Imran Khan’s victory speech from Bani Gala set future directions for the Pakistani foreign policy and it was well received in the neighbourhood and beyond; it was nicely crafted and delivered in an informal manner, touching many hearts and capitals around the world. While PTI put her best heads to form the government, things were moving at fast pace in the foreign relations domain, with challenges and opportunities knocking at doors of Islamabad. Starting from India, the good will generated by IK’s speech has raised the bar of hope in South Asia; off course Pakistan would desire a peaceful neighbourhood and less hostility.
Pakistan ended the year 2018 on a high on the foreign policy front as Islamabad started to regain glory at the regional level. The year 2018 which had not started off well with the US President Donald Trump’s announcement to cut off aid to Pakistan, ended on a positive note with Islamabad starting to make a comeback as a main player in the region. The US, which had discarded Pakistan in the outgoing year, returned to the talking terms after finding no way out in Afghanistan. Donald Trump wrote a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan seeking help in resolving Afghanistan issue. PM Khan in response said that ‘the US has realised that peace cannot be attained in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s help.’
Pakistan has achieved marvelous progress on diplomatic front by dint of robust and proactive foreign policy in a short period of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI). The architects of foreign policy remained focused on improving ties with neighbours through confidence building measures as well as maintaining a balance in the ties with major powers of the world. Furthermore, distancing from the mutual disputes of brotherly Muslim countries and trying to play a mediatory role in these disputes was also main focus of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s led foreign policy managers.
Foreign Minister Vice Chairman PTI, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi is a prominent politician of Pakistan and a seasoned diplomat as he had also been on the current portfolio in Pakistan People’s Party government from 2008 to 2011. He has been elected 5 times as Member National Assembly from Multan in elections held in 1993, 2002, 2008, 2013 and 2018 and has also served as the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs in the Federal Cabinet from 1993 to 1996. He took oath of office as Minister for Foreign Affairs for the second time on 20th August 2018.
A slew of meetings with diplomats and dignitaries from Iran, Saudi Arabia, USA, and China in quick succession have put PTI’s foreign policy positions through their first real test out in the open and beyond the contents of campaign speeches Days after the American pair had left, Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi’s meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi served to reaffirm the strong ties between the two nations. The reassurances by the Mr Qureshi, that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will remain the top priority of the new government in Islamabad, echo the soaring platitudes bestowed by the previous government on the alliance. While increasing Pakistani exports to China and setting up industry in Pakistan was quite appreciably discussed, a wide ranging review of the CPEC project which many people had hoped for may not materialise.
Perhaps it is only on the Middle Eastern front balancing the equation between Iran and Saudi Arabia where a change in policy was precipitate. The explicit support of Iran against US sanctions was a decisive step, which furthered the previous foreign policy of reeking regional cooperation with our western neighbour. While a quick visit to the kingdom bought up notions of further military assistance and cooperation with Saudi Arabia. There is a precarious balance here – as there always has been – but it can be skewed quite easily if the government wanted too.
As it stands; our foreign policy is one of continuity rather than of radical reform.
When PTI government took the charge of the helm of affairs of the country especially the foreign policy, Pakistan confronted numerous challenges. Normalization of tension hit Pakistan-US ties remained the biggest challenge for both the countries in 2018. Pakistan-US relationship has been a roller coaster ride. It has faced many ups and downs. However both the allies of war against terror faced new heights of divergences. Imran-Pompeo call has stirred new controversy. This posed severe challenge to the new govt. for re-establishing a mutually beneficial and productive working relationship with the US. Since, the US is an important regional and global power, her vitality for Pakistan cannot be neglected. Because, peace, stability and prosperity of Pakistan is directly linked with the conditions in the neighbouring country, Afghanistan, and the US is an important factor in Afghan war. Re-setting ties was major challenge for Pakistan and with proactive approach, now Pakistan has ably created a realization in the ranks of Trump administration that only road to durable Afghan peace passes through direct dialogue with Taliban. In this connection, Qureshi led team has almost convinced Taliban to hold parleys with the US officials.
There is no denying the fact that this relationship must be guided by national interest and mutual respect and not by the humiliation and disrespect. The recent regional realignment, wherein US- India-Japan troika has emerged to counterweigh Russia-China-Pakistan bloc, was also a challenge for Pakistan’s foreign policy goals. If Pakistan wanted to exploit its geostrategic location it had an opportunity in the shape of CPEC. For that to materialize, Pakistan should balance her relations with both the US and Russia. Though it seemed unrealistic, however, Pakistani foreign policy heads ensured that relations of a country vis-a-vis two major powers could be maintained on the basis of national interest, for example, though China is challenging the status quo of the US, despite being the competing rivals, both are engaged in bilateral trade. Therefore Pakistan endeavoured to balance her relations with the US on one hand and Russia on the other, while keeping her national interest uncompromised. She avoided to have close relationship with Russia at the expense of Pak- US relations or the vice versa.
Improvement in the Pak-India relations was another challenge for the new government; both the arch-rivals had gained nothing out of decades’ long animosity. Most of Pakistan’s domestic problems and issues with Afghanistan are still caused by Indo-Pak animosity. The Kashmir question is core issue. Without resolving this issue a long-lasting peace cannot be achieved between the two arch-rivals. However, Pakistani foreign policy drivers pushed India to the wall through dynamic actions and left no room of Indian diplomacy to work against Pakistan. This is why nowadays, Indian sole dependence of foreign policy is on Pakistan bashing but this narrative has stopped selling even inside India and it quite evident from recent Indian state elections’ results where the diehard Modi led BJP has been forced to lick the dust.
As regards Pak- Afghanistan relations, Pakistan wants peace in the neighbouring country and cordial relations. However, Taliban network, particularly Haqqani network, is the bone of contention. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of supporting terrorist sanctuaries, whereas Pakistan categorically denies the Afghan allegations. There is no denying the fact that Pakistan wants peace, stability and prosperity of Afghanistan more than any other country in the region, because the goal of a peaceful Pakistan cannot be achieved if Afghanistan is not stabilised and developed.
However, Pakistan wishes for a peaceful resolution of Afghan war. Since every dispute ends on a negotiated peace, therefore, Pakistan supports all peaceful initiatives for a peaceful settlement of Afghan war. The new government in of PTI proactively engaged Afghanistan to address their grievances and establish cordial relations between the two Muslim nations. Resultantly, now some sane pro Pakistan voices have also started emerging from arch rival Northern Alliance ranks too.
Third challenge for PTI government was taking forward all-weather tested Pakistan and China relations through further exploitation her geostrategic location and developing economically; therefore it remained focused enthusiastically on China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is a game changer and provides opportunities for Pakistan to play an active role in the regional and global politico-strategic landscape. In this connection, Shah Mehmood led team held numerous rounds of talks with Chinese leadership to expedite the pace of completion of projects under CPEC. Moreover, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi as well as Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa remained in close contact with Chinese President Xi Jinping and others. Close contact produced positive results of enhanced and increased trust level between both the countries for future collaboration and cooperation on diverse fields.
Another challenge on foreign policy level was to maintain a good repute internationally; for this purpose Foreign Minister Qureshi emphatically worked on global perception management. Pakistan’s narrative of different issues was successfully propagated and exploited in her favour to achieve foreign policy objectives. Those objectives would never be accomplished without a diplomatically vibrant foreign office.
Currently, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is promoting a foreign policy of not relying on any one of the super powers. Instead, given geostrategic importance and Pakistan is adopting a holistic, pro-active and long-term foreign policy. Under a successful foreign policy, Pakistan is trying to have friendly relations with immediate neighbours, strengthening relations with the countries that share the unanimity of views on different regional and global issues; including Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey.