Foreign policy plan

Published July 28, 2018

A DOMESTIC agenda has long dominated the PTI’s politics, but as the party prepares to assume power for the first time at the federal level it will need to turn its attention to matters of foreign policy and national security too.

In a welcome move, then, the incoming prime minister Imran Khan spent a portion of his victory speech on Thursday addressing what kind of relations Pakistan would seek and maintain with its neighbours and global powers under his government.

The views expressed by Mr Khan were sensible and aspirational in a positive manner. Perhaps most importantly, Mr Khan began his comments about foreign policy by recognising that for Pakistan to achieve its social and economic potential it must be at peace with its neighbours in the region.

A foreign policy and national security agenda rooted in such an outlook could help Pakistan overcome some of the chronic problems that have held it back from playing a significantly positive and mutually beneficial role in the region and beyond.

Of particular interest are surely Mr Khan’s comments about three countries that Pakistan has complicated and strained relations with: Afghanistan, the US and India. Even as a foreign policy neophyte, at least in terms of leading a national governing party, Mr Khan is likely aware that the gap between sentiment and action is substantial.

Nevertheless, to hear a first-time governing party’s leader speak warmly about long-term aspirations such as an open border with Afghanistan can help set the right tone for his interactions with that country’s leaders and may indicate a willingness to try and reset the civil-military imbalance in the foreign policy and national security arenas domestically.

Peace in Afghanistan is an urgent regional priority, and Mr Khan’s support for a peace process is welcome. In terms of relations with the US, of which Mr Khan has frequently spoken critically in the past, the PTI supremo was more modest in his goals, but arguably rightly cast the immediate fate of Pakistan-US relations as tied to peace in Afghanistan. Mutually beneficial and balanced relations, as Mr Khan said he will seek with the US, are worth pursuing.

Inevitably, Mr Khan’s comments about India in his speech have drawn significant interest nationally and internationally. Expressing a commitment to seeking better ties with India on a reciprocal basis has put Mr Khan in the mainstream of national politics.

Despite the sometimes heated campaign rhetoric, there is a consensus among all major national political parties that ties with India must improve — a consensus that is invaluable and is arguably missing from Indian politics today.

Explicitly linking the fight against poverty to regional trade was also an important assessment by Mr Khan as was his criticism of the Pakistan-India blame game. India should pay heed to Mr Khan’s offer to go the extra mile to address all issues, including the Kashmir dispute.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2018

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