The road goes ever on and on


Analysing Pakistan’s changing foreign policy



Pakistan’s foreign policy seems to be on a changing course. Much has been written on the successes and failures of its policy, with more focus on highlighting those areas where Pakistan have ostensibly been trumpeted. For the opinions which criticise the current discourse of Pakistan’s policy highlight two major things: 1) Pakistan has failed to convince the World about its counter-terrorism efforts; and 2) Regionally, India has managed to Isolate Pakistan, as seen from the latter relations with Iran, Afghanistan and the US. However, the reality is somewhat opposite. Pakistan is not isolated, rather it has been realigning its foreign policy, particularly after 2011- the first time PPP government managed to diversify its “friends” in the International arena.

Just a few months back, Pakistan has managed to achieve a membership of SCO – not a little achievement. One thing is of importance that the SCO regime works on the basis of consensus, and Pakistan’s permanent membership implies Pakistan’s acceptance in the organisation by Russia and the Central Asian states. True, China has always been an “all-weather” friend of Pakistan, but this time, it was Russia, with whom Pakistan had not been historically very warm due to latter’s role in the US block during cold war, who warmly welcomed Pakistan in the SCO alongside India. It is not a small achievement. Now, using SCO platform, Pakistan can share its counter-terrorism experiences with the member-states, particularly Russia and the Central Asian states, for whom the phenomenon of “terrorism, extremism and separatism” have always been a problem. Also, it would further deepen the political, economic and cultural ties of Pakistan with the Eurasian belt. Hopefully, in the future, the peace in Afghanistan would further embed these countries together amidst China’s OBOR. And, SCO would provide a platform to both Pakistan and India to resolve their disputes, and the consensus clause in the SCO would make it imperative for Russia and China to providing their “good-offices” in normalising the relations between the nuclear powered neighbours.

Then, independent of the SCO, Pakistan has been building on its relations with Russia. As discussed above, Pak-Russia relations had been a victim of cold-war politics, with Pakistan into the US bloc and India – maintaining a posture of non-alignment – into the Russian embrace. Recently, things have been changing. While India has realigned itself with the US, Pakistan has been working on improving its relations with Russia. The recent joint military exercises and the energy deals between both the countries show that the things are moving towards a right trajectory. More importantly, Pak-Russia unanimous stance on the future of Afghanistan shows the emerging commonalities of interests between the two countries. And if we add China into this calculus, the Pak-Russia-China ties would play a role of “regional stabiliser”, especially after Trump’s Afghan strategy.

About Iran, there have been failures the way Pakistan had handled its regional policy. Culturally and historically, both Pakistan and Iran has much in common – common religion, culture, history. Yet, both the countries could not build on the strategic commonalities they have. Benefiting from the lacklustre approach of Pakistan, India has managed to deepen its ties with Iran, as evidenced from Indian investment in Chabahar Port of Iran. However, things are improving. After Trump’s Afghan policy and its anti-JCPOA rhetoric, we can see a convergence of interests between Pakistan and Iran. Both the countries want a regional political solution to the Afghan conflict. More importantly, the India’s deepening strategic ties with the US have, somehow, made Iran uncomfortable. On Kashmir, we can see Iran’s stance in explicit terms. So, Pakistan should build on these convergences. The first step could be the completion of IP gas pipeline.

Then, Pakistan has a good relationship with the European World and Turkey. There have been the efforts by Pakistan to improve its trade with the EU. Many new European companies are coming to invest in Pakistan, particularly the auto sector. And with Turkey, Pakistan have political, economic and cultural relations. Pakistan, Turkey and Iran have been working to improve their economic ties under the framework of ECO. In African continent, Pakistan have been working on exploring the African markets, which have a great potential, as Africa can be a big market for Pakistan’s export, particularly the agriculture products. So, the arguments of “political Isolation” are mere political rhetoric, with no reality in it.

Lastly, on Pakistan’s counter-terror narrative, it has successfully managed to inform the World, under the UNGA platform about the sacrifices Pakistan has made for rooting out the terrorism from the country. On India’s efforts of Isolating Pakistan, the latter has effectively turned around the tables on India by labelling India a “mother of terrorism”. Moreover, the Kashmir issue have once again reverberated in the UN. So, things are not that bad as they look. There are many flowers to pick from Pakistan’s foreign policy.