PML-N’s five tumultuous years

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  • Sailing through storms on the foreign front

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government has finally managed to complete its five-year democratic term, marking a history in the country. Since this is the second time a parliamentary government has been able to complete its tenure, it gives more hope to democracy and people’s representation in the country.

Pakistan is finally on the path to becoming a democratic country where National Assembly is not dissolved midway, bringing country’s affairs to a standstill. Although an elected prime minister was again ousted, this time through a judicial course, but it was still PML-N in the government and the parliament remained intact.

Having said that, political instability at home did not prove to be fruitful for the country in the external arena. The fact that Pakistan remained without a foreign minister during former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s four-year tenure is very disturbing in itself.

For whatever reasons – mainly not letting the establishment take over foreign policy – Nawaz kept the important portfolio of foreign minister to himself, it in no way helped Pakistan reap any benefits on the foreign front.

Analysts were of the view that a missing foreign minister took Pakistan ten years back in its foreign affairs.

Nawaz was ousted in 2017 and then finally came Khawaja Asif to serve as the country’s foreign minister in prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s cabinet. Asif also could not serve for long as Islamabad High Court disqualified him for concealing his Iqama (work permit).

This again left Pakistan without a foreign minister. The additional reigns of foreign ministry were then handed over to Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan for a few days until Abbasi’s government completed its term on 31 May. Among the lessons learnt from these five democratic years include that a foreign minister is just as much important for a country as a prime minister.

There were times in these five years when Pakistan could portray its better image abroad had a foreign minister was appointed. The relations with India and the United States – two key states that drive our foreign policy – saw an all-time low in this government.

In India, there was Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi as Nawaz Sharif’s counterpart who amplified an anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim sentiment in his country.

Pakistan grabbed a huge opportunity in the form of Indian spy Kulbhushan Yadhav’s arrest from its soil but we, deprived of a foreign minister, could not use it effectively against India.

In fact, the pressure from Delhi kept mounting as it continued to blame Islamabad of being a state sponsor of terrorism after Pathankot and Uri attacks while Islamabad could not even defend itself in front of the world. Atrocities at the hands of Indian occupation forces continue till date in Kashmir and there’s not much voice raised by Pakistan against it.

This neighbouring country which can do Pakistan lots of favours in terms of trade and business closed its doors for us

Tensions further escalated after India on 29 September 2016 claimed to conduct a so-called surgical strike on our soil which Pakistan army obviously denied but India continues to celebrate.

Ceasefire violations along the Line of Control drastically increased during these years. According to reports, in 2018 alone, over 880 incidents of ceasefire violations have happened so far, the highest since 2003 while at least 138 Pakistani soldiers were killed last year in cross-border firing.

Warmongering India pursued with its cold start doctrine and carried out its dangerous ambitions against Pakistan while we were too busy in what Khawaja Asif said ‘putting our house in order’ which still does not seem to be quite much in order.

This neighbouring country which can do Pakistan lots of favours in terms of trade and business closed its doors for us. Even the imports of fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and onions were barred, causing great losses to imports and exports and there was nothing Pakistan did to pacify the situation.

Coming to the US, long-time ally of Pakistan, with which the love-hate relationship gradually changed into that of a blame game. Time and again, the US alleged Pakistan of providing safe havens to the terrorists and that it needs to ‘do more’.

Luckily, with Khawaja Asif in office, we gave quite a reply to Washington, reminding it of how much Pakistan has done for the US, compromising its own national interests but that too was not enough as the foreign aid that used to pour in for our fight against terrorism was also suspended, mainly because Pakistan could not apprise the world of the sacrifices it has rendered in the war against terror in Afghanistan and how it still continues to pay the price facing attacks on its own soil.

Not only this, instead of appreciating these efforts, the US, in turn, suggested grey-listing and then black-listing Pakistan in the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) terror financing list.

Pakistan, on the other hand, went on with its follies appointing a businessman Ali Jahangir Siddiqui as ambassador to the US, an appointment based on mere nepotism, which is going to have its own repercussions.

Although Pakistan, under PML-N government, gained some successes too on international landscape such as the launch of landmark China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, inclusion in Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, hosting ECO Summit, improving ties with Russia, attaining Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) Plus status by European Union, etc, it seems like we are only left with China as our friend.

International isolation is what can be quite dangerous for the country but if only Pakistan gives equal importance to diplomacy as it does to defence, can there be a change in our outlook towards foreign relations.

A seasoned foreign minister is what we need to serve this purpose. Hope the next government realises the sensitivity of these relations and work out a foreign policy along with keeping the house in order.