Pakistan’s Foreign Policy

Spearhead Analysis – 15.12.2016

The most urgent and significant foreign policy question facing Pakistan is how to respond to the escalating threat from Modi’s India to Pakistan’s stability and progress. How Pakistan responds to this threat will determine the environment in which Pakistanis will be living. The threat has been most clearly articulated by Mr Modi himself when he talked of support to the separatist elements in Baluchistan and Gilgit-Baltistan — since no significant such elements exist the implication was that such threats to Pakistan’s security were to be sponsored by India. In this context the Indian RAW agent arrested by Pakistan in Baluchistan and what he has confessed to is most pertinent. Mr Modi has also threatened that Pakistan would be isolated internationally by India and that he would unilaterally revoke the World Bank underwritten Indus Waters treaty to deny Pakistan its rights as a lower riparian. It is significant that most recently the World Bank has asked India and Pakistan to bilaterally resolve the issue of construction of dams by India to which Pakistan had objected and asked the World Bank to arbitrate.

Pakistan’s response has to factor in a consideration of why Mr Modi has adopted this threatening stance. It has to do with many factors: Mr Modi’s vote bank of Pakistan hating radical Hindu nationalists and the political compulsions that this creates, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor that could be a game changer for Pakistan, the indigenous and popular uprising in Indian Occupied Kashmir against Indian policies and atrocities and the attacks like Pathankot and Uri that can be traced to it, the desire to be in sync with the US policy to contain China and to appease the US so as to upgrade its defense capability and gain US support for its ambitions and to be a power broker in Afghanistan for access that gives it capacity for subversive activity within Pakistan.

Recent Indian and Afghan behavior in the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar indicates how the two can team up to orchestrate their policy against Pakistan. Pakistan must also note that the US has largely ignored the oppression and atrocities against the people in Indian Occupied Kashmir knowing that Pakistan has no hand in the revolt. Also relevant is the fact that Afghanistan, especially its President, has a fragile political and security situation and that Afghanistan is totally dependent on US and US sponsored western aid to survive — including military supplies from India. Unfortunately at this stage the US-Pakistan relationship is in a difficult patch and India is working assiduously to enhance and prolong this situation as part of its ‘isolate Pakistan strategy’ — there is also the possibility that under the Trump administration South Asia will see much more of an India first policy.

Pakistan’s offer of unconditional comprehensive dialogue with India and discussion on strategic restraint has not led to any positive response from India. Pakistan’s narrative of wanting peace and stability in Afghanistan and a transition within Pakistan that sidelines terror and militancy has also not led to any reciprocity from the US and Afghanistan. The fact that there is gross and growing asymmetry between India and Pakistan that would logically deter Pakistan from seeking an other than normal relationship with India is not discussed — nor is the fact that Pakistan’s focus is on its economy and a stable secure environment for CPEC and other projects. The effect of the uncertainty of US presence and end game in Afghanistan on Pakistan has not been considered. There has been very little thought given to the impact of coercive policies against Pakistan that motivate the militant forces that are seen as a threat and that Pakistan is trying to sideline. Last but not the least is the fact that a secure and stable Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interest just as a secure and stable Pakistan is in Afghanistan’s interest and that a resolution of the Kashmir issue or even a discussion of the issue could dramatically change the environment.

What then should be Pakistan’s response? The relationship with the US exists and there is enough traction on both sides to ensure that it continues to exist in whatever form it may take after the transition in the US. Pakistan must continue to interact with the US in its own interest. Pakistan needs to reach out to Afghanistan on multiple tracks using all possible influences to develop a bilateral relationship that is in the interest of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Russia has stood by Pakistan in at least two multilateral events — Pakistan needs to do everything possible to forge a bilateral relationship with it. China is Pakistan’s strategic ally and Pakistan should continue to act to strengthen this relationship and address concerns if any. With India a waiting game will have to be played and a readiness maintained to respond appropriately should India resort to covert or overt aggression. India’s hostile attitude is likely to persist therefore repeated offers of talk are quite unnecessary: what may help is a stated position that offers to move issues like Uri and Pathankot into bilateral legal channels, to discuss a sustainable cease fire arrangement on the LOC and possibly an agreement not to allow cross border activity from either side including immediate joint investigation of any violation of the agreement and a mutual media restraint policy. Should India continue to malign Pakistan internationally then there should be a concerted campaign to pay India back in the same manner. Pakistan should also move in a determined way to forge an interactive bilateral relationship with Iran. Pakistan should step up its presence and activity in multilateral events and move to ensure a friction free relationship with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. There is perhaps a need for more interaction with the world especially the countries with which we have no problems and that we need for trade and support. The UK has been active in multiple developmental projects in Pakistan and a special relationship could be forged with it. There is also a requirement to ensure that we act to maintain the GSP plus status with the EU.

Finally all foreign policy initiatives require to be backed by an across the board political consensus and a stable and secure internal environment. Above all a strong credible and dynamic deterrence capability must be maintained with a readiness to respond should deterrence fail or be challenged by rash irresponsible actions from any quarter. The hope is that the Trump administration will articulate a policy for South Asia that finally “learns from the mistakes of the past” as stated by the President-Elect so that reactions to events does not substitute for a well considered policy.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)