Foreign policy test

Published October 30, 2022

THE global order is changing at an incredible speed, and unless states keep up with these changes and configure foreign policy accordingly, they risk getting sucked into the vortex of destructive bloc politics and confrontation. Pakistan, which sits in a difficult neighbourhood and has to manage a number of delicate bilateral relationships, must study its options well, even though its choices have been limited due to economic turmoil and mismanagement, as well as domestic political dissonance. Speaking at an event in Islamabad on Friday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif noted that the country’s relations with ‘friendly’ states had suffered over the past few years, and that he was making “all-out efforts” to mend ties. While the PM’s observation had a clear political angle — criticising his predecessor — there can be little argument about the need to improve ties with foreign partners. Mr Sharif seems to have been giving a renewed push to proactive foreign policy of late, having just returned from Saudi Arabia while he is next headed to China. Of course, Pakistan’s dire financial situation has much to do with this focus. Yet, creating a progressive and robust external policy will require more than just securing loans and MoUs from our foreign friends. It will require us to tread carefully to avoid the landmines lying ahead, and to put our own house in order so that Pakistan’s standing overseas can improve.

Pakistan must balance ties with a diverse collection of foreign partners, who often do not see eye to eye with each other, and many of whom expect this country to take sides when the going gets tough. That will be Pakistan’s principal foreign policy challenge in the days ahead. For example, the US has been a long-time partner of Pakistan, though the relationship has been more transactional than strategic. China and Saudi Arabia have also been steady partners, yet as things stand, the US considers the People’s Republic its number one foreign adversary, while ties between Washington and Riyadh have also started to fray. In such a scenario, will Pakistan be asked to pick sides? This is only one of the challenges that lie ahead. Pakistan’s interests — defence, economic, strategic — must come first, while the elected leadership needs to formulate a sagacious and balanced foreign policy, implemented by professional diplomats, that is able to withstand the strong headwinds that are today shaking the global order.

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2022

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