On the threshold of a new era of foreign diplomacy
When most Muslim countries were issuing statements of condemnation for Israel’s brutal attack on unarmed Palestinians, Pakistan was building pressure on the Islamic world to use its diplomatic and military might to stop Israel from committing human rights violations in Gaza and East Jerusalem.
This was not the first time that Pakistan stood out as a country concerned with the plight of Muslims. When Kashmir was deprived of its autonomous status in 2019, and India locked the region to crush every opposition, Pakistan highlighted the issue at every possible forum. Prime Minister Imran Khan had talked at length at the 2018 United Nations General Assembly annual session, on Islamophobia being used as a tool to oppress Muslims.
Pakistan passed the litmus test when its Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in an interview with CNN last week, accused the western media of playing into the hands of Israel. Qureshi said that had it not been for citizen journalism recording and posting on social media, the war crimes of the Israeli forces would have gone unnoticed by the world.
The interview was arranged while Qureshi, along with his three other counterparts from Palestine, Turkey, and Tunis, as a symbol of solidarity, had flown to the US to register their protest in the United Nations against Israel’s brutalities.
Pakistan's reliance on the US for its military and economic survival is not as acute as it used to be, and neither has the US sufficient clout to influence policy shifts in Pakistan's bilateral relations with other countries.
It is interesting to note that while, on the one hand, Pakistan’s narrative on Kashmir has stopped receiving an audience, its voice for Palestine has been taken as a serious attempt to consolidate a narrative against Israel and its supporters in the US and Europe. A validation of this was CNN’s decision to interview only Qureshi and not his other counterparts.
Pakistan’s foreign policy transition from a passive spectator to an active participant has come after a long hiatus. What has caused this change, and why has the world suddenly started taking Pakistan’s position for a united Islamic world seriously?
One reason for this change of heart could be the presence of an independent and fair-minded leadership at the helm of affairs. Despite governance flaws, there is a transparent understanding the world over that Imran Khan is an honest leader who talks about the aspirations of his people unlike his predecessors. This was not the first time Israel went berserk in Gaza, but other than condemning Israel’s brutality, Pakistan hardly played any part in creating world consensus against Israel and its supporters. Bhutto was the last leader who made a conscious effort to turn Muslim unity into a force to resolve critical issues besetting the Islamic world. Since then, Pakistan rarely goaded the international community to wake up to the ugly spectre of hatred against Muslims, which has a name now: Islamophobia.
Another reason could be Pakistan foreign policy’s transition from supporting militant outfits and sectarian divides to an ideology of a composite relationship between Muslims of all denominations. Pakistan’s strategy of Afghan-led and Afghan-owned solutions also reflects this changed policy.
Another reason could be the transition of power from the US to China, leading to new alignments in the region. Pakistan’s reliance on the US for its military and economic survival is not as acute as it used to be, and neither has the US sufficient clout to influence policy shifts in Pakistan’s bilateral relations with other countries. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a game-changer not only for Pakistan’s economy but also in transforming Pakistan’s image of a country that will share China’s clout in connecting the world in a network of trade and business opportunities.
There is no doubt that Pakistan’s foreign policy has come a long way in bringing the country out of isolation. However, to hold on to the threshold of a new era of foreign diplomacy, Pakistan will have to put its house in order through the policy of reconciliation and zero tolerance for corruption.
- Durdana Najam is an oped writer based in Lahore. She writes on security and policy issues. She can be reached at [email protected]