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Friendship With All: Diplomacy At Its Best

It is still a dream or a dream is coming true that Pakistan will be engaging in the coming weeks with all nations; from immediate and medium-distance neighbours to long distance friends. A quest for an independent foreign policy has always been a public aspiration in Pakistan but developments in the region and beyond invariably prevented the pursuit of a policy of `friendship with all and enmity with none’. There is a now an emerging realisation among the policy-makers that Pakistan has to look around and formulate policies which not only help it come out of the isolation but create avenues for prosperity of its very people. The underlying `shift’ is now luring Pakistan to remain engaged with the United States and its allies as well as to engage with India, Russia, China, Afghanistan etc. Coming few weeks are very important.

Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit

The notion of an independent foreign policy and friendship with all is in the spirit of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) from 1950s during the height of cold war. The 16th NAM Summit in Tehran from August 30 provided an opportunity for President Zardari to interact with other NAM leaders on a wide range of issues confronting Pakistan, the region and the globe. (Please adjust the above sentence as President Zardari is scheduled to attend the Summit and is expected to meet world leaders there). The leaders from regional powers like China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran etc had ample opportunity for talking peace and development in the region. The presence of President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh at Tehran sounds good omen for South Asian peace.

Pak-India Foreign Ministers Talks

Pakistan will be engaged with India at the foreign minister’s level in Islamabad from September 7-9. Foreign Minister of India S. M. Krishna’s visit comes at a time when the two countries are trying to open a new chapter of peace, friendship and cooperation in the region. The warmth in the atmospherics between the two countries does suggest that the `hard economic and geo-strategic’ realities are forcing the two countries to come closer to each other. And there is a lot to improve between the two countries. Apart from normalising trade activities, the gigantic task is to restore trust between the governments, the establishments and the people. And so much is already taking place. The commerce secretaries of Pakistan and India are also expected to meet in Islamabad in September to oversee the implementation of decisions, leading to formally grant of Most-Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India by Pakistan by the end of the current calendar year. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has also invited his newly appointed counterpart in India Sushil Kumar Shinde for talks on mutual cooperation in their areas of jurisdiction. The two countries have also agreed on a draft for a revised visa agreement and that is pending for signing. The new visa agreement, when comes into force, would replace the existing obsolete agreement signed back in 1970s. The new visa agreement envisages enhanced people to people contacts between Pakistan and India. During the Indian Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna’s visit to Pakistan, the two sides would review the progress achieved in this round of talks and search out more avenues for further action. All this activity is to enhance cooperation.

Russian President’s visit to Pakistan

The cold war era never allowed Pakistan and Russia (former Soviet Union) come closer and forge cooperative ties. The post-cold war `truce’ and diplomatic `détente’ between Pakistan and Russia softened the attitudes resulting in President General Pervez Musharraf’s visit to Moscow in February 2003. But, it could not attract any Russian president to undertake a visit to Pakistan. However, President Zardari has consistently been pursuing a consistent policy of wooing the Russians to forgo the bitterness of cold war realities and open a new chapter in relationship with Pakistan. It will not be historic moment but a giant leap in Pak-Russia relations when Vladimir Putin lands in Islamabad in October. A quadrilateral summit between Pakistan, Russia, Afghanistan and Tajikistan is scheduled in the first week of October wherein presidents Asif Zardari, Vladimir Putin, Hamid Karzai and Emamali Rahmon would further enhance cooperation.

Pak-US `normalisation

After weeks and months of speaking at each other following Salala attack, Pakistan and the United States are now speaking to each other at military to military, diplomatic to diplomatic and government to government levels. ISAF Commander in Afghanistan General John Allen held a number of meetings with military leadership in Pakistan and then US CENTCOM Chief General James Mattis had what was termed as the US Embassy in Islamabad as a successful discussion with military leadership in Pakistan. Now, the two sides have formally decided to restore the stalled strategic dialogue covering mutual cooperation in as many as 15 different areas. The sectoral meetings in various areas like energy, counter-terrorism, economy, democracy and others will be held in September. By the end of September, there is a likelihood of a meeting between Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will review the outcome of these meetings. With strategic dialogue’s revival, the relationship seems back on track.

Conclusion

The democratic government in Pakistan has been trying to change the tide of violence inside Pakistan and repercussions of violent activities on its foreign policy pursuits. It has changed the very tone of Pak-Afghan relations from accusation to possible cooperation. It has also set a new policy for itself called ‘Neighbours-first’ policy. Pak-India talks at foreign minister’s level have significance; the visit of Indian Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna may serve as harbinger to the much-awaited bilateral visit of Indian prime minister to Pakistan. Since the visit of former Bhartia Janta Party’s premier Atal Bihari Vajpaee in 1999, no Indian prime minister has ever paid a bilateral visit to Pakistan. Premier Vajpayee had another visit in 2004 but that was in the context of SAARC Summit. There are critics of the dialogue process being very slow. But slow and steady dialogue is better than deadly and sometimes bloody confrontation between Pakistan and India.

By: Shaukat Piracha

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