Pakistan’s Foreign Policy and USA

If Pakistan desires to have an independent foreign policy, it must produce an independent economy first.

Understanding Pakistan’s relations with the US was never easy. Now you see it, now you don’t. However, looking through the prism of America’s National Security Strategy, every move that Washington has made - particularly after 9/11 could be easily understood. At home, all one needs to do is to understand the nature of the Pak-US relationship; revisit some of the established principles of international relations, and accept certain hardcore facts including mistakes of the past. This process of understanding is also essential to address frequent disappointments or eliminate the element of surprise especially when an apparently disturbing development takes place in Washington involving Islamabad.

Relationships with a superpower can never be on an equal footing unless another superpower is firmly behind you – decisively and permanently or you are economically and militarily strong enough to face the music without collapsing as a nation-state. To venture into Ukraine or to evacuate Gaza, you must be Russia or Israel respectively. To maintain a neutral stand on the Ukraine war, you must be at least India which could take care of its economic and military needs on its own or through available multiple sources. That does not mean Pakistan should have taken sides openly. This is where real diplomacy comes into play.

In realpolitik, the concept of alliances fizzles out the moment diplomacy fails, and a war-like situation arises. The US and the EU are not likely to go beyond issuing strong statements or sending funds and ammunition to Ukraine even if the Russian Special Operation continues for another decade. Hence, to expect that the US or for that matter China will be directly and decisively involved in any future military conflict in South Asia is at best - wishful thinking. In such an eventuality, both will be urging the warring states to show restraint, stop fighting, and address issues amicably. The lesson? Carrying your cross on your own shoulders, you will have to fight your battles yourself.

International relations are driven by a country’s own national interest. Emotions have nothing to do with formulating a foreign policy. The dynamics, requirements, and objectives of relations between two nation-states are totally different from friendships between two persons. Expressing disappointments is a human predicament or at critical junctures, a diplomatic requirement. The leadership stands ready to ‘respond’ correspondingly instead of screaming, crying, or complaining. Secondly, a promise made in international relations is nothing more than a goodwill gesture made at a given space and time. Even agreements and treaties signed, sealed, and delivered can be overlooked when it comes to promoting your national interest.

An agreement lasts until it suits all concerned. For instance, the Trilateral Statement, signed in January 1994, under which Ukraine agreed to transfer nuclear warheads to Russia for elimination; succeeded in a way because it suited the interests of all concerned. On the other hand, as entering militarily into the Ukraine war does not suit the West, no one desires to expand the scope of the 1997 NATO-Ukraine-Distinctive Partnership or to go beyond consultations in the NATO-Ukraine Council. Hence, in international relations, the nation-states would do what works - and not necessarily what was agreed upon.

In furthering its national interest, if it had suited the United States of America - the land of the pure and its resources would be utilized to counter Moscow’s ‘expansionist’ designs or in the war on terror. During this honeymoon period, Pakistani leadership would savor American hospitality as well as the fragrance of a few greenbacks. Even in these happy hours, the smaller country should refrain from considering itself as an ‘equal partner’. The jargon such as a ‘non-NATO major ally’ is used to patronize a smaller country whenever such a need arises. In real terms, it means nothing. Therefore, instead of urging the erstwhile ‘partners’ to continue showering their blessings on you, wisdom demands to go back to the drawing board and – at least learn how to react in the future if a similar situation arises. Meanwhile, there is no harm in knowing what a carrot and stick policy entails.

Third-world countries must not dream of having an independent foreign policy. To say ‘absolutely not’ to a superpower or verbally refuse to be a slave to the dictates of a superpower does not mean you have an independent foreign policy. These are hollow political statements issued mostly for domestic consumption without realizing its far-reaching ramifications. Similarly, to be in Moscow the day President Putin invaded Ukraine refusing to participate in the Biden-hosted First Summit of Democracies, or attend the Beijing Winter Olympics when the entire West had boycotted the event, are not manifestations of an independent foreign policy. These are knee-jerk reactions that were neither required nor advisable.

If Pakistan desires to have an independent foreign policy, it must produce an independent economy first. Come to think of it, if the EU or NATO follow suit and tow the American line in the Afghan conflict or the Ukraine war, does it mean that France and Germany don’t have independent foreign policies? In the realm of foreign policy, interdependence is the keyword.

Finally, it needs to be understood that a pro-China policy does not ipso facto mean an anti-US policy. Staying far from the dicey terrain of the Sino-US rivalry, Pakistan needs to do the basics first. Understanding what determines a country’s foreign policy may be the first step. The most notable determinants of a reasonably strong foreign policy are economic strength; military prowess; honest and accountable leadership; and an amenable geography - not necessarily in that order. As opposed to endeavoring for an independent foreign policy, countries like Pakistan may strive to have a respectable foreign policy instead. Even to achieve that, besides possessing military prowess, a stable economy and accountable leadership would be but essential.

Najm us Saqib
The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan and author of eight books in three languages. He can be reached at

The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan and author of eight books in three languages. He can be reached at

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