Latest Challenges for Pakistan’s Foreign Policy

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Pakistan Foreign Policy Challenges

The latest visit of Prime Minister Narenda Modi to the US has been lauded as a great success by both the Indian and Western press. A lot of preparatory work had gone into the trip and, considering the type of relationship shared by the two countries and the congruence of their interests, this was expected. As regards what was mentioned in the communiqué and at the news conference about Pakistan is worrisome to say the least.

Over the years, there have been several ups and downs in our relationship with the US but Pakistan’s civil and military establishment knew how to react and protect our national interests. One hopes this time too we will manage, but Trump’s unpredictability and tight embrace of the two countries poses a serious challenge for Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Compounding this is Trump’s utter disdain for Muslims which is reflected in his attitude and policies toward them. Trump’s prejudice against Muslims finds a similar contempt in Modi’s policies towards India’s Muslim population. Initially there was not a single Muslim in Modi’s cabinet although they constitute about 15% of its population. Later three were included in the Council of Ministers but how effectively they will contribute in protecting and promoting their interests is to been seen.

The communiqué released after the Trump-Modi meeting is a testimony of this convergence. There is unanimity of views on China. Trump is encouraging and building India to counter balance Beijing at the regional level so that it is not able to fully focus on neutralising America’s daunting policies. This from Washington’s perspective would also help to maintain the desired balance of power in Asia.

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The relationship is broad based with Indian counterparts interacting with all branches of the US — Congress, the State Department and the private sector. It would be fair to assume that Indian influence in the US is only second to Israel and is continuously growing.

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On the issue of Pakistan, the US and India share similar concerns and accuse it of supporting the Haqqani network, Afghan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, etc, that are considered their common enemies.

Washignton wants New Delhi to be a hegemonic power influencing events in Afghanistan and the region and to take the lead in countering terrorism. By doing so it ignores the geographic, cultural and political reality of the region wherein the role of Pakistan, Iran and China is critical in bringing stability to Afghanistan.

The US proximity to India has resulted in ignoring its rights violations in Kashmir. It is indeed sad that standing for human rights was at one time the hallmark of American foreign policy. And what is further distressing that the communiqué issued after the recent Modi-Trump meeting equates the Kashmiri freedom struggle as terrorism. Moreover, the US recent move to designate Syed Salahuddin head of Hizbul Mujahideen as global terrorist raises serious questions about its motive. This indicates to what extent the present US administration is prepared to compromise on principles to align its policies with India.

Instead of supporting the efforts of Beijing and Islamabad to bring peace in Kabul, Washington is encouraging India to enhance its role in the region. Moreover, Pakistan’s efforts at ensuring that its territory is not used by any of the militant Afghan groups are not appreciated. The same mantra of “do more” is repeated. This policy only impedes the possibility of any political solution of Afghanistan. Increasing the US forces’ strength by another 5,000 soldiers or so and intensifying military activity will only prolong the misery of the Afghans. The country desperately needs a political solution and reducing military activity should create conditions favourable for it and not the other way as is being planned.

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The threat of using drones against Pakistani targets could seriously vitiate the relationship. A more sensible approach would be to share intelligence with Pakistan so that it takes action on its own. Of course, for this to occur the trust level between the militaries and intelligence services has to considerably improve. Until that happens it will be difficult to achieve peace in Afghanistan.

There are areas where current US policy is at variance with what the Indian government would like it to follow. Trump going by what he had promised during his election campaign is discouraging outsourcing of information technology and industrial production to Indian companies and would prefer indigenous development.

Modi has developed an extremely close relationship with Israel. He will be the first Indian PM to make an official visit to Israel. This shows how the alignment between the US, India and Israel has gained strength over the years.

The discriminatory policies of Washington towards Islamabad are reflected in the way it continues to oppose Pakistan’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). It also has been applying pressure on Pakistan to reduce its fissile material production. On the contrary, it has been actively supporting India’s entry in the NSG and turns a blind eye to its nuclear buildup at its unguarded facilities. If it were not for Chinese opposition, India would have been a NSG member long ago.

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The irony is that despite these sermons the US is once again seriously looking at the option for new and better nuclear weapons.

India, along with Pakistan, has recently become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). It has to be seen how the US factor will play out in India’s dealings with SCO countries.

Pakistan finds relations with China invaluable not only to counter the US-India pressure but also to build its economy on a long-term sustainable basis. Recent moves of strengthening ties with Russia and Central Asian states as a part of SCO and at the individual country level would provide sufficient resilience to counter outside pressures.

Chinese efforts at bringing reconciliation between Pakistan and Afghanistan provide once again an opportunity to improve their relations. China being a neutral party with no previous blemish could exercise greater leverage than others.

By: Talat Masood
Courtesy: The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2017.

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