Changing Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Lexicon

Spearhead Analysis – 05.05.2016

By Ayesha N.I. Ahmad
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research


Pakistan Foreign PolicyOver the last six months the Pakistani leadership has had its plate full in terms of changing geopolitics. Sadly, the internal issues plaguing the nation reflect the lack of real analytical thought at the governmental level. The dearth of critical intellectuals on geopolitics, both at the state and public level, is becoming evident and the national foreign policy requirements continue to be dictated by civil-military squabbles. There continues to be a regurgitation-based approach consisting of outdated ‘plans’ and conspiracy theories as opposed to realism based long-term policy imperatives. For those observing the geopolitics of Pakistan, a genuine fear has started to emerge that Pakistan, at the state level, has no idea what its national and strategic long-term objectives should be.

Recent developments involving the United States, Saudi Arabia, India Afghanistan and Iran have been left largely unanswered by the beleaguered foreign office of the country. It seems as if Islamabad is comfortable with using outdated templates to understand fast changing on-ground realities in the region. 


Future interactions with the U.S.A have to be revised keeping in mind the upcoming changes in Washington D.C.being brought by the 2016 US elections. Pakistan for now will have to contend with the fact that the US cannot be ignored especially in light of Pakistan’s weak economy which is heavily dependent on loans. However, some semblance of reciprocity needs to be brought into Pakistan-U.S.A. relations.For this, a hard line in the diplomatic lexicon from the Pakistani side needs to be adopted. Islamabad needs to categorically state that relations with the USA are not a zero sum option.

Pakistan should start considering the U.S.A. a “distant country’’ and deal with it accordingly. The two foreign policy advisers of the government should dispassionately analyze the current and future mood in the Congress and State Department without any wishful thinking. The ‘do more’ mantra needs to be halted not just in foreign office speak from the US side but, on Capitol Hill as well. A message needs to be sent that the US-created quagmire in Afghanistan is its own problem and the desire to fix it should not come at the expense of Pakistan’s national interest or sovereignty. Pakistan’s concerns viz a viz Indian geo-strategic design in the region need to be understood. The Pakistani foreign office must consistently be stressing the need for nuclear parity that is needed between India and Pakistan as well as start a robust lobbying campaign in Washington D.C.

The stoppage of the F-16 deal by Congress should be seen as a silver lining to reset a normal which has become un-normal. If the U.S.A. is going to go back on its word, then Pakistan should prudently explore alternatives in China, Russia and Europe.

Moreover, the relationship with India needs to be seen with a realistic prism.It is back to square one where the two big South Asian countries are concerned. The recent meetings between the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries at the sidelines of the Heart of Asia conference could make no headway.Islamabad needs to seriously ponder upon and redraft its policy options.

Pakistan should take a step back and contemplate on whether going the extra mile for talks with India is proving to be productive. Perhaps Islamabad could benefit from taking a breather, sitting back, and let India be exposed in due time  over its hegemonic designs in the SAARC region.

Normality in relations between India and Pakistan does not seem likely in the near future. Key regional players need to be brought in to mediate and deal with the irresponsible US military and nuclear overtures to Modi’s India. This mediation needs to highlight the disturbance caused to the regional security equilibrium by these overtures.

Islamabad needs, also, to reflect and recalibrate its policy options where Afghanistan is concerned. Any talks with the Taliban should only be done through the aegis of Kabul. It was a mistake for Pakistan to try and bring the Taliban to the talking table. If there are to be talks, they must be owned and led by the Afghan government. The foreign office should be absolutely clear that if NATO wants to salvage any semblance of order in Afghanistan then it should acknowledge the ground reality that there is no functional government in Kabul capable of talking peace. Islamabad must start advocating a hard hands-off stance for itself and let the West come up with an Afghan solution of its own making.

New Horizons

Pakistan and Iran are geographical neighbors who need to work in tandem. Tehran is well on its way to becoming a major economic player now that U.S. sanctions are lifting.Pakistan’s energy needs, especially of gas for the country and electricity for Gwadar can be alleviated by Iran to a large extent. However at no stage should Pakistan have any linkage with Iran on any nuclear issue or discussion. Pakistan’s military contacts with Iran also need to be circumspect and handled very prudently.For this the Iranians have to be very clear that India should not be allowed to use its soil against Pakistan. An effective soft power strategy needs to be employed so that the Iranians see Pakistan as a bridge between it and the rest of the Sunni world and not linked with any alliance against it.

Whilst trying to achieve this new balance with Iran, Pakistan needs to tread its ground very prudently with Saudi Arabia.The open sectarian conflict between the two countries holds dangerous portends for Pakistan. Islamabad has a unique opportunity to – through diligent policy – act as a facilitator between the two nations. Pakistan must reassure the Saudis that it has not forgotten the help through cash support or free and deferred payments for oil imports the kingdom has given.However, Saudi Arabia needs to be amply clarified that Pakistan will not be dictated on how it deals with its neighbors. Pakistan needs to slowly but surely reset its ties with Saudi Arabia based on mutual respect. Pakistan is a democracy and not a religious authoritative monarchy and its foreign relations have to be based on its own ethos. The treatment of Pakistani expatriates with dignity and honor should be a major plank of our relationship with the Saudis. Pakistan has long and deep lasting diplomatic and military ties with Saudi Arabia and they should not be sacrificed at all.

From the Middle East across to South West Asia there are major geopolitical changes taking place. The Chinese “One Belt One Road” policy is on the roll.As the region embraces change it also let’s go of the old lexicons and normal’s. It is critical that the Pakistani leadership understand the reset and make the necessary changes to the national foreign policy so that the nation too can become part of the new region of opportunities.