In the changing regional and world dynamics, Pakistan’s foreign policy needs to have some important adjustments without which it would not be able to serve the national interest in real sense.
If we look at the changing scenarios in the world and the region, some are quite important. The foremost issue that has emerged recently is the situation after the killing of an Iranian military commander, Qassim Suleimani, by United States forces in Iraq. Another very important development is a possible deal between the United States and the Afghan Taliban. The third situation is Indian state atrocities on Kashmiri freedom fighters. The fourth aspect of the changing international dynamics is the efforts for cross-regional economic integration by China through its trademark ─ Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) ─ of whose part is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The fifth and the most important aspect in the prevailing international relations is the efforts by Washington to keep its global hegemony intact and the counter-efforts by China, along with Russia and also independently, to counter America on the global scene. The issues and scenarios make it necessary for Pakistan to make important adjustments in its foreign policy.
Insofar as the crisis between Washington and Tehran is concerned Pakistan needs to play a very cautious role. Although Pakistan has announced its neutrality in the matter yet Pakistan may not be able to cling to it for long. The reason is that Pakistan cannot deny the pressure and influence of the United States and, secondly, Pakistan’s all-weather friend, Saudia Arabia, is implicitly siding with Washington. So, there would be a lot of pressure on Pakistan to adjust its foreign policy. Islamabad would have to side with the US and Saudi Arabia because in recent years Iran has been hand in glove with Islamabad’s arch-foe, India. This can be gauged from the fact of giving operational control of its Chahbahar seaport to India. Chahbahar is compared to Pakistan’s strategic seaport of Gwadar, whose operational control is with Pakistan’s closest ally, China. As Washington would need Pakistan’s support in its rivalry with Iran, Islamabad could take advantage of the situation to further its ties with China on Gwadar and also galvanize implementation of the CPEC without hassles from Washington. Islamabad needs to use the emergent situation between Washington and Tehran to its national interest. Nevertheless, Pakistan would ill-afford to fully ditch Iran, as it is an important neighbour, so Islamabad also needs to use the situation to convey to Iran that whatever measures it has been supporting could boomerang.
In the likely deal between Washington and the Afghan Taliban, the role of Pakistan would be and has been central. If the agreement between the Taliban and Washington is arrived at within the next few months, as disclosed by the recalcitrant Taliban side, Islamabad’s role would yet again become central in the post-deal situation. Indubitably, Pakistan’s influence on the Taliban has been quite strong for a host of reasons, including a lot of its members getting education at Pakistani madrassas and taking refuge of their key commanders’ families in the country. In the post-deal situation, the Taliban may try to capture state power and it could be Pakistan to ask the militia leadership to desist from doing, to avoid pushing Afghanistan once again into total chaos, having deleterious efforts on Pakistan and the entire region.
As Washington will withdraw all its forces from Afghanistan but may keep its key military bases there, Pakistan has to act very cautiously in the situation. Although Pakistan has long abandoned its policy of “Strategic Depth” in Afghanistan yet there are some elements in the country which yearn for such a strategic space in Afghanistan. However, the ground situation in Afghanistan has drastically changed and the Pakistan leadership must be fully aware of it. It seems that Pakistani policymakers are quite aware of that in the last few years, therefore, they came up with the initiative to fence the border with Afghanistan. Fencing the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the Durand Line, has been one of right decisions. After setting up the fence, Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan should also be very straightforward; supporting all the political forces in Afghanistan which could bring stability to the war-ravaged country. In this regard, Pakistan’s longstanding support for the idea of a broad-based multi-ethnic government in Afghanistan has become the need of the hour.
As India, through an amendment to its state constitution, put an end to the special status of its occupied Kashmir and is unleashing terror on millions of Indian Muslims by coming up with biased laws, Pakistan shall step up its diplomatic efforts to expose Indian atrocities and human rights violations. However, Islamabad must at the same time look for ways and means to engage with India despite the fact that a chauvinist Hindu, Narendra Modi, has been in power for the second time on the trot there. Thus, Islamabad has a compulsion as India is its neighbour which cannot be replaced, so it has to engage with it for regional stability and stop Delhi from fomenting unrest in Pakistan through various means. As it is the matter of Pakistan’s national interest, therefore, it has to go to any extent to engage with India. Therefore, the Pakistan leadership has to demonstrate the political will in this regard.
In the last few months, or for that matter, since the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has come to power, the implementation of CPEC projects has seen significantly sluggishness. Pakistan foreign policy makers must make themselves believe to the extent of internalizing that the CPEC is a matter of Pakistan’s economic development and, therefore, the projects have to be expeditiously pursued and no delay or red-tape is tolerable in this regard. There is a need to make more proactive engagements with China and working together on the CPEC should not be limited to lip service. Pakistan must do whatever it can not only to make the CPEC but also the BRI a success as it would open unlimited vistas of economic development for the country.
As Washington is trying to maintain its global power status intact and it is being strongly challenged by China and increasingly Russia, Islamabad has to keep its neutrality in this regard. Siding with either Washington or Beijing-Moscow would be counterproductive for the national interest of Pakistan. Washington’s powerful status is an established fact and it cannot be denied by any means. Whereas, the emerging world power status of China is a reality but Islamabad should not over-rely on Beijing.