• Saleem Qamar Butt

Pakistan's Foreign Policy Challenges

Updated: Dec 22, 2020


"Getting in balance is not so much about adopting new strategies to change your behaviors, as it is about realigning yourself in all of your thoughts so as to create a balance between what you desire and how you conduct your life on a daily basis." ~Wayne Dyer,

The existence of the universe is all about an extremely delicate balance being kept in place by the Almighty Creator. The imperativeness of maintaining balance in an individual or national life and more so in the foreign policy cannot be over emphasized. The ongoing Shifting of Sands in the Middle East in the overall context of American Indo-Pacific Rebalancing policy with focus on China and Russia has necessitated global realignments. Therefore, all regional and extra regional countries including Pakistan need comprehensive reappraisal of respective Foreign policies for due equilibrium.

In the recent past, there has been some perceptible but mostly exaggerated reports of distancing of relations between Pakistan and time tested friendly Arab countries like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and UAE. I heard one senior retired Pakistani diplomat who attributed it to appointment of Mr. Zulfi Bukhari on the foreign front in addition to non-appointment of an ambassador in UAE, inefficiency of appointed diplomats abroad and lack of vision by the foreign office. While that may be true but there is more to it than meets the eye. It is a well established fact that all countries are trying to adjust their foreign policies in a bigger context. Therefore, the phenomenon of KSA, UAE and Bahrain significantly improving their relations with Israel and India are indicative of addressing their own insecurities rather than much to do with Pakistan. Nevertheless, Pakistan not standing in the KSA led block against Iran and appointment of rightly or wrongly perceived disproportionate number of supposedly pro-Iran guys in the political, diplomatic and bureaucratic circles may have played its part in annoying some Arab friends. Leadership and sort of veto power in OIC, rift with Turkey and Qatar, differences on Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Kashmir issue, Libya and Yemen also need to be factored in to understand concerns of said Arab countries. Besides, better diplomatic maneuver, greater political, social, economic and technological appeal and as a consequence of above stated concerns, thus far friendly Arab countries appear to be giving more space to India and Israel in diplomatic, economic and security fields, which obviously causes concerns in Pakistan. India being biggest spoiler for peace in Afghanista, red faced with Chinese slaps in Ladakh and Dokhlam, losing spaces in IIOJ&K, faced with grim economy, farmers and minority protests and transition in White House with pro-India Trump leaving as a white supermascist loser, Modi and his deep state may indulge in a misadventure across the LOC or Working Boundry or satge manage a black swan operation for which Pakistan need to stay on high alert at the military level and ultra proactive on the diplomatic fronts. Therefore, it is extremely important for Pakistan government, foreign office and all other national policy makers not to lose sight of the bigger picture and adjust own policies with comprehensive understanding of the dynamic changes at the global and regional levels and the developments in each and every important country with focus on addressing their concerns and seeking own strategic interests.

While Pakistan foreign office mostly remains busy in adjusting to American coercion and Indian overtures on multiple fronts. We need to be mindful that a reactive policy keeps a country embroiled in an undue fire fighting mode. In addition, it keeps MoFA unmindful of the predicament faced by the USA and other countries as per their own stature and strategic security and economic aspirations. Let’s examine American dilemma in the Middle East particularly with respect to KSA and resultant Saudi response to the fast changing regional environment under a high flier crown prince. Trump’s high pitched diplomacy for realization of greater Israel dream in the Middle East and to keep Iran and Arab countries on the belligerent path notwithstanding, the change in the White House may be making KSA nervous. Last year, President Donald Trump vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have blocked arms sales to the country in response to its bombing campaign in Yemen. Every Democrat in Congress who voted supported the bill, but, notably, so did Trump allies such as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. In his criticism of Saudi Arabia, Biden has gone even further than most members of Congress. In November 2019, during a Democratic primary debate, Biden said he “would make it very clear we were not going to … sell more weapons” to Saudi Arabia, which would “make them … the pariah that they are.” Therefore, Saudi Crown took his time before congratulating U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on his recent election victory. Quite a few American analysts expect that some members of the U.S. Democratic caucus will soon urge Biden to abandon the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, the sober voices opine that if Washington wants reform in KSA, it should consider what worries them most i.e. abandonment by the United States. The Saudi government’s fear of neglect has its roots in the Arab Spring, which began nearly a decade ago. At the time, the administration of then U.S. President Barack Obama supported pro-democracy protests in Egypt as an apparent U.S. ally—and dictator—Hosni Mubarak clung tenuously to power. Members of the Saudi monarchy recognized that it was within the realm of possibility that they, too, could be betrayed. Since then, Saudi concerns have increased manifold. The Iran nuclear deal of 2015 was regarded inside the kingdom as a U.S. attempt to betray Saudi Arabia and befriend Iran, which is again on the cards by Democrat president Biden. Riyadh preferred Trump to Obama, in part because Trump ignored its alleged human rights violations and proved more aggressive against Iran. But even Trump taunts King Salman over his country’s dependence on the United States: “King—we’re protecting you,” he told the leader in 2018. “You might not be there for two weeks without us.” In that backdrop, there are rumours of crown prince making a secret approach to China for pursuing a nuclear programme or for acquiring a nuclear arsenal, considering Iran’s nuclear pursuit and ingress in Yemen as an existential threat.

It remains to be seen as to how Joe Biden will strike a balance in Democrats’ approach towards KSA and rest of the Middle East, but the kind of progress taken place by Israel and India in the region, both being American strategic imperative in the overall Middle East and Indo-Pacific Policy domain respectively. Mr. Joe Biden may have to contend with forming a coalition of Western allies and Middle Eastern states—including Saudi Arabia—that gives the United States more leverage to prevent the kingdom from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is being spread by the policy influencers in the US that if the United States does not forge a new approach, this scenario could easily precipitate a regional nuclear standoff: Saudi nuclear weapons pointed at Iran and Iranian nuclear weapons aimed at Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt manufacturing nuclear technologies of their own, and Israel nervously eyeing its nuclear button. Therefore, the new headache for Biden will not only be Iran’s nuclear goal but also that of KSA. So as soon as the president-elect settles in chair, he will have to focus on easing Saudi and other countries’ insecurities may be by forging a fresh league of Western and Middle Eastern allies for multilateral cooperation in the fields of economics, social development, all sources of energy, and above all security. And that is the scenario which had been comprehended well in time by India and Israel and even by China for cashing on the available opportunities.

It is under these fast changing dynomics that the government of Pakistan has to undertake a thorough review of its overall foreign and domestic policies and synchronize them all aimed at pursuing security and well being of its citizens both home and abroad. It is time that talent, patriotism and experience replaces inefficiency, nepotism, duplicity and immaturity. To assuage undue fears, insecurities and concerns of time tested friendly countries should be a priority step without becoming a pawn for fighting someone else’s wars or proxies. The government needs to let the internal trivial political and executive affairs be dealt by a small dedicated team as an auxiliary effort, while concentrating the main political effort on legislation and on pursuance of major national interests by ditching the old slavish themes once for all. The real art of diplomacy is to convert even enemies into friends and not the reverse of it; and the litmus test of diplomatic success is the achievement of national economic and security goals. Pakistan must put its own house in order, develop self sufficiency by national austerity measures, capitalize on CPEC for bigger gains, be a useful member of all possible regional and international economic and security forums that ensure achievement of national aims and objectives without antagonizing friendly countries. Nevertheless, whether it is our skilled labour or our troops deployed abroad, their self respect, safety and security shall override the petty economic gains through proper government to government legal and diplomatic cover. The three great ends which a statesman ought to propose to himself in the government of a nation are: one, Security to possessors; two, facility to acquirers; and three, hope to all.~

December 9, 2020


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