Pakistan’s foreign policy choices, like any other country, are determined by international and regional geopolitical trends as well as by its domestic environment. Foreign policy formulation in Pakistan has also taken imprints of global situation that is rapidly transforming, regional situation that remains complex and domestic environment which offers multitude of both challenges and opportunities. On global stage, profound transformations have taken place with implications on international stability and security.
Presently, the world is witnessing the emergence of a multipolar system, as evidenced by inability of any single country or a single bloc of countries to address global challenges of security and development. In the emerging multipolar order, sadly, self-serving national interests tend to override the collective approach required for maintenance of international peace and security; hence the limitations faced by the United Nations Security Council in Syria and other theatres of conflict.
Concurrently, the world has shied away from the chronic hotbeds of conflict such as Palestine and Jammu and Kashmir and thus failed to limit the social and ideological disillusionment arising from unresolved disputes. This enhances the potential for further conflagration in the event of extra-regional forces promoting regional hegemons.
Unresolved conflicts tend to affect neighbouring countries and beyond by creating spill-over effects. The world today is witnessing a grave refugee crisis driven primarily by unresolved conflicts, war and persecution. Pakistan too has faced such a protracted refugee situation for the last three decades. Over three million Afghans still live in Pakistan, either as registered refugees or illegal entrants. The country has shouldered this responsibility even in the face of negligible international assistance for many years now.
Pakistan’s regional geostrategic landscape remains complicated. The phenomenal rise of China and its close relations with Pakistan and the improved Pak-Russia ties have all the prospects to finally convert Pakistan’s geostrategic location from a liability into an asset for economic development of the country.
This positive trend is counterbalanced by India’s continuing policy to pressure Pakistan, by sponsoring terrorist campaigns inside Pakistan to foment separatism or by ceasefire violations on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir to constrain Pakistan Army’s ability to deploy more resources on the western borders with Afghanistan. India also maintains direct military pressure on Pakistan through deployment of advance weapons systems, offensive troops positioning and exercises along the border to refine the capacity of a surprise attack, as envisaged in its Cold Start Doctrine. Regrettably, India is also openly opposing China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for no apparent reason than to impede the economic development of Pakistan. India’s proclivity to use of force against innocent civilians in Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK) and its refusal to discuss the longstanding Jammu and Kashmir issue with Pakistan locks their bilateral relationship in a perpetual crisis.
Further complicating the regional situation is uncertainty in Afghanistan over challenges faced by the country in the context of peace and reconciliation and rebuilding state institutions.
Pakistan’s domestic situation has a very strong relationship with its foreign policy. Our decision in the 1980s to get deeply involved in the Western strategy to counter the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led to many serious long-term consequences, such as militarization of our tribal areas and spill-over effects of allied military operations into Pakistan where terrorists crossed over into our areas and coalesced to carry out spates of terrorist attacks which killed or injured over 60,000 people in the past 14 years caused economic losses of over $100 billion.
Faced with these global, regional and domestic challenges, the Nawaz Sharif government has conceived and implemented a strategic vision for Pakistan’s foreign policy with clear objectives of fostering national economic development and promoting peace in the region and beyond. This strategic vision has three major pillars:
(a) Internal security
The first pillar is priority to Pakistan’s own security. This implies a policy of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs and a refrain from fighting others’ wars or supporting causes of conflict that do not concern us directly.
(b) A peaceful neighbourhood
Secondly, making economic revival and sustainable development is the centrepiece of Pakistan’s foreign policy. This entails embarking on domestic reforms and striving for a peaceful neighbourhood.
(c) Regional connectivity
Finally, concrete efforts to turn Pakistan’s geostrategic location into an asset, rather than a liability, through trade, transport and energy connectivity with China, Central Asia and West Asia are also underway. This, in turn, could also help to re-balance Pakistan’s geostrategic and geo-economic priorities.
The first two pillars of the strategic vision i.e. focusing on internal security and creating a peaceful neighbourhood are mutually interlinked. These goals are constrained by our difficult relationships with Afghanistan and India.
i. Pak-Afghan relationship
Peace and stability in Afghanistan remains critical for security of Pakistan. Formation of a National Unity Government (NUG) in Afghanistan in September 2014 had brought about a significant improvement in Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan. However, intensification of hostilities in different parts of Afghanistan, following the withdrawal of ISAF forces and the stalled peace process strained this bilateral relationship. Internal political divisions within NUG and failure to articulate clear modalities of reconciliation complicate the peace process. Despite these constrains, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, which comprises Afghanistan, Pakistan, the US and China, is a manifestation of Pakistan’s commitment to undertake joint efforts for realizing the goal of reducing violence and achieving long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan. A broader intra-Afghan understanding and consensus within the Afghan government will be critical for the success of the Peace Process.
ii. Pakistan-India ties
Secondly, Pakistan-India ties continue to challenge Pakistan’s dream for a peaceful neighbourhood. Improving Pak-India relations was part of the election manifesto of the ruling party, PML-N. The sincerity of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to this objective was evident in his participation in the inauguration ceremony of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. For the last two years, Pakistan’s offers to resume dialogue have been met with India’s disdain and preconditions. The real bone of contention between the two countries is Jammu and Kashmir dispute. Unfortunately, India is responding to the indigenous Kashmiri movement for the right to self-determination with denial and delusion. India denies a legitimate and popular freedom struggle in Kashmir by brandishing the region as its “integral part,” which it never was. India is also under delusion that Kashmiri uprising is terrorism. Riding on this denial and delusions, it holds Pakistan responsible for the crisis in Indian-occupied Kashmir and continues to perpetrate grave human rights violations in the valley. For peace in Kashmir, India must dismount the untenable position it has taken thus far. In its negotiations with India whenever they take place, Pakistan will continue seeking normalization of relationship and promoting steps that would pave the way for settlement of all outstanding disputes, particularly Jammu and Kashmir.
Another important dimension of Pakistan-India relationship is maintaining strategic stability in South Asia. In this context, the international community has a two-fold role to play:
I. First, it must encourage both sides to have a sustained and result-oriented dialogue on all issues, including nuclear and conventional confidence-building measures (CBMs).
ii. Second, it should desist from policies and actions that undermine strategic stability in the region such as the supply of weapon systems that widens the existing conventional asymmetry. Any preferential and discriminatory approach favouring India in the nuclear field can affect strategic stability in South Asia. It is in this context that Pakistan urges its application of NSG to be evaluated on criteria at non-discriminatory approach.
The third pillar of strategic vision is to turn Pakistan’s strategic location into an asset. In the context, regional connectivity and regional cooperation is Pakistan’s important foreign policy priority. The Government of Pakistan is earnestly implementing transnational and regional connectivity projects to optimize country’s economic and trade potential. As a flagship project of China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) envisages formidable economic and trade partnership through connectivity. By linking China with the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf, CPEC will optimize trade potential and enhance energy security of China, Pakistan and the wider region, at large. CPEC is also a catalyst for regional economic integration. It will foster regional harmony and forge closer relations among China, Pakistan and other countries in the region. Pakistan is also actively pursuing various regional connectivity projects like TAPI, CASA 1000, IP and Torkham-Jalalabad-Kabul motorway to take further advantage of its geostrategic and geo-economic disposition at the crossroads of three regions. In terms of regional cooperation, Pakistan attaches great importance to its membership of the SCO as it allows the country to reiterate its interest in regional peace, stability and development and its support for regional cooperation against terrorism, separatism and extremism.
In terms of implementing the strategic vision, Pakistan is strengthening its relations beyond the neighbourhood countries; focusing on the Muslim World, East Asia and the West, USA and Europe. Pakistan seeks to deepen cooperation in areas of security, counterterrorism, promoting economic and trade relations and seeking investment, which is essential for country’s economic growth.
Pakistan’s relations with the European Union (EU) are also an important component of its foreign policy. The EU is Pakistan’s traditional ally and a major trading and investment partner. The trajectory of Pak-EU relations is positive, both at economic and strategic levels. Pakistan wants to further expand and deepen its partnership with the European Union. At the Third Pakistan-EU Strategic Dialogue meeting, Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Mr Sartaj Aziz, discussed with the High Representative the modalities of a new framework of cooperation, which would be launched in 2017. Hopefully, the new framework would help establish a long-term strategic partnership between Pakistan and the EU.
Pakistan’s ground realities are rapidly changing for the better, with decisive and comprehensive action to combat violence, terrorism and extremism. The heroic efforts and sacrifices of Pakistan’s armed forces in Zarb-e-Azb, supplemented by intelligence-based operations around all major urban centres, Madrassah reforms and conviction of terrorists through military courts, have released Pakistan from the shackles of terrorists and extremists.
Improvement in the security situation has led to visible signs of economic revival and higher investment. Government has accordingly set out to pursuing vigorously the priorities of expanding investment and trade and actively resolving the energy crisis.
In Pakistan of today, the democratic process and institutions have become stronger, supported by an independent judiciary, free media and a vibrant civil society.
In terms of future priorities, Pakistan seeks to improve its economy, vigorously build CPEC and focus on relations with its immediate neighbours in the spirit of peaceful coexistence. At the same time, Pakistan is putting its own house in order by focusing on better governance, improving law and order situation, attracting FDI and embarking on sustained economic growth. In this regard, support of international community in building a prosperous Pakistan and a peaceful neighbourhood contributing to common objectives of mutually beneficial economic development and maintenance of international peace and security is highly solicited.
— Extracted from the Statement by Mr Sartaj Aziz, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, at European Institute of Asian Studies in October 2016.