Reshaping foreign policy

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Foreign policy is an aspect of national politics. If the national government is dysfunctional, foreign policy cannot work. This is because there will not be a coherent political framework for a successful foreign policy. This is the norm in Pakistan.

The foreign policy of a country, also called external relations policy, consists of strategies of personal interest chosen by the State to safeguard its national interests and achieve its objectives in the international relations community. The approaches are used strategically to interact with other countries. In recent times, due to the deepening of globalization and transnational activities, states will also have to interact with non-state actors. The aforementioned interaction is evaluated and supervised to maximize the benefits of multilateral international cooperation.

Given that national interests are paramount, foreign policies are designed by the government through high-level decision-making processes. The realization of national interests can result from peaceful cooperation with other nations or exploitation. In general, the creation of foreign policy is the responsibility of the head of government and the minister of foreign affairs (or its equivalent). In some countries, the legislator also has considerable control over foreign affair matters.

When Saudi Arabia expects Pakistani soldiers to fight in Yemen, it invokes religion and money to make its way. When Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Pakistan, official propagandists set out to highlight the economic and strategic imperatives that unite Islamabad and Beijing. When we talk about our other neighbors India, Afghanistan and sometimes Iran we do it mostly with hostile connotations. And then there is the United States, which dominates everything that happens in Pakistan. What should drive our relations with these countries and the rest of the world? And whit will be the impact of all this to our foreign policy? Is there anything our government is doing to improve the dilemma of Pakistan foreign policy?

These daunting challenges and crisis in Pakistan’s foreign policy severely needs radical revisions in some of its key foreign policy objectives.

Firstly, the national interest should be the only ascent of Pakistan’s foreign policy. All of our alliances should be subject to this key criterion. That said, no country can remain isolated and all relations between States, bilaterally and multilaterally, are therefore based on mutual interests that are freely determined and pursued.

But what do we mean by national interest? It consists of strengthening our economic, military and cultural power within our overall ideological framework. We must use our foreign policy to defend our territory above all against external aggressions and internal conflicts.

This requires strong defensive and deterrent capabilities. We must build on our relationships with countries in the region and beyond, as well as with international multilateral institutions, to attract foreign direct investment, start joint ventures and promote trade. All of these activities should focus on accelerating GDP growth, raising living standards and improving human development. Moreover, it is an essential function of Pakistani foreign policy practitioners to project the country’s power of persuasion, which must be nurtured in Pakistan. A foreign policy centered on national interests will also serve as a catalyst for national economic development and international weight.

Secondly, Pakistan’s sense of insecurity vis-à-vis a more powerful India has been the main atrophy of its foreign policy since partition. Its relations with its immediate neighbors such as Afghanistan and Iran and other regional countries like Turkey and the Gulf States have all been filtered through this security prism. Its close alliance with US-led regional security systems over the last six decades has also been shaped by this fundamental insecurity dynamic. The normal pursuit of the national interest has been mainly defined in terms of security by the successive ruling elites. A broader definition that emphasizes the continued economic and social prosperity of the Pakistani people as a rational goal of its relations with the rest of the world is generally absent from strategic thinking.

Thirdly, Developments in global regional trade patterns and the growth of Asian economies are forcing Pakistan to readjust the direction of its external relations, particularly in its neighborhood. Pakistan’s reluctance to become militarily involved in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen is proof of this new thinking. As Iran seeks to join the global economy after the end of sanctions against its exports, Pakistan is positioning itself to revive the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. To get too deeply involved in the Iranian struggle in the Middle East would intensify tensions with Iran and undermine security in Balochistan province. Improving Pakistan’s relations with the Ashraf Ghani administration in Afghanistan also reflects this broader shift in its foreign policy framework.

Fourthly, Pakistan’s foreign policy should be based on the inherent strengths of our country. As the sixth largest country in the world in terms of population with reliable demographics indicating that we are getting closer to 207 million people we should develop a policy that assumes we have a reasonable quality of human resources and we have geography.

Lastly, the well-being of a nation, the power of a state and the importance of its voice in the courtesy of nations are derived from the strength of its economy. Therefore, Pakistan’s foreign policy should be determined primarily by economic interests. For the first time in three centuries, from West to Asia, a historic shift is occurring in the center of gravity of the world economy. This offers Pakistan a unique opportunity to build a prosperous future for its people and to become a strong and economically independent state.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Quetta.

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