Determinants of Pakistan's Foreign Policy

“Our foreign policy is one of the friendliness and goodwill towards all the nations of the world. We do not cherish aggressive designs against any country or nation. We believe in the principle of honesty and fair play in national and international dealings, and are prepared to make our contribution to the promotion of peace and prosperity among the nations of the world. Pakistan will never be found lacking in extending its material and moral support to the oppressed and suppressed peoples of the world and in upholding the principles of the United Nations Charter.”
Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah

Foreign policy is a plan of action that a nation adopts with regard to its diplomatic dealings with other countries in the world. This is the policy that dictates how a country will act with respect to other countries politically, socially, economically, and militarily. The development of foreign policy is influenced by domestic considerations, the policies or behaviour of other states, or plans to advance specific geopolitical designs.

In the context of Pakistan, we have seen that when Saudi Arabia expected Pakistani soldiers to fight in Yemen — though the request was politely turned down —  the government invoked religion; when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Pakistan, official propagandists started to highlight the economic and strategic imperatives that bind together Islamabad and Beijing; when it comes to our other neighbours in the region — India, Afghanistan and Iran — we mostly adopt a hostile undertones and perceive Indian manoeuvres in the region as a threat; when it comes to Muslim World, we present our country as the only Muslim State having nuclear power and the only advocate of unity of Muslim Ummah; and when it comes to EU or the United States or Russia  or any superpower, we invoke our important geographical location in Asia. So, the first question that comes to mind regarding the foreign policy making in Pakistan is: “What factors determine the foreign policy making in Pakistan?”

Following is a brief description of the factors that policymakers have to keep in mind while making decisions related to country’s policy.

1. Ideology

Pakistan was created as a homeland for Muslims of British India after a long freedom struggle. Islam was at the core of this struggle because Two Nation Theory reinforced that Muslims were a separate nation, with their distinct cultural, ideological and religious values. In the establishment of Pakistan, Muslims actually dreamed of a separate homeland where they could spend their lives according to the teachings of the Holy Quran and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah also vowed to preserve the Islamic ideology of the country. He said:

“Pakistan not only means freedom and independence but the Muslim Ideology which has to be preserved, which has come to us as a precious gift and treasure and which, we hope other will share with us.”

Moreover, at the very outset, Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, declared:

“Pakistan came into being as a result of the urge felt by the Muslims of this subcontinent to secure territory, however limited, where the Islamic Ideology and way of life could be practiced and demonstrated to the world.”

So, it was not possible for our foreign policy makers to set aside this ideology while framing country’s foreign policy. Hence Islamic ideology has always been a central focus in this realm.

2. Geography

“The foreign policy of a country is determined by its geography”.
— Napoleon Bonaparte

Determinants of Pakistan's Foreign Policy 1For the policymakers, it is important to take into considerations factors like what country’s neighbours are, as their attitude, irrespective of their size or power, has a direct bearing especially on issues of its security, development and resource allocation. No country could change its geography nor choose its neighbours. So, in Pakistan, sole consideration has been on safeguarding and preserving country’s independence and territorial integrity. Geography, thus, placed on Pakistan the onerous responsibility of consistent vigilance and careful conduct of its relations not only with its immediate neighbours but also with the rest of the world.

3. History

Since its inception, Pakistan has been facing complex challenges. Hence, the country’s foreign policy is also guided by its history. Pakistan and India relations have been marred by distrust and antagonism. Pakistan and Afghanistan have also been at odds since long, major concern being the Durand Line which Afghanistan is not willing to accept an international border. Thanks to the old imperial connections, we immediately got sucked into the Cold War struggle. In the process, we encountered unbroken series of crises and challenges that perhaps, no other country in the world has ever experienced. So, foreign policy makers cannot remain oblivious to these factors.

4. Domestic Policies

The foreign policy of a country is linked to its domestic policies, governance issues and political situation. A country’s standing in the international community always corresponds directly to its political, social, economic and strategic strength. Foreign policy cannot be divorced from domestic considerations. It is an outcome of national priorities, strength and weaknesses. Unlike large powers, mistakes in foreign policy can be very costly for a developing country like Pakistan. Pakistan’s position in the world is constrained by its weak economics and its dependence on foreign finances. And, that has been a big challenge before the policymakers.

The policymakers must understand that no country has ever succeeded externally if it is weak and crippled domestically. Even a superpower, the former Soviet Union, could not survive as a superpower because domestically it was weak and crippled.

5. Security

Internal and external security is the most important factor in Pakistan’s foreign policy.
Historian Paul Kennedy named Pakistan as one of the nine pivotal states whose future evolution would not only determine the fate of their region, but also affect international stability. Pakistan has developed as a principal actor and a vital personality of its own. So, it is supposed to secure and protect its all vital interests, at all costs.

6. Economic Compulsions

Pakistan as a developing country also needs to establish and maintain cordial relations with those states with whom it can maximize its trade relations or from whom it can obtain maximum economic aid. Pakistan’s position in the world is constrained by its weak economics and its dependence on foreign finances. The main aim of Pakistan’s foreign policy is to boost economic trade.

A Pragmatic Future Strategy
1. Pursuing National Interest

“The meaning of national interest is survival—the protection of physical, political and cultural identity against encroachments by other nation-states”—Morgenthau.

Foreign policy of every nation around the world is formulated on the basis of its national interest. Since seeking its national interests is a universally accepted right of each state, therefore, this should be the only driving force behind Pakistan’s foreign policy. All our alliances should be subjected to this keystone criterion. That said, no country can remain isolated and all relationships between states, bilaterally and multilaterally, are therefore based on mutual interests which are freely determined and pursued.

Pakistan’s national interest lies in enhancing country’s economic, military and cultural power within its ideological framework. Pakistan should use foreign policy to defend its territorial integrity. That necessitates strong defence and deterrent capabilities. Pakistan has to leverage its relations with nations in the region and beyond, as well as with international multilateral institutions, to attract foreign direct investment, start off joint ventures and promote trade. A national interest-centred foreign policy will also act as a catalyst for domestic economic development and international clout.

2. Focusing Regional Dynamics

Pakistan’s sense of insecurity vis-à-vis India has been the core driver of its foreign policy since partition. Its relations with its immediate neighbours such as Afghanistan and Iran, and other regional countries such as Turkey and the Gulf States, have all been filtered through this security prism. But, changing global trends in regional trade and the growth of Asian economies have forced Pakistan to readjust the focus of its foreign relations especially within its neighbourhood. Pakistan’s reluctance in getting militarily involved in the Saudi-led war in Yemen is evidence of this new thinking. As Iran would soon be rejoining the global economy and also Russia is cosying up with Pakistan after India’s unprecedented tilt towards the US, Pakistan should also change its policies to not only benefit from these changes but also to gain an important role in regional politics.

3. Promotion of Economy

Pakistan’s foreign policy ought to be based on our country’s inherent strengths. As the sixth-largest nation in the world by way of population, country’s foreign policy makers should take into account the factor that we possess a reasonable quality of human resources and have an extremely useful geography.

Our human resource base was good enough to make us the only nuclear Muslim state in the world. Our strength is our agriculture, which enables us to be food-sufficient with a considerable surplus of rice and wheat. We also enjoy an abundance of fruit, vegetables and dairy products and have the capacity to launch all these for export.

We can rightfully boast of the highest quality of craftsmanship in leather, metals, pottery and stitched craft, and are now entering the fashion market at an international level. Moreover, our considerable mineral resources await exploration, as do our deposits of natural gas.

Despite all these strengths, we have fallen into a debt trap because of poor governance and mismanagement, rectifying which is certainly within the realm of the feasible. A growth- and export-driven economy would enable us to exploit our strategic advantage effectively and base our foreign policy on an economically strong agenda.


Traditionally, Pakistan has been a security-driven state and that’s the reason why more emphasis has been on state-building over nation-building. However, changing regional as well as world dynamics present our foreign policy makers with a set of complex challenges. This is perhaps the most opportune time that Pakistan should reap the benefits of its geographical location and its importance to the whole world. Our foreign policy makers should move forward with extreme prudence.  

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