That the country has evolved a new foreign policy narrative in view of fast-changing global/strategic changes and challenges is the most important development in the realm of foreign policymaking. Addressing his maiden press conference as foreign minister at the conclusion of the envoys’ conference at the Foreign Office on Thursday, Khwaja Asif announced that a “new paradigm” would emerge keeping in view Pakistan’s relations and conditions and after making necessary adjustments. Embittered by the ouster of Nawaz Sharif from the Prime Minister’s House, he appeared to have used the occasion to launch a veiled attack on the country’s army in a seemingly mischievous manner by holding only two former rulers – General Zia and General Musharraf – responsible for country’s foreign policy woes as if the two other army rulers – General Ayub and General Yahya – and the entire lot of civilian rulers had only contributed towards improving, promoting and expanding country’s political, strategic and economic interests in the region and beyond.
The country has been compelled to take an arduous course of a foreign policy reset in the light of recommendations made by diplomats at their lengthy conclave in which they assessed the challenges in the foreign policy domain and suggested changes for dealing with those challenges, particularly after the US President Donald Trump made allegations and issued threats to Pakistan through his administration’s new policy on South Asia and Afghanistan. The major thrust of Trump’s strategy is clearly aimed at providing India greater space in the war-ravaged Afghanistan with a view to exerting increased strategic pressure on Pakistan to accept Washington’s diktat without raising any question or showing any reservation. The initial contours of Trump’s policy seem to have found their best expression in Afghanistan’s audacity to refuse to hold 7th meeting of Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Co-ordination Authority as the landlocked country wants India’s participation in a trade moot which is strictly guided by the concept of bilateralism. That Afghanistan will be committing more such acts in coming weeks and months is now a strong possibility.
The other bold expression of Trump’s growing belligerence has emerged, albeit unexpectedly, from the recent BRICS summit in China where all the member countries of this economic bloc named Pakistan-based militants in their joint declaration. Although country’s Foreign Office has tried to water down this gross insult, this unsavoury development contributes to Pakistan’s resolve to revisit its foreign policy priorities and preferences without any further loss of time.
Recognising the evidence of growing belligerence of the US and pointing out the fact that Pakistan is the only country in the world that has been winning war against terrorism, foreign minister Khwaja Asif, has urged the US that the new leadership in the White House must respect Pakistan’s sovereignty, making it clear that “the Pakistani nation will protect and preserve its territorial integrity at any cost”. According to him, Pakistan wants a relationship with the US which is based on mutual trust and respect. “The US is a superpower and we recognise it but the people sitting in Washington do not have full comprehension of facts. They are in a way oblivious to what is happening in the region. They must recognise and respect our sacrifices,” the minister reportedly said, adding that country’s interests would take precedence over any other consideration in all external dealings and no one would be allowed to “scapegoat” Pakistan in future.
But the minister did not expend the entire stock of optimism insofar as the future of US-Pakistan relationship is concerned. He, for example, stated: “We want to stay engaged with the US. We have had a long relationship with them [the US] for the last 70 years…there had been ups and downs in it [relationship] but it survived and it will survive again”. This seems to be a saner approach to the situation for the country cannot afford to sustain a strained relationship with the US because of a variety of reasons, including those relating to economics and finance. Moreover, seen from the prism of a non-Nato ally’s strategic interests, the US cannot be replaced by either Russia or China, or by both. The National Security Committee, which has been tasked to finalise foreign policy changes, must not lose sight of the fact that foreign policymaking is a science based on theories, concepts and methods, and at the same time it is an art, as it were, which requires sensitivity to almost all external issues. The profundity of committee’s job, therefore, underscores the need for greater care and prudence.