calls for a careful reformulation to accommodate Western expectations without sacrificing Pakistan’s sovereignty. That is where finance and foreign affairs coincide. As inflation is touching extreme limits in the country and the currency is in free fall, Pakistan does not have many options left. But while Bilawal Bhutto spoke of Pakistan maintaining an even balance in foreign relations between China and the US, all this may be harder to achieve. Both countries see each other as foes in terms of many factors, including the development of technology. There is also the matter of CPEC and the US using India as its strategic tool in the region. These are all matters that Bilawal Bhutto as foreign minister will need to consider and sort out in the few weeks ahead. So far, the current government’s foreign policy attitude seems more sensible than the policies advocated by the PTI. But only time will tell how successful these are in terms of the FATF and Pakistan’s request for its GSP Plus status to be extended. Many tests lie ahead.

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