Any country that forms its diplomatic relations on the basis of ideology rather than pragmatism is necessarily signing up for conflicts which are as unnecessary as they are detrimental. Just as so-called interlocking alliances in Europe led to a regionalised Balkan conflict growing into a monstrous First World War, so too did the ideological divides of the Cold War lead to multiple global conflicts that could have otherwise been avoided. From the time of Pakistan’s birth to the US led invasion of Afghanistan, multiple Pakistani leaders have felt an inexplicable need to form alliances on the basis of someone else’s ideology. As a result, Pakistan was cut off from opportunities in the wider world while Pakistan’s own partners had not sufficiently respected Pakistan as a sovereign nation with monumental potential as an economic and diplomatic powerhouse in Asia.
During this year’s general election in Pakistan, Imran Khan’s PTI party campaigned on a manifesto of pragmatic non-alignment whereby Islamabad would remain neutral in the conflicts of others while simultaneously working with all nations in order to secure win-win outcomes for the Pakistani people. Already, Imran’s policy shift from ideological subservience to intelligent openness has literally paid dividends. At a time when western Eurasian and European nations questioned their relationship with Saudi Arabia over the controversial murder of a journalist, Imran not only remained neutral but he turned the tables on a long standing relationship in order to replace lopsidedness with equality and the win-win mentality.
It was Imran’s tactful diplomacy that secured from Riyadh a much needed one year $3 billion loan in addition to a further $3 billion in the form of deferred payments of oil purchases. It was also under Imran’s watch that Saudi Arabia decided to integrate itself in the Belt and Road initiative in the form of a deal to invest $10 billion for the building of a new oil refinery in Pakistan’s Gwadar port city.
But this did not happen in isolation. Days prior to Imran’s trip to Riyadh (the second since becoming Prime Minister), he held a positive meeting with Qatari officials. Likewise, not long after Imran’s second trip to Riyadh, Pakistan’s President was dispatched to Turkey where he spoke positively about expanding the scope and breadth of relations between two nations that have long standing fraternal relations. When one considers that Saudi Arabia is currently in the midst of a manifold diplomatic row with both Turkey and Qatar, Imran’s achievement was to make the most of warm relations with all – without taking a side in affairs remote from Pakistan’s national interest. Likewise, Pakistan’s offer to mediate in the three year long war in Yemen has been met with good will from all quarters, thus demonstrating that Pakistan’s international prestige has already increased as a result of Naya Pakistan (new Pakistan) replacing a beleaguered Pakistan.
While Pakistan’s relations with neighbouring Iran have long been strained, Imran has already met twice with Tehran’s influential Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. While the proximate cause of Zarif’s recent visit to Islamabad was to discuss the most unfortunate and mysterious kidnapping of Iranian border guards who were brought into Pakistani territory, the meetings also covered a wide range of issues in-line with the gradual rapprochement between Pakistan and Iran. Coming to Pakistan in a spirit of good will, Iran’s Foreign Minister stated,
“Iran and Pakistan are two very good neighbours, and Tehran enjoys good relations with Islamabad. We consult with them on all matters”.
Later Pakistan’s Foreign Minister released the following statement:
“While expressing satisfaction over cooperation with regard to the Pakistan-Iran border, it was agreed to continue close consultations through the established multipronged mechanism between the two countries. Foreign Minister Qureshi underlined that the Pakistan-Iran border was a border of peace and Pakistan will spare no effort to keep it this way”.
Pakistan looks therefore to continue improving relations with Iran while simultaneously enjoying a more equal and more importantly a more meaningful relationship with long standing allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Any notion that Pakistan must choose to align itself with one set of rivals over another is not only counter intuitive in a multipolar world but it runs contrary to Pakistan’s own national interests.
While the poison of a zero-sum mentality to foreign affairs is being sucked out of the Pakistani body politic by the new government, just over the border in India, Pakistanis can see how the government of Narendra Modi is scrambling to re-align itself after a policy of almost subservient devotion to the United States backfired on several fronts.
First the US refused to exempt India from its tariffs which came as a shock to some policy makers in New Delhi. Then India was excoriated by elements of the US establishment for purchasing the S-400 missile system from Russia and finally, in a symbolic blow to India’s prestige among its newfound American partner, Donald Trump refused an invitation to the country’s Republic Day parade. In this sense, India has learned the hard way that if one doesn’t have good relations with as many nations as possible, one stands to be exposed and humiliated by a hegemon disguised as a co-equal partner.
India’s disappointment in the US (however temporary it may prove to be) will be a familiar tale to Pakistanis who have witnessed decades of humiliation due to Islamabad’s track record of locking itself into lopsided alliances formed on the basis of foreign ideologies. By contrast, US President Richard Nixon once said that Indira Gandhi, “suckered us”, referring to the fact she was willing to engage in dialogue with the US without evading strong relations with India’s then Soviet ally.
Today, Imran Khan is neither suckering anyone nor is he insulting Pakistan’s dignity by locking the country into the rusty cage of ideological alliances and partnerships. Indeed, even by approaching the IMF at a time when it would clearly be more beneficial for Pakistan to rely on loans from friendly countries, Imran has been able to use this reality to leverage both the cash rich Saudi Kingdom and Pakistan’s all-weather Chinese partner in order to secure the best deal possible for Pakistan.
As Imran is hours away from departing for China where he will hold the most important meeting of his career with President Xi Jinping, he can go in the confidence that Naya Pakistan is win-win Pakistan. The ghosts of the past are being exorcised in more ways than one and Imran is prepared to make the best of any potential situation through his steadfast and open approach to diplomacy which has already helped to ease the economic tensions he inherited from his predecessors.