Pakistan’s Foreign Policy in 2021: Year in Review

The year 2021 is drawn to a close amid the unprecedented challenges of Covid-19. Nevertheless, the year witnessed numerous developments that decisively shaped the contours of social, economic, political, and security affairs of the world. Pakistan was not immune to this and remained proactively engaged in pursuit of its foreign policy goals and objectives through various modes of diplomatic initiatives at inter-state, regional, global level.

During the year 2021, the Pakistani civil-military leadership engaged in a high frequency of state level exchanges with many important countries to promote and advance Pakistan’s national interests on the foreign policy front. Likewise, it also focused on developing friendly relations with all countries of the world, especially with major powers and immediate neighbors’ thus consolidating commercial and economic cooperation with the international community which Pakistan’s diplomatic commitments across the globe.

Revamped Foreign Policy
The year witnessed a major policy shift in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Earlier in February, emboldened by the national progress, prosperity, and sovereignty, the Prime Minister of Pakistan unveiled a comprehensive national security framework incorporating both the traditional and non-traditional facets of national security with economic security. This foreign policy shift envisions Pakistan as a pivot in the region with a focus on shifting Pakistan’s synergies from hard power to geo-economics. Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa agreed that a paradigm shift in indispensable to transform Pakistan from a geo-strategic to a geo-economic hub. There was consensus that Pakistan needed to leverage its strategic location for economic gains.

Later in July, during the visit to Uzbekistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan underlined the pillars of Pakistan’s “Vision Central Asia.” This reflected yet another new dimension of Pakistan’s futuristic diplomatic endeavors. Under this policy, Pakistan aims at an enhanced, tangible, effective, result-oriented, and sustainable engagement with Central Asian countries by forging strategic partnerships. The policy has five pillars: political; trade & investment; energy & connectivity; security and defense; and People to People exchanges. In the same vein, “Look Africa Policy” is also a key aspect under which Pakistan gave preferential treatment throughout the year to realize and promote its geo-economic vision. This contour of Pakistan’s foreign policy tends to establish economic orientated multi-lateral ties with the African states.

In the year 2021, Pakistan witnessed numerous impediments that directly or indirectly influenced Pakistan’s diplomatic endeavors.

  • Challenges of domestic economic constraints and political strife influenced national foreign policy apparatus.
  • The outbreak of COVID-19 formed the most significant global public health emergency to human society in the 21st century and it has also posed daunting challenges to Pakistan vis-à-vis crisis mitigation.
  • The aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban have raised grave concerns for Pakistan regarding the potential spillover of conflict.
  • Pakistan remained under the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) radar as the terror financing watchdog again retained Pakistan in the grey list requiring the country to complete concurrent action plans.
  • Combatting the Indian bellicose rhetoric and hybrid warfare challenges are amongst the major challenges that Pakistan had to deal with in the year 2021.
  • Although Terrorism and security threats were reduced in the country militancy, extremism, and fault lines exploitation by vested interests kept engaged throughout the year.
  • In the domain of geopolitics, balancing ties between the US-China, and KSA-Iran emerged as a major foreign policy challenge for Pakistan.
  • Successful deliberations with IMF for economic package and retention of GSP+ status of Pakistan were also the spotlight of Pakistan diplomatic mission.
  • Mitigation of religious indoctrination, anti-Muslim sentiments, and growing Islamophobia globally are among the major issues that Pakistan dealt with in the year 2021.
  • Pakistan also dealt with non-traditional security threats, in particular the climate change challenges.
  •  Pursuing a successful policy over Kashmir, Palestine issue figured prominently in the diplomatic maneuverings of Pakistan.
“During the year 2021, a high frequency of leadership level exchanges witnessed with many important countries to promote and advance Pakistan’s national interests in the external domain. Likewise, developing friendly relations with all countries of the world, especially major powers and immediate neighbors, and consolidating commercial and economic cooperation with the international community benchmarked Pakistan’s diplomatic commitments across the globe.”

Key Accomplishments at the Global Institutional level

  • Pakistan attained resounding diplomatic accomplishments at the UN and its role in global affairs vis-à-vis the global institutions l was exemplary. The Pakistan-sponsored resolution entitled “Universal Realization of the Right of the Peoples to Self-Determination” was adopted through consensus by the United Nations General Assembly. It was co-sponsored by 72 countries from all regions. The resolution unequivocally supports the right of self-determination for all peoples under subjugation, alien domination, and foreign occupation. This includes the people of Indian illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). Due to the universal character of the right to self-determination and its continued applicability in situations of foreign occupation and intervention, this resolution secured the support of all UN member states.
  • Pakistan was re-elected to the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for the term 2022-2024. The elections were held during the recently concluded 26th Session of the Conference of States Parties held in Hague in December 2021. The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and stockpiling of Chemical Weapons and their Destruction (CWC) – with 193 States Parties – is the most successful disarmament treaty eliminating an entire class of weapons of mass destruction. The Executive Council is the principal policy-making organ of the OPCW, which is responsible for supervising the effective implementation of and compliance with the Convention. It also supports the scientific and economic development of its member states in the peaceful uses of chemistry. The re-election of Pakistan to the 41 member Executive Council of the OPCW is a testament to Pakistan’s positive role at the OPCW. It reaffirms the confidence of the Member States in Pakistan’s ability to provide effective leadership and impetus to the work of the OPCW.
  • UNGA approved Pakistan’s four disarmament-related resolutions that are aimed at strengthening regional and international peace and security. The resolutions were recommended by the 193-member Assembly’s First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) where it was adopted by the overwhelming support of its membership. Of these, three resolutions dealt with regional disarmament, conventional arms control at regional and sub-regional levels as well as Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) in the regional and sub-regional context. The fourth Pakistani resolution sought security assurances for non-nuclear-weapon states. General Assembly acknowledged Pakistan’s commitment to promoting the objectives of regional and global disarmament as well as strengthening international peace and security.
  • In the year 2021, UNGA also adopted a Pakistan-sponsored resolution stressing inter-religious dialogue on promoting inter-religious and intercultural dialogue to advance a culture of peace and non-violence based on education, tolerance, dialogue, and cooperation in the world.
  • UNGA unanimously adopted Pakistan’s draft targeting disinformation that calls for a multidimensional response to counter all forms of disinformation that erode human rights. The 25-points resolution entitled, “Countering Disinformation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms,” was the outcome of extensive consultations with all member states.
  • UNGA adopted a Pakistan-sponsored resolution calling for respect for sacred religious symbols on promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue that underscored the need for respecting sacred religious symbols. It is pertinent to mention that the resolution is in line with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision of interfaith harmony, and combating Islamophobia or for that matter any other form of intolerance based on religion or belief.
  • Likewise, OIC unanimously adopted Pakistan-sponsored resolution on Islamophobia in a landmark development, the resolution was drafted in the context of rising incidents of Islamophobia in many parts of the world. The resolution expressed concern over Islamophobia as a contemporary form of racism and religious discrimination.
  • During the 45th Annual Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the (G-77) Pakistan got elected as Chair of the Group of 77 and China. The 134 members of G-77 and China reposed their trust in Pakistan to lead the Group in the year 2022.
  • Pakistan also hosted the UN Peacekeeping Preparatory Conference (PrepCon) on ‘Safety and Security and ‘Protection.’ That underlines Pakistan’s longstanding commitment to UN peacekeeping as a major troop and police contributing country. Pakistani peacekeepers served in 46 peacekeeping missions in almost all the continents of the world.
  • During the 4th Session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Pakistan called for Global Initiative on Debt Relief’ for creating fiscal space and reviving economic growth for developing countries and this proposal was also taken into account by the UN body.
  • Pakistan fulfilled its commitment to become an ambassador of the people of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, government boldly presented the case in the UN General Assembly and other key platforms which helped awaken the human rights watchdogs as well as the international media from deep slumber.
  • During the 14th ECO Virtual Summit, Pakistan urged for enhanced political relationships. Regional connectivity and integration have been proven to be essential for rapid growth and development. Enhanced physical infrastructure will generate economic activity, trade, employment, mobility, and cross-border exchanges.

Afghanistan Crisis and Pakistan’s Diplomatic Efforts

  • Pakistan remains central to the success of Afghanistan’s peace process. In the aftermath of the US withdrawal, Pakistan took the initiative of extending humanitarian aid for the people of Afghanistan. From the provision of humanitarian assistance, advocating for the formation of an inclusive government to unfreezing Afghan assets, it became vocal at all the global platforms. Pakistan was praised globally for peace and evacuation efforts in Afghanistan. It is pertinent to mention that PIA evacuated thousands of people from Afghanistan including diplomats, staff of diplomatic missions, and international agencies and journalists. Notably, Pakistan even allowed the aid shipped from India to Afghanistan via the Wagah land border crossing in Afghan trucks, ending an impasse over the transportation of humanitarian aid.
  • In November 2021, Islamabad hosted a meeting of the extended Troika, comprising Pakistan, China, Russia, and the United States to discuss the latest situation in Afghanistan. Likewise, Pakistan participated in the 2nd Ministerial Meeting of Neighboring Countries of Afghanistan and presented the idea of creating a mechanism for the six neighbors of Afghanistan to develop a unified regional approach.
  • Most recently, Pakistan hosted the 17th Extraordinary Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The foreign ministers from the OIC member states and observers, participants including a special representative from the United Nations system, international financial Institutions and some non-member states including the United States, United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, Germany, Italy, and Japan, as well as the EU participated in the summit on Afghanistan. Besides expressing solidarity with the Afghan people, the summit explored avenues for containing and reversing the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, especially in terms of food shortages, displacement of people, and a potential economic collapse.
  • At the beginning of this year, Pakistan and India recommitted themselves to the year 2003 ceasefire arrangement at the Line of Control (LoC) and agreed to address the ‘core issues’ that could undermine peace and stability.
  • Under economic diplomacy, Pakistan attained major success in the retention of its economic agreement with the EU. The European Commission retained Pakistan’s GSP+ status till the year 2024.
  • In July 2021 World Bank recognized the Ehsaas Emergency cash program among the top four social protection interventions globally in terms of the number of people covered.
  • Pakistan also attained notable success through its climate change diplomacy. Pakistan and the UAE inked a MoU for Green Cooperation at COP26. Likewise, Pakistan also vowed cooperation with the ‘Middle East Green Initiative of KSA.
  • Pakistan successfully executed its strategy to combat Covid-19. It earned global recognition for effectively handling the COVID-19, based on the “whole of Government approach”, “smart lockdowns” and the maintenance of “balance between lives and livelihood”.
  • Pakistan and, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation agreed to work together on the pandemic, polio eradication campaigns, health and development issues, and climate change.

To conclude, the transformation of Pakistan’s image as a peacemaker state, recognition as the best tourist destination, awaking the slumbering world to the Indian atrocities in Kashmir and thwarting the Indian designs to isolate Pakistan are the success stories of Pakistan’s foreign policy in the year 2021.


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About Mushahid Hussain Naqvi 22 Articles
The author is the Digital Editor at The Asian Telegraph and sub-Editor at Melange International Magazine and Research Associate at COPAIR with academic expertise in International Relations.