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Connect, disconnect and reconnect Pakistan’s foreign policy

What are the options for Pakistan to deal with India? The environment that surrounds Pakistan clearly dictates that Pakistan’s foreign policy towards India will be guided by security, that should be considered as the rule of the thumb. Pakistan will be taking a good care of its borders, improving its conventional and deterrent capability against India, while at the same time allowing diplomacy to try its luck on Kashmir, trade, crisis management, and people-to-people contact. Diplomacy , no doubt, plays a significant role in resolving long standing disputes. The appeasement of India, however, should neither be the choice nor option.
Will Pakistan be able to reduce the Indian influence in Afghanistan? A tough guess! Although the answer to this question is quite difficult, yet through a mix of logic, thinking, skill and imagination, Pakistan can develop an approach that can bring about normalization of relations with Afghanistan that should also aim at a reduced Indian influence as a crucial component of this process. Pakistan’s immediate goal should be to minimize and, ultimately, eliminate threats to its security on the eastern border, while India’s influence in Afghanistan should be viewed in a relative rather than in an absolute way. This means that India will remain influential in Afghanistan, because over the last 15 years it has massively invested in creating a pro-Indian lobby in the political and defence establishment of Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s foreign policy, therefore, by combining soft and smart power, should play a skilful stroke of public and economic diplomacy to counter Indian propaganda, increase trade and commercial activities with Afghanistan and work on an outreach to all Afghans.
How will the future be different from the past this time? The answer is very clear. India, as already stated, has grown economically and strengthened diplomatically, led by indian government may add even more offensive elements to its foreign policy viz-a-viz Pakistan which might include, massive arms buildup, conspiring against CPEC, defaming Pakistan diplomatically, violation of the ceasefire on the border with Pakistan, and a more potent interference in FATA and Balochistan. Pakistan’s internal problems as well as the conflict in Balochistan and Fata should give enough reason to India for becoming more offensive. Thus, India, by benefiting from its economic stability and diplomatic clout in the world and by capitalizing on the diplomatic lag of Pakistan, will continue to create more problems for Pakistan. So it should not be beyond the imagination of anyone in Pakistan’s foreign office that India would like to bring Pakistan face to face with a strategic fatigue or choke.
Pakistan’s military and nation as a whole have proved its mettle and resilience. This must be enough to make India understand that they too will be dealing with a different Pakistan in the times to come. And if the economic turnaround also made the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor be the case in point – then Pakistan will be even more stronger and different. So the change that Pakistan is currently going through is positive, solid and will have long-lasting effects. China is now a global economic powerhouse and its relations with Pakistan will further enhance in the coming years. Sri Lanka can also be considered as wary of Indian domination in the region and the sane heads in Washington and Kabul realize that Pakistan’s role with regards to any settlement in Afghanistan is vital and cannot be ignored. Moreover, Pakistan’s relations with Iran are expected to improve further especially after Islamabad’s principled stance on Yemen.
Afghanistan provides a mix of challenges and opportunities for Pakistan. As with India, Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan have been hostage to security. However, the biggest trouble with Pakistan’s foreign policy towards Afghanistan is its deep socio-political and economic impact on Pakistan. The past 35 years have proven the fact that any foreign policy towards Afghanistan will have great social, economic and political fallout on Pakistan be it the Afghan-Soviet war of 1979 to 1988, the era of Taliban or 9/11.
The only thing that one finds common when it comes to Afghanistan, is the concern among Afghanistan’s neighbours regarding the threat of terrorism,extremism and militancy reaching their borders. dealing with Afghanistan means dealing with a number of countries that include China, Russia, United States and Iran.
Since the United States attack on Afghanistan in 2001, Pakistan has been facing continued challenges on its western border. Unfortunately, promises that the Americans made to Pakistan prior to the attack were not kept. Resultantly, Pakistan could not develop a considerable support base or a strategic space in Afghanistan’s current political establishment.
Secondly, Pakistan, due to its own economic downturn, could not buttress its foreign policy goals in Afghanistan with economic tools. Thirdly, the mistrust between the two countries as well as with the Americans and NATO remained a hurdle in developing friendly relations with Afghanistan. While cooperation on security and political issues might be a hard nut to crack, economics can be the beginning point. Certainly, economics can play a vital role to bring the two countries closer to each other. This suggests that economic diplomacy must take the lead as far as relations with Afghanistan are concerned. Pakistan has the opportunity to develop an economic depth in Afghanistan, because Afghanistan is a land-locked country. It is industrially and economically underdeveloped and depends on Pakistan for transit and supply.Pakistan’s economic diplomacy should be clever and proactive enough to take advantage of the huge economic opportunities that exist in Afghanistan. More economic integration will have a trickle-down effect on politics and security as well.Pakistan and China have been enjoying close, amiable and ever-growing diplomatic, economic, trade and security relations since the independence of Pakistan. After partition of the sub-continent both China and Pakistan have been working closely with each other in many areas of mutual interests. As the time passed by, the relations of Pakistan and China have gathered more strength and dynamism. Currently these relations cover a wide spectrum of areas such as; diplomacy, culture, science, technology, economy, military and people-to-people contact. Pakistan’s geography attracts huge interest from China, The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is crucial for China’s economic development because this project provides the shortest transit route between Eastern China, the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. It is not only about distance, CPEC is also of strategic importance for China because it acts a malady for China’s “Malacca Dilemma.” So the huge economic opportunities that CPEC gives to both countries necessitate deep and growing relations between the two neighbours.Pakistan must bring dynamism in its foreign policy regarding Iran and the gulf countries. Walking a fine line between Iran and the GCC will be a major challenge for Pakistan’s future foreign policy.Our relations with the GCC, Afghanistan and Iran involve societal, religious and cultural factors that come under the broad umbrella of ideology.
No doubt ideology is an important part here, but it should not supersede the vital interests of Pakistan such as religious and sectarian harmony as well as social cohesion. Pakistan should know that the ideology has not worked in its diplomacy as far as the Middle East is concerned. Therefore, future foreign policy must revolve around our national interest. Geopolitics, security and economy are the main factors driving Pakistan’s relations with the United States. Pakistan’s relations with the United States have mostly remained driven by ‘ecotegic’ (economic plus strategic) dependency not by a long-term thinking.
Since the time of independence, Pakistan’s approach towards the United States has been influenced by the Indian factor. Pakistan has looked at its relations with the United States through the prism of security. One-sided economic dependency, as commonly seen in Pak-US relations is a major cause that has inhibited continuity and depth in Pakistan relations with the United States. In the future, therefore, Pakistan needs to end its economic dependency on the United States. This dependency when reduced or ended, will allow Pakistan to keep a good degree of strategic autonomy in its foreign policy and build long-term relationship with the United States.The changing regional dynamics is bringing a change in Pakistan’s relations with Russia. Although Pakistan has a long history of alignment with the United States and the Western world, yet terrorism, militancy, Afghanistan, and the changing dynamics of the region raise hope and interest in a renewed cooperation between Pakistan and Russia. Pakistan and Russia have had a considerable degree of economic cooperation and a high level of diplomatic engagement during the 1960s and 1970s.
Geographical proximity, regional security, Afghanistan, the US drawdown, China, militancy, terrorism and defence cooperation can serve as areas of mutual interest for both the countries. Pakistan and Russia can work together on eradicating terrorism and extremism. There can be no clear answer as to how much of a reset is likely to happen between Russia and Pakistan. But the realities of the region are changing. New dynamics are emerging that can form the basis for a strong relationship with Russia.
Foreign policy is thought as the facade of a country in the global community; as systematic, dynamic, effective and successful foreign policy elevates the stature of a country on the international stage. While a weak and passive foreign policy causes failure and may lead up to negative consequences such as diplomatic isolation, economic downturn and political chaos.
History, pragmatism, dynamism and rationality should act as a guide for Pakistan’s foreign policy in the future. protection of global peace and security must, as usual, be an inherent goal of Pakistan’s foreign policy. As an important member of the region, Pakistan must continue to work with regional countries for ensuring peace and stability.Peace and stability in Afghanistan is necessary for the peace and stability in Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan should facilitate talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Indeed, Pakistan should play active role in any effort that is meant to bring peace to Afghanistan. Pakistan’s relations with China will keep on improving. The CPEC will add immeasurable strength to the relationship. The only expectation for the future of Pak-China relations is more engagement and more cooperation on political, economic, trade, commercial, scientific, cultural and strategic levels.
Iran and the GCC are important areas of Pakistan’s external relations. Pakistan has huge economic interests in these countries. The success of Pakistan’s foreign policy will depend on a balanced approach towards Iran and Saudi Arabia. The stance that Pakistan took on Yemen must guide our foreign policy in the future as well. With the United States, relations will be conditioned by Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan settlement. As a thumb rule, the depth of relations between Pakistan and the United States will depend on the convergence of our national interests.
Although a reset with Russia is very much on the cards, yet it will take more time for the relations to take a complete take off. Pakistan’s relations with Russia will depend on the level of interdependence that exists between the two countries. Looking into the future, Pakistan’s relations with Russia should flourish, however, there should be no over excitement and emotionalism in this regard.

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