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Editorial: Pakistan’s Troubled Foreign Policy

Pursuing a foreign policy shaped by ideology rather than realism has proven costly for Islamabad

by Editorial
Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs

File photo

General knowledge holds that Pakistan has special relations with Middle Eastern states and China, a deferential attitude toward European states, and a close—though at-times frosty—equation with the United States. By contrast, its ties with neighboring India are troubled; cloudy with Afghanistan; and nonexistent with Israel. In a recent statement, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar emphasized that Pakistan’s foreign policy “must be driven by the vision of the country as a progressive and economically rising state, focusing primarily on the socioeconomic prosperity of its citizens.” He added that Pakistan’s “foreign policy should consistently strive for peaceful and mutually advantageous relationships worldwide.” This suggests much, but doesn’t really gibe with the reality of how Pakistan conducts its foreign policy.

Article 40 of the Constitution calls for the State to “endeavor to preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic unity, support the common interests of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, promote international peace and security, foster goodwill and friendly relations among all nations and encourage the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means.” Realistically, however, Pakistan’s foreign policy has primarily focused on the high politics of strategic national security issues. Critics often question this policy’s “ideological-conservative outlook,” arguing it has proven disastrous for Pakistan and the South Asian region generally. It similarly failed to keep the country territorially together, as East Pakistan broke off in 1971, triggering negative economic, social and psychological effects on Pakistanis.

An oft-repeated platitude holds a country’s foreign policy should be shaped by core national interests, with objectives attainable through the adroit use of diplomacy and in line with available resources. In Pakistan, however, its foreign policy has often yielded consequences, some related to “solutions” demanded by the state that are impossible to realize, particularly on ties with India and the longstanding Kashmir dispute. In short, Pakistan’s policy is based on ideology, not realism, robbing it of flexibility of conduct. By contrast, India—despite a “permanent” standoff with China on its northern border—does not allow the rift to impact their economic equation.

Unfortunately, the “permanent’ and “principled” foreign policy stance on Kashmir has not only stymied the Pak-Indo relationship as neighbors but has also affected other regional initiatives like overhauling relations with Afghanistan, which has boosted ties with India to balance its equation with Pakistan. This has, in turn, boosted the growth of Pashtun ethno-nationalist separatism despite efforts to stamp it out.

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