Amid a perception of isolation among the international community, fuelled by censure and unflattering portrayals of Pakistan in the international press, the average Pakistani would assume that the mood at the Foreign Office would be equally glum. I am happy to report here, that it is not so. Despite the tremendous challenges faced by Pakistan in countering the negative image the world has come to recognise it by, if we are feeling held at a distance by old acquaintances, we are also feeling the warmth of new friendships. The Foreign Minister, Ms Khar, is at the helm of affairs at a time when Pakistani allegiances as they have stood for decades are seeing a shift. Burnt by the United States, Pakistanis are favouring the abandonment of a “the grass is always greener on the American side” philosophy.
Neighbouring Afghanistan, where Pakistan has been projected as playing a negative role, has seen some of Pakistan’s most consistent policy.
Stability in Afghanistan can only be achieved by an Afghan-led solution, as Pakistan has reiterated at every opportunity. Pakistan can only encourage Afghans to reach a consensus on the direction they wish their nation to take and then offer its support to that decision.
For Pakistan to lead the charge in delivering an Afghan solution is an unrealistic expectation and frankly, had we been able, we would have delivered such, by now. Pakistan’s approach to Afghanistan is also engineered to be one towards Afghanistan: our neighbour and brotherly country, instead of mirroring onto it the wild fluctuations in our relations with the US or our frustrations with NATO.
Pakistan’s relations with the US are at the moment subject to review by Parliament. While the circle of interaction is redefined by our elected representatives, the issue has stalled due to legislation related to the 20th Amendment and the induction of new Senators. It is soon expected to be restarted and clear terms of engagement articulated. Following which, visits by US officials, which in previous weeks Pakistan regretted itself from hosting, are expected to resume. Pakistan continues to try to stress upon the Americans the importance of an ownership of the relationship by the people of both countries. The “what’s love got to do with it” philosophy is not one that has encouraged the improvement of relations. If anything, it has perpetuated a sense of stagnation and helpnessness that both sides are doomed to be trapped in reluctant impasse indefinitely. Ownership of the relationship and willingness to be a part of it are key for the people of both countries. This will not be achieved by, for example, the threat of sanctions over the Pak-Iran gas pipeline and pre-emptive schadenfreude, tut-tutting over how disastrous these sanctions could prove to Pakistan’s struggling economy. Secretary Clinton’s claim that such sanctions had been discussed with FM Khar, when they met on the sidelines of the Somalia Summit in London, have also been rubbished by the Foreign Office, which said that no such indication was given until the Secretary’s House Committee announcement, which yesterday made headlines. The nature of the sanctions and the seriousness of the threat of their imposition, remains to be determined and there are a few months before either will be known. Until then, however, Pakistan will continue work of the IP pipeline, as well TAPI. Work on neither project had ever been stopped and the timelines for both are being maintained. However, the period of completion of TAPI is unfeasibly long for Pakistan’s immediate energy needs, whereas IP, as attached to Pakistan’s immediate neighbour, will be completed sooner than TAPI, to provide relief to our industry.
Pakistan’s overall attention towards Russia and the Central Asian Republics is increasing. This is yet another reason why TAPI remains in Pakistani, and not necessarily American, interests. The neighbourhood we live in remains bereft of the benefits of inter-regional cooperation. Where the rest of the world reaps the rewards of exploiting its immediate surroundings, Pakistan too is starting out on a new chapter of forming ties and alliances closer to home. A new, self-assured image, for a more realistic, pragmatic Pakistani foreign policy is being mapped out. Most of the news is welcome, but the normalisation of trade ties with India, suspended since 1965, does not sit well. Where the military establishment, the entire Cabinet (unanimously), the Chief Minister of Punjab (Pakistan’s
bread basket) are in favour - and even the Chinese have pressed Pakistan to open its markets and vice versa to India, the reality that the strength of India’s economy was built on a few decades of protectionism, that we have not just the Kashmiris cause of self-determination to fight, but also the water crisis to contend with India, not to mention the fact that the Indians are by no means averse to deriving every benefit from this arrangement, while we may not be able to extract enough effective conditions in the deal to protect or further our own interests, means that it is unlikely that trade ties with India are going to be welcomes.
However, improved relations with Russia (of note is the President’s recent visit there, several weeks ago) and the Central Asian Republics are being offered encouragement by Pakistanis. China, long a trusted friend, Turkey, a more than brotherly country and Britain, which has proved itself to be exceptionally understanding of the limitations Pakistan faces (especially as a peace broker in Afghanistan), been of generous help in facilitating the introduction of Pakistani goods into European markets, not to mention the recent programmes of funding primary education in Pakistan’s Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces to begin with, are drawing acclaim for their display of steadfast friendship with Pakistan. Pakistan, while it may be receiving the cold shoulder from the US, is getting plenty of attention elsewhere – and a good thing it is too.