What should be Pakistan’s foreign policy?

One of the important challenges facing the government is devising a foreign policy that meets its short, near and long term objectives. But the first step in devising a policy is to review current priorities and the national interest of Pakistan. The edifice of a foreign policy is built on three pillars economic interest, security interest and geopolitical power struggle.

Pakistan is an agrarian economy with over 67% of its population engaged in farming. The three largest foreign currency contributors to the exchequer are textiles, leather and rice export. The predominance of agriculture should be good news for the country as the rising population of the world is increasing demand for food products. Pakistan’s proximity to resource rich but sterile Middle East and sub Saharan Africa could provide important export markets. One foreign policy approach could be to sign bilateral agreements with oil rich Middle Eastern countries to provide food security in return for energy security.

US predominance as the provider of economic aid and market for Pakistani merchandize can be reduced by exploring new markets in European Union, South America and Africa. Pakistan can explore manufacturing of light engineering products to diversify its export item list. All foreign agreements should incorporate transfer of technology to attain greater self reliance. For economic independence the budget deficits and balance of payments can only be maintained if productivity of the labor and value addition is achieved at a faster pace.

It is fool hardy to think that a country can remain safe among hostile neighbors on all sides. India is a growing economy with large population to feed which brings with it social issues to occupy its leaders. India is widely believed around the world as one of the potential candidate to play a role in the fast emerging multi-polar world. Pakistan is not willing to accept India’s dominance and continually projects itself as an alternative in the region. India expects Pakistan to accept its leadership and become an ally as other countries in South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has done.

In the historical perspective, Pakistani leaders should realize that during the struggle for independence All India Congress understood that a large Muslim minority will be difficult to manage as is evident from the frequent Hindu/Muslim riots. They made it impossible for Muslim League leaders to expect a fair share in the Indian Union as proposed by them, which ultimately resulted in the creation of a separate state Pakistan. In this perspective, Indian leaders would prefer a denuclearized Pakistan probably broken into smaller manageable pieces. This divergent view among the leaders of the two countries makes it difficult to form some kind of a shared alliance. India’s continued violation of human rights in Kashmir and their growing influence in Afghanistan creates further tensions. It is in the interest of Pakistan that its leaders take a long term view on India and form a strategy to reduce tension between the two countries. The first step in such direction could be increased trade on the path to form a free trade agreement while at the same time promoting cultural ties.

Afghanistan has traditionally sided with India on all international forums before and after Russian invasion. Even Taliban’s were eager to maintain good relations with India despite the support given to them by Pakistan. The foundation of this behavior lay in disputed Durand line and slogans of Pashtoonistan among Pakistani tribesman time and again. Afghanistan has always been eager to become part of a conspiracy against Pakistan with or without NATO presence. Pakistan can not afford to have less than friendly countries on both its Eastern and Western borders. A regional trade pact between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian states will open up new trade opportunities for all parties. Land locked central Asia will get access to warm waters while Pakistan and Afghanistan can earn millions in transit trade.

Pakistan has repeatedly rebuked Iran in regional affairs by former President Musharraf. One such step was calling a regional conference without inviting Iran which ultimately resulted in total failure. Pakistan is ideally suited to play the role of a bridge between US and Iran to break the stalemate in relations between these two countries. We have played the same role in 1971 by arranging a secret visit of Henry Kissinger to meet with Chinese leadership. European Union, Russia and China might have economic interest with Iran but Pakistan shares a common border, religion and culture. Pakistan has enjoyed good relations with Iran over decades specially signing an RCD agreement in early 1970s along with Turkey. Iran, which has a border with Afghanistan, can be a partner with Pakistan to control the instability in the region through security and economic agreements.

Pakistan and China enjoy a long history of mutual friendship since its independence. The lynch pin of this friendship has been containment of India. But in last 10 years the dynamics of the region has changed since India and China resolved their border disputes and formed a trade relationship that is growing in leaps and bounds. For Pakistan to assume that China will help them at the cost of losing relationship with India will be a novice idea. China would like to help Pakistan economically and in security terms but that can only happen if Pakistan assumes the stance of neutrality it maintained during the cold war years. The trade agreements signed for the development of Sandak copper gold project and Gawadar port are significant. China can be a substantial export market for Pakistani food, textile and light engineering products. Pakistan can also be a transit point for Chinese industrial regions that are closer to Gawadar than Shanghai. The two countries can also cooperate on the production of defense products. China can also provide a security cover that Pakistan needs against its hostile eastern and western neighbors.

Russia is not USSR so old taboos about cold temperature between the two countries should be reconsidered. Russia is increasingly asserting its influence in the region which it lost after the break up of USSR in early 1990s. This means that central Asian states with their large natural resources will feel the pressure to align their interests with Russia. An agreement between Russia and Central Asian states to provide security for energy transit through Afghanistan and Pakistan would be a welcome idea. Pakistan should re-establish its long lost ties with Russia and find mutual grounds for cooperation especially in the areas of mining, oil & gas and hydal power. Russia on the other hand will get an ally in the region after losing their old friend India to US through their nuclear deal.

In the foreseeable future US will continue to be a close ally of Pakistan but not at all costs. All US intellectuals in their television interview maintain that US wants Pakistan to be a strong country while at the same time they support military dictators and provide military aid instead of economic uplift. US-Pakistan relations should change from cash based to broad based by incorporating cooperation in science, technology, education, culture and foreign direct investment. The countries have natural affinity to be close but the foundations are not broad enough to make the relationship grow.

Pakistan faces serious challenges but the most important challenge is to regain its friends in the neighborhood and maintain sovereignty in the face of growing western pressure to fight terrorism.

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