In Pursuit of a Peaceful Neighbourhood for Development

The pursuit of good neighbourly relations seems a new phenomenon in the foreign policy of Pakistan. The ‘Region First Approach’ is a novel idea as except China, it was never sought by Pakistan in the past.

Month of September witnessed a quite hectic activity by Pakistan on diplomatic front. Top leadership of Pakistan paid visits to and also received leaders from the neighbouring countries. In the foreign policy of Pakistan, it is a new emerging trend to seek peace with neighbours and immediate neighbours for securing development and prosperity while trying to handle the daunting task of internal security challenges. The policy is primarily driven from the harsh realities of domestic security problems, changing geo-political scenario in the region, hard economic and financial constraints and a `rough patch’ in relations with the United States.

On the very first day of September, President Asif Ali Zardari was in China. More precisely, he was in Urumqi, the bordering town of Pakistan in the Xingjian province of China. President Zardari has been following a policy of paying visit to China after every three months to conclude new initiatives, review with the Chinese Central and local leadership the implementation of already agreed ventures and harmonize policies on regional and global issues. This time in his seventh visit to China since taking over as President in September 2008, he was there in Urumqi to attend the inauguration of the China-Eurasia Expo. President was accompanying a high level delegation including Foreign Minister Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar, Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Defence Minister Ch. Ahmed Mukhtar, Petroleum and Natural Resources Minister Dr. Asim Hussain, Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan Syed Mehdi Shah, Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir Chaudhary Abdul Majeed, Chairman Board of Investment Salim H. Manviwala, President of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) Senator Haji Ghulam Ali and  spokesperson to the President Farhatullah Babar.

It is very important to understand as to why President took a high level delegation to Urumqi. There took place riots in Kashgar, another city in Xingjian province of China and the local Chinese authorities have aired that the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) leaders were trained inside Pakistan. President Zardari held a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Li Kequang and discussed thoroughly the continuing Sino-Pak co-operation in counter-terrorism in general and in dealing with the activities of Uighur dissident/ terrorist elements.

From China, he moved to Dushanbe, Tajiskistan. President Zardari attended quadrilateral summit along with the Presidents of Tajikistan, Russia and Afghanistan and held bilateral meetings with the leadership of the respective countries. The Summit also set up coordinating council of foreign ministers of the four countries for overlooking the implementation of the decisions. The summit also emphasized upon the regional connectivity wherein the Tajik President Emomali Rahmon formally proposed building of a railroad from Russia through Tajikistan to Pakistan. The proposal was accepted by all. Indeed, the summit accelerated the pace and provided a direction for regional cooperation in the fields of security, development and connectivity. The significance of the quadrilateral summit in terms of regional realities and its consequent global imperatives notwithstanding, the quadrilateral mechanism has enabled Russia and Pakistan to sit across the table and talk to each other in a cooperative spirit. The quadrilateral process between Pakistan, Russia, Afghanistan and Tajikistan has now been able to identify to practical steps for cooperation. Russian engagement in CASA-1000 project transmitting electricity from central Asia to south Asia and connectivity projects will connect the entire region in a win-win scenario for every stakeholder.  That is exactly what Pakistan wants in the given circumstances.

Month of September also saw Pakistan’s engagement with another neighbour i.e Iran. Iranian Foreign Minister of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi paid a visit to Islamabad and participated in a two-day proceeding of the Joint Economic Commission. In the policy of peace and development, Pakistan and Iran signed three Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) to boost cooperation in economic and technical field, electronic media cooperation and for establishing Pak-Iran Investment Company.  Iran also agreed to accelerate provision 1,100 megawatts of electricity to Pakistan out of which 1,000 MW would be put in the national grid while remaining 100 megawatts would be supplied to Gwadar. Pakistan and Iran also reaffirmed determination to complete mega project of Gas Pipeline by 2014. Iranian Foreign Minister Salehi explained that the gas pipeline project would be named as ‘peace pipeline’ and Iran has almost completed 90 per cent of work on the project inside her geographical limits and within one year it would reach to Pak-Iran border.

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani also paid an official visit to Iran for further cementing ties with neighbourly country. Prime Minister Gillani later told a cabinet meeting in Islamabad that he exchanged views with President Mehmood Ahmadinejad on further augmenting our existing bilateral relation and cooperation in various fields ranging from trade and economy to internal security and intelligence sharing. ‘It was also agreed that the volume of bilateral trade should touch a figure of US $ 10 billion for which the transportation & communication network has to be improved for trade facilitation, Premier Gillani noted.

Pakistan and Afghanistan held a meeting in Islamabad of joint working group on reconciliation inside Afghanistan. Deputy Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Javed Ludin and Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir exchanged views on various proposals for ensuring peace and reconciliation inside Afghanistan. Pakistan reassured its support and solidarity with any Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process.

An extraordinary and large trade delegation headed by Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim paid visit to India. This was a visit of its own kind in decades to normalize trade relations with India.

The pursuit of good neighbourly relations seems a new phenomenon in the foreign policy of Pakistan. The ‘Region First Approach’ is a novel idea as except China, it was never sought by Pakistan in the past. It seeks to normalize relations with all neighbours including India and increase interdependency for ensuring peace and development. The present democratic government is pressing for trade not aid. It is endeavouring for connectivity rather than hostility with neighbours. President emphasized on such a policy in Chian and Tajikistan, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani explained it in Tehran and the foreign minister pursued it while she made a maiden visit to India.

By: Shaukat Piracha

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