The year 2014 has been a period of tumult as well as great gains in the realm of foreign policy. Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours except India and other superpowers improved a lot during this year. Pakistan, keeping in view its geostrategic position and econo-political conditions in present times, needs to enhance its bilateral relations with other countries. The association with some nations has been historically harmonious, however, with some it has been more of a roller coaster ride with a fair deal of ups and downs. Here is a brief analysis of how Pakistan’s foreign relations fared in 2014.
Indo-Pak ties nose-dived in 2014, as the deadly border clashes, cancellation of talks and a war of words dashed hopes of any headway towards peace. Ties plummeted further with clashes at the Line of Control (LoC) as cross-border firing between the two sides claimed at least 20 lives on both sides. Both sides blamed each other for the start of fight. After 2014 general elections, Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India. He invited Saarc leaders, including Sharif, to his swearing-in ceremony. The Modi-Sharif meeting in New Delhi was the high point of bilateral ties as they asked their officials to plough the ground for peace.
Following up on the meeting, the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries were scheduled to meet in August in Islamabad. But just before the meeting, India cancelled the talks after Pakistan’s envoy in India Abdul Basit met Kashmiri leaders ahead of the dialogue.
A window of opportunity for revival of talks opened in November when both Modi and Sharif visited Nepal to attend the regional Saarc summit. But the summit did little to better ties as the first day saw cold vibes being shared between the two leaders. The final blow of 2014 came with the bail for Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi — the alleged mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks — a move which undid any make-believe friendship that may have been conjured by the internationally-coaxed handshake between Nawaz and Modi at the Saarc summit.
The frosty ties were also reflected on the sports field with Pakistani hockey players going into frenzy after defeating India in the semi-final of the Champions Trophy in Bhubaneswar. Also, the Pakistan Kabaddi team launched an official complaint that match referees were biased and played a role in their loss to Indian Kabaddi team in the fifth Kabaddi World Cup final.
The only country with which Pakistan has predicable relationship is China. Pakistan and China developed exemplary cordial and cooperative relations in the previous year which, as always, saw an upward trend, although the first visit by a Chinese president in years had to be cancelled due to political unrest in the country. Pakistan considers China central to its foreign policy because of close proximity and convergence of interest in this part of the region. Pakistan serves as an important ally for China in the South Asian Region. Pakistan’s geographical location puts it on the main route connecting China and the Middle East and China and Central Asia. For economic and strategic connectivity with these regions, China requires safe passage through Pakistan especially after China’s growing share in world trade. In addition, China wishes to secure its position through Pakistan in South Asia to balance India’s emergence as it can potentially jeopardize the Chinese ambitions of leading Asia.
The aborted state visit of the Chinese President notwithstanding, Sharif secured substantial Chinese economic help and diplomatic assurances during a trip to Beijing.
China has committed to make an investment of US$6 billion in the power sector during the next five years. Ground breaking ceremony of a nuclear power plant at Karachi with Chinese assistance that would start producing 2200 MW electricity by 2017 has already been carried out. Steps have also been taken to convert the existing oil-based power plants to coal-based units to curtail the oil bill and also to ensure cheap electricity to the people, in future.
In November 2014, Chinese government announced that it will finance Chinese companies to build $45.6 billion worth of energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan as part of CPEC. Documents show that China has promised to invest around $33.8 billion in various energy projects and $11.8 billion in infrastructure projects which will be completed by 2017 at most. The deal includes $622 million for Gwadar port. Under the CPEC agreement, $15.5 billion worth of coal, wind, solar and hydro energy projects will add 10,400 megawatts of energy to the national grid of Pakistan. Keeping in view the future, the signing of agreements with China for the projects covered by Pak-China Corridor and the power projects with a total investment of US$42 billion, was probably the best deal of the year.
Though Nawaz Sharif’s policy towards India proved counterproductive, it has gained success when it comes to ties with Afghanistan. The change of administration as a result of formation of a unity government in Afghanistan has helped Islamabad take a new start with Kabul. Relations between Islamabad and Kabul remained tense during the fag end of Karzai’s extended term in office. The visit of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to Islamabad in November, where the two countries pledged to move away from the relationship of mistrust to one built on mutual cooperation, was seen as a watershed moment for regional stability.
The unprecedented visit of Ghani to the GHQ in Rawalpindi was a strong message that both he and his administration were willing to work with Pakistan’s security establishment.
The start of a military offensive by Afghan security forces against sanctuaries of the TTP in Kunar province following the December 16 Peshawar massacre is also seen as a new beginning in bilateral relations. It is believed that Pakistan’s diplomatic outreach with the new Afghan leadership has convinced both Kabul and Washington that the military offensive in North Waziristan, considered to be the hotbed of local and foreign militants, has significantly depleted the operational capacity of the Haqqani Network. With US-led forces out of the war-torn country, relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan would become even more important in the coming year and are likely to shape future regional security.
The year 2014 has been a mixture of highs and lows for Pakistan’s relations with Iran. Relations with Iran have never been easy considering the pressure Pakistan has to deal with from its Arab allies as well as the US. Although, Prime Minister Nawaz is considered close to Saudi Arabia, his visit to Tehran in 2014 was a clear message that Pakistan cannot ignore Iran. However, intermittent fights at borders marred the prospects of cordial bilateral relations. The latest round of hostilities began in the first week of October, after fight resulted in the death of four Iranian security personnel. The activities of terrorist networks operating along Pak-Iran border continue to cause bitterness between the neighbours. Unless the issue is resolved there are likely to be more severe border incidents.
Nevertheless, Iran’s economic minister Ali Tayebnia met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on December 9, 2014. The trade exchange between Iran and Pakistan stood at $893 million during 2014.
5. United States
Islamabad’s relationship with Washington has remained central to Pakistan’s foreign policy over the past few years, particularly after the 9/11 attacks. Despite being allies in the fight against terrorism, relations between the two have been marred by a series of ups and downs. But, 2014 was different as the outgoing year went without any major controversy between the two countries. The only irritant that remained between the two countries was the continuation of the US drone campaign. However, increasingly Pakistan’s public condemnation of drone strikes in the tribal areas is seen more as a ritual rather than real opposition. Years of mistrust due to the US secret raid in Abbottabad in 2011 to kill al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and other incidents considerably reduced in 2014. The six-day visit of Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, to the United States proved very successful and was considered a landmark in Pak-US relations. This time unlike previous years, there has been public ackn
owledgement by Washington of Islamabad’s push against militants. However, the real test of this relationship is yet to come as US completes its mission in Afghanistan.
A rebalance in US policy with focus on Asia-Pacific region, including South Asia, has been witnessed in recent months. This is motivated by economic considerations in the new globalised world. Given these circumstances, distrust between Pakistan and US would be detrimental to the interests of both countries. Therefore, there is a need to build a futuristic collaborative relationship.
Pakistan seems to be more enthusiastic in improving relations with Russia as there are solid reasons for it to grow in the future. Among them is the changing geostrategic landscape of this region that provides the rationale for Russia to improve its relations with large and medium-sized powers. For Russia, the benefits of improving bilateral relations with Pakistan are well defined, especially in the context of a regional framework for antiterrorism cooperation as well as Pakistan’s interest in buying Russian weapons systems and expanding economic interaction.
Pakistan also stands to gain in terms of having alternative options for its security needs, technology transfer in the scientific and research fields, access to the Russian market for its exports, and strengthening relations with its Central Asian neighbours — which are difficult to develop beyond a certain level without having improved relations with Russia first.
A military cooperation agreement that Russia and Pakistan signed during Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu’s visit to Islamabad marked an important shift in bilateral relations. The defence cooperation agreement is the first of its kind between the two countries and has been described as a “milestone” in Russia-Pakistan relations.
7. Saudi Arabia
Brotherly relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia grew from strength to strength. The present government, like its predecessors, seems committed to raising Pak-Saudi bilateral relations still higher. Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner of Pakistan and presence of over 1.5 million Pakistani diaspora has contributed significantly towards development of infrastructure in the kingdom. These overseas Pakistanis are a major source of remittances back home and they act as a bridge between the two countries.
Since the beginning of New Year, a flurry of high profile cross visits between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have been witnessed. Prince Salman bin Sultan visited Pakistan in early 2014. He inaugurated “Centre for Education Research and Social Development”.
Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Raheel Sharif, also paid an official visit to the kingdom. During his visit, General Sharif was conferred King Abdul Aziz Medal of Excellence. He also held separate meetings with Saudi Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud and Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Abdul Rahman Bin Ali Al Rubaian. These meetings focused on defence and security cooperation, regional stability and steps towards strengthening bonds between the two countries. For Saudi Arabia, Pakistan is an important partner in its bid to maintain regional balance in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has been a regular buyer of Pakistani small arms in the past; now it has expressed keen interest in JF-17 Thunder jets. Raheel Sharif’s visit soon after Turki bin Faisal’s trip to Islamabad will further improve close defence and security ties with Pakistan that will help Saudi Arabia maintain its regional dominance with the assistance of an important non-Arab ally.
The perspectives of the Turkey and Pakistan are marked by a common outlook and shared objectives. The federal and Punjab governments have embarked on an ambitious socio-economic and infrastructure development agenda and various steps were taken to attract Turkish investment in Pakistan. The Pakistan-Turkey defense industrial relationship continued to deepen with more bilateral projects being promoted and undertaken such as aircraft, ships and tanks. The latest agreement was signed between Pakistan’s Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) and Turkey’s Nurol Technologies at Pakistan’s biennial defence show, the International Defence Exhibition And Seminar 2014 (IDEAS 2014), held on Dec 1-4 in Karachi.
Turkey has already been working with the Punjab government. Prominent examples of Turkish investments include the Lahore Metro Bus Service and the Lahore Waste Management Company. Besides these, Turkey is also cooperating in different energy projects. Turkey’s collaboration in low-cost housing schemes is also on rise. Collaboration in banking sector would also be catalytic in providing a facilitating environment for trade and connectivity services.
The world is in a state of flux as fast-paced developments are rapidly transforming the global scenario. Pakistan should also keep pace with these changes and should draw up a robust foreign policy to tackle the emerging challenges. Obviously, a comprehension of the global trends and the forces driving them is a must for this.