A DAY after the Foreign Office said that Pakistan did not mind engaging with the US “on a range of issues” though “at an opportune time”, Prime Minister Imran Khan added clarity to the reason behind the government’s decision not to participate in Washington’s Summit for Democracy.
After referring to CPEC as a glorious opportunity at the Islamabad Conclave 2021 yesterday, the prime minister went on to say that Pakistan should not be part of any bloc as the world heads towards a new Cold War — this one primarily involving China and the US. Mr Khan was absolutely correct in sounding the alarm: diplomatic neutrality is compromised when countries get involved in bloc politics that aims to undercut ideological or economic rivals.
Read more: The new cold war?
The lessons of being part of the anti-communist blocs Seato and Cento should not be lost on Pakistan. Perhaps there was also a realisation of the danger in taking sides when in 2015, parliament, to its credit, refused to involve the country in the Saudi-led campaign inside war-torn Yemen.
But can the Summit for Democracy — a one-off event — be described as an international bloc? Certainly, the rivalry is clear as China and Russia were left out and Taiwan, Beijing’s bête noire, was invited by the US. However, among the over 100 participants are also countries that have normal ties with those whom Washington deems its rivals.
Pakistan could have attended the virtual summit — perhaps even raised the prime minister’s point about guarding against divisive international blocs from that very platform to make its stance clear, putting paid to any hopes that it was inclined to favour one party over the other. In an increasingly polarised world, open communication between states is crucial to forging a common agenda for democracy — both domestically and in interstate relations. Many countries like Pakistan know the dangers of despotic rule only too well. Spreading this awareness and enlisting global support for democratic rule and trust-building between nations can deter the authoritarian elements forever waiting in the wings.
For Pakistan, balancing its ties with Washington and Beijing will not be easy. If the current developments are anything to go by, the Sino-American confrontation may get uglier. Tensions are already intensifying as the US, together with Canada, the UK and Australia, is officially boycotting the 2022 Winter Olympic Games (although the athletes will attend) in China over the latter’s alleged human rights violations. Pakistan will need to make intelligent, and at times tough, decisions in order to maintain a neutral posture. There are many factors which will constrain such attempts, among them this country’s dependency on foreign funds and investment, something which is often taken advantage of in international relations. Even so, it must find the strength to resist any temptation or pressure to root for one country at the expense of another.
Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2021