Foreign policy and its imperatives
Courtesy: Malik Muhammad Ashraf
Management of foreign relations is the most arduous and complex task in view of the fact that the countries of the world have divergent national interests and foreign policy objectives in addition to host of other conflicting strategic interests. Nevertheless, all the nations of the world in the domain of their bilateral relations as well as working together on international forums try to ensure that their national and strategic interests are well served. Every country, therefore, has certain well-defined narratives, and strives to achieve them successfully. However, the success of the policy objectives depends on a variety of internal and external factors, and developments taking place in the region as well as at the global level, which have a direct bearing on the policies of a particular country.
In the modern era, instead of use of brute military force, nations increasingly tend to rely on their soft power to pursue their foreign policy goals, which require vision and deft diplomatic skills and initiatives. The new narrative evolved by the present government in regard to conduct of its foreign relations has mainly focused on safeguarding national interests, contributing to regional and international peace, emphasis on economic diplomacy, diversification of trade, quality services to the Pakistani diaspora, and above all, building regional linkages for shared economic prosperity.
Pakistan has remained engaged with the international community and the regional countries to promote peace and security, and through its prudent economic diplomacy has been able to engage with the world in trade and commerce. Securing of GSP status from the EU is one example of the success of its economic diplomacy.
In the regional context, Pakistan has been in the forefront of the efforts to promote Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace in the neighbouring country, and fostering cooperation between the two countries to fight terrorism, though not with much success due to factors beyond Pakistan’s control, and not due to any lack of commitment and sincerity on its part. Nevertheless, the recent border management agreement with Afghanistan in the backdrop of the Torkham clash, and the new coordination mechanism evolved between the foreign minister of Afghanistan and national security advisor of Pakistan on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Summit (SCO) in Tashkent does provide a new ray of hope to get the relations back on track.
Pakistan has also tried to engage India for the resumption of dialogue to begin a chapter of tension-free relations. But, unfortunately, the gesture has not been duly reciprocated, and India appears to be mired in its traditional hostility towards Pakistan.
Pakistan has been able to achieve full membership of the SCO, and its relations with Russia have also attained a strong footing. Russia not only supported our bid for membership of the SCO but has also enhanced its defence cooperation with Pakistan. Russia is also helping Pakistan in building a gas pipeline from Lahore to Karachi with an estimated investment of two billion dollars. Relations with Central Asian countries are on the upward curve, and ground-breaking ceremonies of TAPI and CASA-1000 have already been performed.
Our relations with our great friend China have witnessed exponential enhancement due to Pakistan becoming a partner in the implementation of CPEC which has a potential to change the economic profile of the entire region, more so Pakistan.
Notwithstanding the visible US tilt towards India, there is now better understanding on Pakistan’s nuclear response to the Indian doctrine of “cold start” and the rationale behind the concept of minimum nuclear deterrent. Pakistan being a non-NPT signatory state has been promoting the cause of nuclear non-proliferation, supporting indiscriminate efforts on the global level to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons. Its principled stand on Indian membership of NSG and intense diplomatic lobbying, including personal efforts of the prime minister to write to 17 prime ministers, have successfully blocked Indian admittance to the prestigious Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Pakistan also has been a candidate for NSG membership, and has been consistently lobbying for a criteria-based approach in this regard. It rightly contended that if India being a non-member of the NPT is given a waiver then Pakistan is also entitled for the same waiver as both the countries fall in the same category. Our great friend China and some other countries have also opposed the idea on principle.
Pakistan also remains engaged with the US through the process of strategic dialogue despite the occasional hiccups, and partnering with it in the QCG for re-initiating a dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Our efforts in fighting terrorists are appreciated and acknowledged at the global level.
The foregoing facts establish beyond doubt the success of our foreign policy to a great extent. Nevertheless, some circles in Pakistan in view of the growing ties between India and the Gulf States and the recent agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan to build the Chabahar port, have been expressing the view that Pakistan stands isolated in the region as a result of these developments and its lack of understanding of the unfolding realities. I think that is a skewed and over-simplistic view of the situation. Every country in establishing relations and cooperation in any field is solely guided by its national interests rather than seeing it through the prism of its relations with other states. If Saudi Arabia and the UAE have forged any cooperation with India it must have been dictated by their mutual interests. That relationship is not at the cost of Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan has nothing to worry about it. Its relations with Saudi Arabia and Gulf States are too strong to be affected by bilateral ties between them and India.
And that is also true in regard to the agreement between Iran, Afghanistan and India to build the Chabahar Port. India wants access to Central Asian states. In view of its strained relations with Pakistan and no likelihood of it ever getting the permission to use Pakistani territory, it has no option but to find an alternative. Iran and Afghanistan will also benefit from it. Again this cooperation cannot be construed as anti-Pakistan. Our relations with Iran are improving. Recently Iranian President visited Pakistan, and he clearly said that Gwadar and Chabahar were sister ports. Pakistani side has also hinted at the possibility of cooperation in this regard. One thing that the proponent of Pakistan’s so-called “isolation” tend to forget is that Chabahar is not a deep water sea port like Gwadar, and therefore cannot be a rival to Gwadar in any way. Iran has also exhibited interest in joining the CPEC. India is a staunch opponent of the CPEC, and allegedly, along with the USA, is trying to sabotage this mega-economic initiative.
What I am trying to emphasise is that all countries are guided by their national interests in their bilateral relations rather than doing it at the cost of their relations with other states.