Pakistan’s aggressive foreign policy is an attempt at making itself relevant again
The recent months have seen an exponential increase in the activities of Pakistan’s diplomatic corps. The intensive maneuvering of foreign policy is happening on several fronts. On the Afghan issue, Pakistan is playing an increasingly pivotal role in the peace process by facilitating the United States’ talks with the Taliban, even as it continues to engage with the regional stakeholders. Several other significant openings have been forthcoming for Pakistan, especially in the Middle East, where the new government has embarked on a charm offensive to reorient the nature of its relationship with regional players.
A comprehensive change has taken place within Pakistan’s Foreign Office, too, with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi reshaping the objectives exceedingly well. This is supplemented by increasing the role of carrier diplomats in foreign office affairs and putting them into crucial positions worldwide. On the political front, Prime Minister Imran Khan and his persona have only helped matters further. Lastly, the diplomatic diarchy of the past decade -- where the country’s civilian government and military engagement with external actors without any mutual coordination and often differing outlooks -- has finally come to an end. All principal powerhouses are now on the same page. This development manifests the ultimate level of trust between PM Khan and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
For years, the ongoing Afghan conflict posed a security challenge for Islamabad, specifically with the rise of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its terrorist proxies. With security personnel engaging in operations and largely eliminating the TTP’s strongholds in the tribal areas, the focus is back on the Afghan political theatre that has seen the resurgence of the Taliban as a force to be reckoned with.
The time has come for Pakistan to fully exploit its political and strategic clout within Afghanistan. With US President Donald Trump’s administration pursuing a policy of foreign disengagement vis-à-vis military missions in Syria and Afghanistan, a final resolution of these conflicts has become even more important.
The new government, primarily motivated by the country’s economic woes but seemingly also advised by the country’s security circles, initiated an attempt to reset its ties with the Middle East.
Sensing the opportunity at play to advance its strategic aims in Afghanistan, Pakistan responded in a positive manner to Trump’s letter to PM Khan and facilitated a dialogue between the US officials and Afghan Taliban -- this time in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). On the other hand, Pakistan is maintaining its interaction with the camps of China, Russia, and Iran all of whom have advocated for a regional solution to the conflict, even though they have become a bit apprehensive towards Pakistan’s position now following the measures. FM Qureshi’s recent whirlwind tour of Tehran, Moscow, and Beijing were to address these very concerns.
The other glaring avenue for this aggressive foreign policy posturing has been the Middle East. The new government, primarily motivated by the country’s economic woes but seemingly also advised by the country’s security circles, initiated an attempt to reset its ties with the Middle East. PM Khan visited both Saudi Arabia and the UAE twice and managed to secure financial aid from both sides.
The recent sojourn by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE’s Armed Forces and the upcoming visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are a few examples of the extent of these newly-formed bilateral ties. Since Qatar and Turkey lost a personal friend with the ousting of former PM Nawaz Sharif, General Bajwa and FM Qureshi embarked on back to back tours to Doha, followed by PM Khan’s visit to Turkey which came close on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision to declare the Fethullah Gulen-linked Pak-Turk International Cag Education Foundation a proscribed entity.
Additionally, the status quo has prevailed in terms of the Pak-Iran relationship, mainly due to the limitations imposed by the US’ sanctions on Iran.
Invariably, for the first time in a decade, Pakistan’s foreign policy is witnessing a coherent and organized campaign to make itself relevant again -- not only within its immediate environs but also in the broader spectrum of South Asia and the Middle East’s geopolitical scene.
• Umar Karim is a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on the evolution of Saudi Arabia’s strategic outlook, the Saudi-Iran tussle, conflict in Syria, and the geopolitics of Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. Twitter: @UmarKarim89