New Horizons

By admin Mar27,2023 #pakistan malaysia

The early political leader of Pakistan, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, preferred the capitalist over the communist bloc in the foreign policy realm.

The guiding principles of Pakistan’s foreign policy included peaceful and friendly relations with neighbours, cooperation with the United Nations members and Pakistan’s projection as a leading Muslim state.

By mid-1950s the then chief of Pakistan Army, Gen Ayub Khan, had been appointed a minister. Gen Ayub’s input was crucial in Pakistan’s decision to sign a Mutual Defence Assistance Agreement with the US in May 1954. A few months later, Pakistan joined the US-led Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) and, a year later, the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO). Post-1958 coup, the Ayub-led military assumed direct control over the foreign policy.

Little wonder, Khan visited the US and made Pakistan a closer US partner vis-à-vis the communist USSR. Consequently, Pakistan received American military aid and hardware that helped with military modernisation. However, Pakistan’s war with India in 1965 impacted bilateral relations. In the post-war period, the Ayub regime tilted towards China whose relations with India had already deteriorated due to 1962 war.

China remained relevant during the Yahya years when Pakistan played a crucial role in the US-China rapprochement. Pakistan, it seems, wanted to balance its ties with the US by cultivating a close defence partnership with China. Hence, China-Pakistan defence and military cooperation strengthened under the civilian government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto whereas US-Pakistan relations remained at a low ebb Pakistan quit both the SEATO and the CENTO during the 1970s. Besides, Pakistan’s relations with India and Afghanistan remained hostile during the period. Its relations with key Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, gained strategic confidence.

The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 invited American wrath coupled with the Saudi money and ideology and logistical support from Pakistan. Hence, the US-Pakistan relations improved tactically. Pakistan remained preoccupied with India in the 1980s too, i.e. Siachen Glacier. The Geneva Accords (1988) paved a way for the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Subsequently, the US-Pakistan transactional partnership saw a downward trend in the immediate post-Cold War period. Hence, Pakistan faced nuclear sanctions during the 1990s. On the other hand, China-Pakistan relations flourished in military-strategic terms. During this decade, the civil leadership particularly Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif tried to control the country’s foreign policy. Under Musharraf, the military played a pivotal role in making Pakistan’s foreign policy. Tactically, US-Pakistan relations improved once again. Strategically, China-Pakistan relations remained intact. India remained a top security threat in military calculations. In addition, Afghanistan was bracketed with India. The latter’s influence increased in the post-Taliban period. Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Malaysia remained cordial. However, Iran-Pakistan ties did not improve owing largely to mutual mistrust.

In the post-Musharraf period, the Obama administration pushed Pakistan to “do more” in the global War on Terror. Contextually, the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 commonly called the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act was enacted. It committed US to providing $7.5 billion in non-military aid to Pakistan over a five-year period. If US-Pakistan relations were off the hook, China-Pakistan relations remained on track. President Zardari paid several visits to China in his five-year tenure. From the Chinese side, Premier Li Keqiang visited Pakistan in May 2013. Besides, Pakistan’s relations with key Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates remained stable. Pakistan-Iran relations during this period gained some limelight with the visits by President Zardari to resume discussions on the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. Operationally, however, the two countries did not get over mutual misgivings.

As prime minister, Nawaz Sharif kept the portfolio of foreign minister to himself to operationalise his foreign policy ideas. He had previously tried, among other things, to make peace with India despite the military’s disapproval.

Sharif’s participation in the inaugural ceremony of India’s right-wing prime minister, Narendra Modi in 2014, arguably manifested his desire to normalise Pakistan’s trade relations with India. Another important development under Sharif related to China-Pakistan relations. The two sides signed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement, thus, adding the economic dimension to bilateral engagement. As regards Riyadh, while Sharif enjoyed close personal relations with the Saudi monarchs, the Raheel-led military made the key decisions on bilateral cooperation.

Under Imran Khan, the civil and military leaders appeared to be on the same page. However, the military took the lead to determine the contours of foreign policy with China, Turkey, England, Saudi Arabia and, above all, the United States. The latter under Trump cut off military aid for Pakistan. This might have shocked some leaders in Pakistan but was in keeping with the US foreign policy under Trump who also antagonized several NATO allies. However, US officials engaged with the Pakistani authorities especially the military on Afghanistan. In July 2019, Gen Bajwa accompanied Prime Minister Khan to the US. The former met with key officials of the Trump Administration and discussed Afghanistan affairs at length. Unsurprisingly, then, Pakistan had been a key member of the quadrilateral group on Afghanistan. Militarily withdrawing from Afghanistan in September 2021, the US urged Pakistan to work with the former to ensure a negotiated settlement of political authority in Afghanistan.

Both the civil and military leaders pursued warm relations was Saudi Arabia. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was accorded a warm welcome in February 2019 and the two countries signed an MoU to promote trade and investment. The Saudis hinted at investing about $20 billion in Pakistan. However, the relationship was not always smooth. In December 2019, Prime Minister Khan was forced to withdraw at the eleventh hour from a visit to Malaysia to placate Saudi Arabia. In August 2020, Saudi Arabia asked Pakistan to pay back a $1 billion Saudi loan on a short notice. This prompted Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to issue a sharply-worded statement. Further deterioration in bilateral relations was prevented by military authorities through institutional engagement with their Saudi counterparts. Importantly, the COAS visited the Kingdom ahead of the PM in May 2021.

Under the Khan government, Pakistan’s relations with India remained confrontational. After India unilaterally revoked Articles 370 and 35A of its constitution in August 2019, Kashmir issue assumed centrality in Pakistan’s extra-regional diplomacy. Constrained by international obligations, the country has avoided seeking a military solution to the conflict.

The no-war policy and cooperation with the West have paid some dividends. Pakistan, for instance, was not placed on the FATF black list and is expected to get off the grey list this year. A crucial development under the Khan government related to Russia. Interaction between the two countries increased over the last five years, resulting in military-to-military engagement.

Imran Khan made a crucial visit to Russia amid its Ukraine invasion. Good timing might have served Pakistan’s interests better. While Pakistan wishes to improve bilateral relations with Russia, it has condemned it for violating the sovereignty of an independent state.

One can conclude that for the past 75 years, Pakistan’s top-most foreign policy goal has been dealing with the Indian threat to its security. It has tried to counter India through bilateral relations with the US, China and countries like Saudi Arabia. Even in multilateral arrangements such as South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the United Nations, Pakistan it has been preoccupied with India. As far as the Muslim world is concerned, Pakistan has projected itself as a leading Muslim state with comparative strength in military capability and human resources. It has taken a pro-Palestine stance since 1948. Its recent engagement with Russia can also be seen as an effort to counterbalance India, at least, regionally.

For the future, however, Pakistan needs to incorporate some important insights from, for example, US-China relationship. Despite the past, US-China bilateral trade has grown over the years. Amid Covid-19, it retained a positive curve and, in the first half of this year, it has witnessed an upward trend. China-India bilateral trade too has surpassed $120 billion despite Doklam and Ladakh issue.

Pakistan must pursue economic cooperation with its neighbours and other regional and global stakeholders for a stable economy with societal cohesion, military modernisation and durable peace. Mere reliance on geography may not serve its larger interests. Indeed, without proper planning and political will geography cannot guarantee socioeconomic wellbeing or territorial integrity as we have witnessed in 1971.

Pakistan ought to buy peace at any cost by not indulging in any armed conflict. It ought to engage the major powers in trade. It also needs to become a part of regional organisations like the ASEAN to explore trade and investment opportunities. Above all, it must ensure political stability at home. A stable polity and economy carry positive effects for a country’s foreign policy.

August 14, 2022

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