The evolution of Pakistan's foreign policy; An economy-based strategy under the shadow of peace
In order to change its regional and international status, Pakistan has made changes in its domestic and foreign policy that cannot be labeled as hoax. Islamabad has found that adopting a security-oriented approach based on the traditional definitions of security will not only increase the tensions, but also will make the country's internal system go downhill day by day. Therefore, via a comprehensive regional and trans-regional interaction as well as communication with all the countries, Pakistan has decided to change the main focus of its foreign policy from security to economy and trade. In other words, Pakistan’s former approach was to gain more financial support and launch a competition over the economic issues via creating insecurity in the region. But, the multiplicity of challenges during 70 years of governance, a declining economy, the emergence of new crises, and the changing patterns of friendship and enmity have led Pakistan to conclude that the foundation of security is based on economy, and that reliance on a limited number of governments based on a series of concepts and theories, such as terrorism or strategic depth, it is not compatible with the current state of the international system.
By: Maedeh Karimi Ghohroudi
Over the past year or two, we have regularly heard from the senior Pakistani officials about changing the country's foreign policy pattern based on the two important factors of economy and trade. In fact, this statement contradicts Pakistan's old habit of taking loan and paying off large debts. Has Pakistan, whose economy is dependent on the foreign aid from the United States, the Persian Gulf states, and the regional and international organizations, decided to change its approach? Has Pakistan abandoned the policy of supporting the militant groups and destabilizing the neighboring countries after more than 70 years, in order to change its security outlook in favor of ending Pakistan's militaristic foreign policy model?
There is no doubt that the election of Imran Khan with the support of the army in 2018 has caused dramatic changes in the history of Pakistan, the dimensions of which are becoming clearer day by day. For many years, the terrorist and paramilitary groups have been Pakistan's foreign policy tools in the region as well as a good blackmailing lever in the world. The destabilization of Afghanistan and supporting the Taliban on the one hand, and the ongoing conflict in Kashmir on the other, have introduced Pakistan as a sponsor of terrorism and an advocate of the extremist Islam. This insecurity has attracted the attention of the powerful countries of the region and the world to the Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan, and Pakistan has promised to fight this Self-made terrorism in return for numerous financial aids.
But, in the recent years, we can see that Pakistan is no longer interested in exploiting the religious terrorism. The extremist religious figures in Pakistan have been eliminated or sidelined. The assassination of Malik Ishaq, the extremist leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the remarkable reduction in the activities of the terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Sipah-e-Sahaba, the killing of Sami ul Haq, the Taliban's spiritual father, Islamabad’s efforts to reduce the influence of the extremist forces in Pakistan’s political arena, the convergence of various religious groups such as the revival of The Muttahida Majlis–e–Amal in 2018, and the peaceful interaction with Different religious sects, all indicate Islamabad's determination to improve its own image in the world via eliminating extremism. This domestic policy has also affected Pakistan’s foreign policy and pushed this country into a new phase of its life. In general, the most important elements of Pakistan's foreign policy in recent years can be listed as follow:
-Peacemaking through resolving the security and political disputes: Two important issues regarding Pakistan's vital interests are the dispute with Afghanistan and hostility towards India and Kashmir’s crisis. Pakistan has always pursued its goals in Afghanistan through active international diplomacy and supporting the Taliban. The killing of Sami ul Haq, one of the main opponents of peace with the Taliban, and the visit of senior Pakistani officials such as General Bajwa to Afghanistan and the visit of Abdullah Abdullah to Pakistan can promise a change in the way Pakistan interacts with Afghanistan. Even in the Doha peace talks, Pakistan was praised by Zalmai Khalilzad and Imran Khan went to Kabul on an important visit. In other words, Pakistan is trying to introduce itself as an active player in Afghanistan. The only difference is that it has previously used to do so by supporting the Taliban and terrorism, but now it is seeking to achieve a suitable position by introducing itself as a supporter of peace. Although these measures - which are interpreted by some analysts as a kind of shift from the theory of strategic depth and supporting the Taliban to the policy of stabilizing Afghanistan (Of course, in a way that be in line with Pakistan's interests)- are still in doubt by some analysts, the difference in behavior and performance of Pakistan is clearly visible.
On the other hand, India in considered as Pakistan's greatest enemy since independence. In February 25, 2021, as a result of negotiations between the military authorities of India and Pakistan, a ceasefire was established between the two countries in accordance with the 2003 ceasefire agreement. Although after the agreement, Imran Khan tweeted that “The onus of creating an enabling environment for further progress rests with India and India must take necessary steps to meet the long-standing demand & right of the Kashmiri people to self-determination according to UNSC resolutions”, Pakistan has already taken a number of measures to appease the Indian officials, such as enlisting the Jamaat al Dawa on the list of terrorist groups in March 2019, arresting Hafiz Saeed in July 2019 and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, in January 2021.
These developments, however, must be analyzed in line with Islamabad's tough stance against India's support for the Baluchis as well as the protests over the abolition of Kashmir's autonomy. Pakistan is not expected to simply abandon Kashmir and reconcile with its longtime enemy, India. However, it has tried to reduce the existing conflicts, including the border clashes, which have imposed excessive military costs on the country and introduced Islamabad as a belligerent state. It also seeks to destroy the image of a sponsor of terrorism by restricting the activities of Jamaat al Dawa. At the same time, Pakistan continues to highlight the issue of Kashmir via its declared policy and throwing the ball into the New Delhi’s court.
-Presenting a new definition of the Islamic foreign policy: Pakistan's foreign policy, as the only Islamic country with a nuclear bomb, had been founded based on the two indicators: militancy via the Islamic militarism, and convergence with the Middle East. But Pakistan's tensions with the Persian Gulf Arab states over the past few years, the Arab countries’ support for India over Kashmir, the convergence of India, the UAE and the Zionist regime, as well as the adjustment of the Saudi, Chinese and US relations with India and Pakistan beyond their disputes have led Pakistan to change this approach. To that end, Pakistan has adopted two orientations, one is to create the concept of fighting Islamophobia and the other is to extend its relations in the Islamic world beyond the Arab countries and develop a Comprehensive a relationship.
The concept of fighting Islamophobia has been introduced by the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan in the UN General Assembly in 2019, and he has proposed that a day be named after this issue. Subsequently, based on an agreement between Imran Khan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 2019 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the three countries decided to establish a joint English-language TV to address the challenges caused by Islamophobia and to convey the Muslims’ message of peace to the world. After that, we witnessed another round of troika meeting between Pakistan, Turkey and Azerbaijan, the first round of which was held in Baku in November 2017 and the second was held in January 2021 with a delay of several years. This meeting, which involves multidimensional cooperation, is a kind of effort to hinder the isolation of the Muslim countries. Meanwhile, Pakistan's relations with the Arab countries have also continued. In addition to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Islamabad sought to expand its interactions with Qatar to somehow balance its ties with the Arab states and reduce its dependency on a number of limited countries.
-Prioritizing the economy and investment: Pakistan's annual economic growth has fallen from 5.8 in 2018 to 0.98 in 2020. This is because the remittance by the Pakistani workers in the Arab states has declined due to recent tensions; The energy crisis and corruption are two serious issues in the country; Pakistan is on the FATF’s gray list due to its financial support for terrorism; and the political and security issues have led to the economic pressures and sanctions which has reduced the foreign aid to the country. For example, in September 2018, the United States cut off its $300 million in military aid to Pakistan.
Pakistan has always been dependent on foreign loans to pay off its debts, but the current aids are no more enough. This situation has made Pakistan to change its approach and pursue the strategies that would lead to economic growth and development. In the first place, the China-Pakistan relations have been expanding. Beijing's relationship with Islamabad is not something new, but the focus of this historic and strong relationship has shifted from defense to economy, and The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project (CPEC) is the symbol of this change. CPEC is part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), implemented with China’s massive investment in Pakistan. Welcoming the participation of other countries, including Iran, in the CPEC project by China and Pakistan, indicates a change in Pakistan's view towards other countries from a security to economic perspective.
The Pakistani government is also aware that Afghanistan has the potential to pave the way for cooperation with Pakistan’s rival projects such as the Chabahar port on the one hand, and to facilitate the transit of the Pakistani goods to the Central Asian countries in the future via the implementation of projects such as the TAPI pipeline, railways, and CASA-1000 on the other.
Therefore, Pakistan's economic approach is not limited to China, but includes Central Asia and Russia with the aim of providing economic security. The agreement to facilitate economic cooperation between Pakistan and Russia was signed between the energy officials of the two countries on November 22, 2020. According to the agreement, a 1,100-kilometer pipeline will be constructed from Karachi to Kasur in Pakistan's Punjab province in July this year to supply the liquefied natural gas (LNG). "The implementation of this project will mark the beginning of a new era of economic cooperation between Pakistan and the Russian Federation," the Pakistani government said in a statement. Moreover, an agreement was signed in Tashkent in February 2021 to establish the Mazar Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway network.
Given these developments, it is clear that Pakistan seeks to change its regional and international position. The measures of Pakistan are substantial and the scope of them is in a way that no one can say they are merely designed to gain the support of others or improve Pakistan’s international image. Pakistan is well aware that adopting a security approach based on the traditional definitions will not only increase tensions, but also would deteriorate the country's internal system day by day.
Therefore, via a comprehensive regional and trans-regional interaction, Pakistan has shifted its security-oriented foreign policy to an economy-oriented one. In other words, Pakistan has been used to obtain financial support over the past years via internal instability and securitization of its surroundings (such as Afghanistan, India and even Iran), and so encourage countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and China to engage in economic and trade cooperation with Islamabad. But, The country's many challenges over the past 70 years, a declining economy, the emergence of new crises and changing patterns of friendship and enmity in the region and world have led Pakistan to conclude that economy is the base of security, and reliance on a limited number of states based on a series of concepts and theories, such as terrorism or strategic depth, is not fully compatible with the current state of the international system.
It is should be noted that Pakistan’s efforts in this regard have begun a few years before Imran Khan’s presidency. But, due to the lack of coordination between the government and army as well as the time-consuming nature of changing the old concepts, this change has become more apparent in the last two or three years. Moving towards an economy-oriented pattern is a kind of imitation of the Chinese model that was announced by Imran Khan in his speech on January 1, 2021. He described China's development model, which is based on the industrial development, as a suitable model for his own country, reiterating that the government's goal is to support trade and reduce poverty.
This Pakistan's regional economic development approach is, however, subject to the settlement of some political and security disputes, at least ostensibly. Therefore, while eliminating its security image, Pakistan has to resolve some important challenges in the region, such as border tensions with India and the Afghan peace process. But it should be noted that despite prioritizing the economy and trade as well as introducing itself as a peaceful and active Islamic country in the region and world, Islamabad will not abandon all its political and security tools all at once, in order to use these tools in the future if necessary, for example in the case of Kashmir.
The existing mistrust and differences between Pakistan, India and Afghanistan will remain unresolved; but, some of these issues, depending on their importance, will gradually shift from deep differences to more superficial layers. Of course, this process needs the passage of time, the enlightenment of the public opinion, and in more important issues such as Kashmir, seeking reciprocal and proportional concessions.
Maedeh Karimi Ghohroudi;PhD in Political Science, University of Tehran