Pakistan's foreign policy, behind the smokescreen

Diplomatically Pakistan is stuck in a Bermuda triangle.

Wajid Shamsul Hasan

On the death of the King Lion, the animals decided to elect their new ruler. A monkey stepped up and was chosen as the new lord. Soon after being elected, he was put to test. A goat begged him to save her lamb that had been taken away by the wolf. Extending sympathy, the monkey assured the goat that the culprit will be arrested very soon and the child brought home.

Then, a day passed by. There was no news of the lamb or the wolf. Dejected, the goat again approached the ruler. This time she found him hopping from branch to branch. “Oh Lord, any news of my child?” she asked pacing up behind him. “Can’t you see how hard I am working? I am trying to find them,” he replied angrily and dismissed her.

Out of the jungle and into Pakistan, not much is different. The monkey seems to be fooling us. Four years after forming the government, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz could not give us a foreign minister. But then, earlier this year, it reshuffled the cabinet and finally, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs was no longer vacant. The new man on the job is Khawaja Asif who until recently was on a whirlwind tour of three neighbouring countries. We, the people of the country, were told the trips were important. The trips would help our international standing. And so the trips progressed as planned, but did they achieve what they planned? Did our new and untrained foreign minister’s words carry any weight?

There was much panic after Donald Trump, the US President, made a speech last month which unveiled his new strategy regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan. Trump’s words were loaded with warnings of serious consequences.

Pakistan is important. It holds the key to unravelling a complicated and intertwined crises of regional stability. The restoration of stability in Afghanistan cannot be possible without a positive breakthrough with the Taliban.

In September, Asif visited Iran. One does not know what transpired between Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif and his Iranian counterpart, but it was nonetheless heartening to see the sympathetic audience he received and the reiteration for a greater understanding between the two estranged countries.

Iran is much more than a neighbour. It is also a stakeholder in Afghanistan. One cannot ignore the fact that the delay in the resolution of the Afghan problem has made Iran a decisive player by virtue of its expanding influence in Afghanistan’s southern provinces.

Islamabad would do well to delve deep into Iran’s role in the region. Our neighbour is now more proactive in its multilateral initiatives aimed at enhancing Tehran’s stakes and power projection in the region. Pakistan is doing well to develop good ties with Moscow, but Iran perhaps is doing much better. Indicators of its successful foreign policy include partaking in the Russian-led Afghan peace process and having Moscow back its application for membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s role as a regional player has come under a dark cloud ever since it was forced into accepting membership of the Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance. The Alliance and its consequences need a more thorough discussion in the parliament, which hasn’t happened so far.

For now, diplomatically, Pakistan is stuck in a Bermuda triangle. We have lukewarm to frosty relations with three out of four of our neighbours. The only country overtly friendly to us is China. But it too has its own foreign policy compulsions, which was clearly reflected in the BRIC declaration that condemned the terrorist groups allegedly enjoy safe havens in Pakistan. What made the statement more lethal was the fact it followed Trump’s diatribe against Pakistan. We seem to be on the same page again, swinging aimlessly from branch to branch, further reinforcing our isolation.

Hasan is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to the United Kingdom and a veteran journalist

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Geo News or the Jang Group.