The first ever two-day bilateral visit of Pakistan’s Foreign Minister to China has ended on familiar reiteration of commitments in the trade and economic domains and the euphoric estimation about Sino-Pak ties that are higher than the mountains, sweeter than honey and which could still be termed as an ‘all-weather strategic cooperation’. That both sides reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral relations or exchanged views on major regional and international issues did not reveal anything new. Providing fool-proof security to Chinese nationals residing in Pakistan is a routine point of discussion as well, particularly since the initiation of the CPEC project. Two new factors, however, came to the fore confirming a widely believed perception about China’s apprehensions on Pakistan’s ineffectiveness to implement various CPEC related projects and that Sino-Pak relations seriously lack ‘communication’ and ‘coordination’.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Wang Wenbin’s insistence that ‘it was necessary for China and Pakistan to improve communication and coordination on major issues to deal with changes in the region and risks and challenges’ said it all. Improving communication and coordination on major issues is essential but can Islamabad, under the present interim government set-up, provide any acceptable assurances to Beijing to allay their fears about the future respectable, amenable and commitment-oriented relationship? The answer is no. The apparent unwillingness of the coalition government to take the blame for any unpopular decisions on the economy and in the absence of any guarantees from the military establishment point towards an indefinite uncertainty on taking any policy decisions including the ones on the foreign policy front.

Besides providing good optics, the recent meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Pakistan and the US on the margins of the food security event, was able to achieve at least one substantial outcome from Pakistan’s point of view. For the second time in 2022, the US emphasised its strategic partnership with Pakistan, went beyond the rhetoric of cooperation on counter-terrorism, border security and intelligence security and included the much-needed economic, investment and trade related subjects for future bilateral interaction. In addition, DG (ISI)’s visit to Washington just before the two FMs met, also showed some positive signs for future cooperation in the realm of regional security.

However, to say that the US has completely forgotten Pakistan’s ‘alleged and invisible’ role in bringing a change in Kabul last August or attending the Beijing Olympics or its absence from the first Summit for Democracies or the former PM’s visit to Moscow on the day Ukraine was invaded or the serious allegations of a regime-change ‘conspiracy’ would be ‘absolutely not’ true. Washington knows full well that even long-term civil governments in Islamabad have limitations on taking independent policy decisions that actually matter in bilateral relations or in the regional context. Therefore, Islamabad may have to wait for the ‘normalisation’ of Pak-US ties, seek financial assistance or expect some relief in IMF and FATF until some concrete step is taken by Washington. Meanwhile, some introspection is needed to realise the reasons for the trust deficit that Pak-US relations have suffered due to the Afghan conflict.

Pakistan needs to know what it desires from India and more importantly, how to go about it. On 5 August 2019, the fate of Articles 370 and 35-A had effectively sealed the unanimously adopted UN Security Council Resolutions on the ‘final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir’. A definite policy on Kashmir is required particularly when the international community is not inclined to even pay heed to India’s violation of human rights in the Valley. One had heard the former NSA Moeed Yousaf vowing to expose India’s nefarious designs including its attempt to discredit the Pakistan Government and its Army. What happened to that idea? Furthermore, one would wish to know the fate of the National Security Policy made public in January this year.

Dealing with the TTP menace, a new-look Taliban and the region’s security demand some concrete decisions on the foreign policy front. We must realise that Pakistan’s existence as a sovereign and independent country is more important than stability in Afghanistan. Our national interest must stay supreme. We also need to understand why Iran’s stability does not depend on Afghanistan’s stability?

The idea of a new model of Pak-Russia cooperation has perished in the barren streets of Ukraine. Only President Putin knows when Moscow will give a breather to Europe and Ukraine and let the world take a sigh of relief. Under the uncertain environment, it is difficult to visualise the prospects of Pak-Russia trade and economic ties. Pakistan’s ‘neutral’ stand on the Ukraine war was advisable but staying ‘neutral’ almost always precludes any productive results as one is not useful to any of the conflicting parties.

As US involvement in the Middle East wanes, GCC countries are looking for reliable partners in the security and economic domains. Pakistan needs to know that the Middle Eastern region is its next critical challenge, look at the region afresh and adopt a sustainable foreign policy. Relations with the EU need some oxygen particularly in the context of Pakistan’s GSP plus status. The absence of any significant problem in the Far East is good news. Similarly, Pakistan does not have any critical issues in Africa and Latin America, mainly because these two regions remain neglected even after devising policies to initiate fresh engagements.

In devising a foreign policy, a country goes through a long and tedious process involving a series of analytical deductions encompassing both pros and cons in the most objective manner possible. Clearly, this is the time to put one’s house in order first before taking any major foreign policy initiative. Under an interim coalition government, facing severe economic issues, depleting forex, dramatic fall of rupee, volatile regional security situation and a politically divided population, it is indeed difficult to formulate a foreign policy let alone an ‘independent’ foreign policy. Let there be a full-time government in Islamabad. Indeed, early elections would not solve all problems facing Pakistan. It would, however, be the first step in the right direction.

 

Najm us Saqib

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

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