The Gulf Factor in Pakistan’s Foreign Policy

Inviting Arabs to hunt is pillar of foreign policy

The Gulf is important for a whole host of reasons, and most people understand that. The religious Holy Land link is but one facet of the relationship. We were the natural first port of call — back in the day when we were bigger, better and stronger — for Arab countries looking to expand after the petro bonanza. We helped build their armies, airlines and newspapers, among other things. We also supported the Arab brethren in the Palestinian conflict. In return, they provided precious cheap oil; which proved pivotal in our times of isolation, like the sanctions environment that followed the decision to go nuclear. And they always sided with us politically, even if the Kashmir question often enough escaped their attention.

But of late Arab demands have tended to transgress too deep into our internal and foreign policies. The Yemen situation, for example, where the GCC was openly upset by our parliament’s unanimous decision. Since the Arab Spring has been increasingly perverted, and a GCC-Iran proxy war of sorts has started playing out in the Wider Middle East, Pakistan is being pushed in an increasingly difficult position. Parliament was cautious over Yemen because there was risk of deepening sectarian cleavages at home, not to mention engaging and compromising our military in a conflict we have nothing to do with; that too at a time of an existential internal war.

Relations have admittedly worsened since then, and it is natural for Islamabad to try and improve the climate. But for the government to push the Supreme Court to reconsider the ban on houbara bustard hunting – because it is allegedly spoiling relations with the Gulf – is as surprising as it is naïve. For one thing, it is unbecoming of a government to argue against a ban on hunting an endangered specie, especially if it is meant for sport and fun for foreign princes. For another, linking such things with deep-rooted foreign policy decisions betrays a startling poverty of imagination and understanding in the present foreign office and ministry. Perhaps this is the result of not having a dedicated foreign minister. Or perhaps this just shows to what depths our politicians and bureaucrats have descended. Either way, there is a need to breathe fresh air, and life, into the foreign ministry. Our friends, just like our governments, must respect the decisions of our courts and toggle foreign relations accordingly.

Courtesy: Pakistan Today

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