Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Challenges

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Prof Dr Shuja Ahmed

The US rivalry with China is considered a blessing for India.

The process of change and continuity in Pakistan’s foreign policy in the mid-twentieth century can be analysed through two perspectives: security dilemma and geopolitics. Strategically speaking, security has remained a dominant factor in the making of a country’s foreign policy. Since its creation as an independent state in 1947, Pakistan inherited a hostile neighbour that was both bigger and stronger in terms of economic stability, military power, size, and geography. Thus, Pakistan joined US-led military alliances and became a member of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) and Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) after adhering to Eisenhower doctrine, which stipulated US military and diplomatic support in case a country was subjected to communist aggression. Pakistan received a significant amount of assistance in military and economic fields, which helped Pakistan strengthen its security against Indian hostilities and survive in a harsh security environment, marked by conflicts with India on Kashmir and tensions with Afghanistan on the Durand line. Nevertheless, this warmth in its relations with the US began to disappear when Pakistan drew closer to China during the 1965 war. Pakistan’s firm belief in the axiom that “my neighbour’s neighbour is my friend” enabled the country to achieve diplomatic and material support from India’s rival China. Unfortunately, this approach did not work during the dismemberment of the Eastern wing despite it being cordial with China.
Pakistan’s threat perceptions further increased with India’s growing military strength and upgradation of its conventional arms. The development of unconventional weapons tested by India in 1974 further increased Pakistan’s sense of vulnerability. Indian nuclear explosion intensified threat perception and generated an impetus to develop nuclear weapons. The lukewarm attitude of the international community towards India’s intentions to achieve hegemonic goals in the region further justified Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development, which aimed at creating nuclear deterrence. During this cold war era (1979 -1989), the US engaged itself in a war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and made Pakistan its key ally. The country became the recipient of huge American economic and military aid. During this period, the US-sponsored an anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan and Pakistan was able to continue its nuclear programme. After the cold war was over, the US imposed sanctions and under the Pressler Amendment, cut off aid to Pakistan.
In the 1990s, the BJP government came into power and demonstrated its threatening attitude towards Pakistan by conducting a nuclear test in May 1998. However, India was shocked when Pakistan also successfully conducted a nuclear test two weeks later on May 28, 1998. This development enabled the latter to maintain a balance of power in South Asia, which had been upset by Indian atrocities in Kashmir, the Kargil conflict, border clashes and nuclear armament.
The twenty-first century began with the massive spread of terrorism, which climaxed in the form of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001. Pakistan once again became a frontline state in the War on Terror and received economic and military aid. During the last two decades, the country has experienced stress and strain in maintaining its relations with the US, mainly because Pakistan has continued its strategic partnership with China. With the help of China, the country has completed a significant number of projects of economic and strategic nature. Geo-political dimensions of economic and political developments including the most ambitious plan of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) have further exasperated the US. However, the US rivalry with China is considered a blessing for India in the sense that India’s rival, China, is being engaged in a confrontation with the US and as a result, India is economically and diplomatically supported by the US for its key role in the containment policy. It can be argued that the US-India entente can be a major factor behind the upset in the strategic balance in South Asia. Further, the sudden and unexpected withdrawal of the US troops has already increased economic and political uncertainties in Afghanistan. This indicates that the US is now more focussed on chasing its rival. These recent developments have enormously increased the magnitude of geopolitical challenges for Pakistan at the national, regional, and global levels.
Keeping in view the changing security dimensions of the region where Pakistan occupies a pivotal position, Pakistan’s geo-strategic significance, its increasing strategic depth through economic connectivity and promising economic potential are important determinants of the rising national power to influence the outcome of international diplomacy in its favour. At the same time, Pakistan has to devise a strategy for preventing polarisation between the US and China. Pakistan should continue its efforts for reducing escalated tension between the two giants. Further, Pakistan should take measures using various forums, including the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), to expose India for violating human rights in Kashmir and its bitter opposition to the CPEC project. Recently, policy decisions have been made at the OIC conference to fix Pakistan’s broken relationship with the Muslim world. It will promote solidarity among Muslim countries and will strengthen the efforts aimed at countering Islamophobia. This second largest organisation after the United Nations can be a suitable platform for raising the collective voice of the Muslim world.
Further, the present government needs to rejuvenate its relationship with the US using various channels of digital as well as non-digital diplomacy and to handle carefully the situation created by the foreign conspiracy-related narrative of regime change. The constitutional crisis generated by the above narrative was ended by the landmark judgement of the Supreme court, which declared the Speaker’s ruling null & void. Its unanimous verdict restored the National Assembly and subsequently paved a way for the formation of a new government. The present government must initiate a dialogue to dispel the growing distrust between Islamabad and Washington.