IN the choppy waters of global politics, those states that keep national interest supreme and make deft foreign policy choices — specifically by resisting getting caught up in other people’s conflicts — are the ones that succeed. Of course, various Pakistani governments in the past have failed to adopt such measures, getting the country sucked into Cold War politics, as well as the Afghan quagmire following the Soviet invasion, for example.
Now, as another geopolitical confrontation emerges in the region, pitting the Western camp against China, Pakistan will need to make some tough choices. It is in this context that the prime minister told Chinese state broadcaster CGTN on Tuesday that Pakistan will not join any anti-Beijing grouping. Pakistan “should have good relations with everyone” Imran Khan told the Chinese outlet, while adding that the relationship between Islamabad and Beijing is “very deep”.
The “strange, great rivalry” Mr Khan referred to in the interview points to the emerging Build Back Better World (B3W) scheme that has recently been floated by the G7 bloc of industrialised Western states (and Japan). As American officials have said on record, the plan is designed to counter the Belt and Road Initiative, which CPEC is a part of.
It should be remembered that the prime minister referred to CPEC as the “biggest thing happening in Pakistan” in the aforesaid interview. Along with B3W, the US is pushing the ‘Quad’, a grouping of four states that includes India, to contain China. Considering these geopolitical developments, the prime minister’s concerns are valid, and he has rightly said that Pakistan will not abandon its friends.
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The fact is that Pakistan’s relations with China are indeed long-standing, and cannot be sacrificed at the altar of expediency. Beijing has come to this country’s aid at difficult times, and Pakistan values this commitment — although a position of unqualified support to any country merits review.
Having said that, this country also wishes to have cordial ties with the US and to move beyond a transactional relationship that has existed since the Cold War. Therefore, the message to Washington must be clear: we want close relations with you, but Pakistan will not become a party to any rivalries designed to isolate its traditional allies.
In fact, this should be the mantra to guide all foreign policy decisions. Whether it is getting involved in the Arab-Iranian dispute or other prickly foreign policy questions, Pakistan must maintain neutrality and be guided by pragmatism, principles and national interest. For example, Pakistan did the right thing by not getting involved in the Yemen imbroglio in 2015, though the decision had annoyed many of our Arab ‘brothers’. At that juncture, the collective wisdom of parliament had saved Pakistan from getting trapped in another quagmire. Therefore, it should be through the democratic process that all future foreign policy questions are settled in a wise and judicious manner.
Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2021