Mohammed Talukder- Bangladesh
The United States and Saudi Arabia have long played pivotal roles in the foreign policy of Pakistan even after the ascendance of the Chinese factor. More recently the vacillating relations with Saudi Arabia and disenchantment with United States have been the two major swings in Pakistan’s foreignpolicy.
Pakistan has managed to control- if not eliminate- the cycle of daily death and destruction across the major cities in the hinterland of the country.
Extremism, sectarian violence and organised crime has gone down well below that of previous years.The death and destruction caused by the numerous extremist groups, sectarian outfits, organised gangs of extortion, target killings and the nefarious political-mafia nexus is on the decline.
Since the last five years, the country is on the path of social, political and economic stabilization; these positive changes have also impacted Pakistan’s foreign policy configuration. It is true that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is facing corruption charges, especially after the Panama leaks where his family members were implicated for illegally transferring money abroad, yet the people of Pakistan and the institutions of the country seem united on the accomplishment of major economic projects and on the prospects of geopolitical rebalancing.
Social, political and economic stabilization has forged a new thinking process in the Pakistani deep state; establishment and policy makers.Things are changing very fast in Pakistan, where countries like Turkey and now Russia are taking the new pivot in Pakistan’s foreign policy along with the time-tested ally China.
The days of absolute US control, tremendous Saudi weight and considerable Iranian influence are slowly being replaced with the new strategic thinking in Pakistan.Pakistan’s refusal to directly take partin the Saudi war in Yemen, taking head on to the Iranian sectarian influence within the country is a sign of maturity in the statecraft. The country is now least dependent on Saudi Arabia, UAE and other GCC monarchies and influence of Iran in Pakistan is also waning.
There are certain political outfits in Pakistan which are close to Saudi Arabia and GCC while some are close to Iran and there is a small pressure group that still backs the old client-master relationship with them due to their political and economic interests. But the overall national policy and foreign policy is geared towards change.
A new thinking is emerging in Pakistan that is vying for independence from the previous foreign policy constraints of solely depending on United States, Saudi Arabia and GCC.It seems that the country has taken the strategic shift and a new geopolitical rebalancing is already taking shape.
Pakistan’s relations with China, Turkey and more recently with the Russians are now seen as geopolitical rebalancing. These relationships are developing across the political spectrum of the country and with the deep strategic, economic and military involvement. This is a step towards setting the future policy framework of Pakistan where it won’t be reliant on who is ruling Pakistan.
It does not mean that Pakistan is abandoning the US, Saudi Arabia, GCC, UK and Iran but the modus of relationship with the erstwhile power brokers will be very much reshaped in the coming days and years.
It is also true that Pakistan’s reliance on the US for security, military arms and economic aid has significantly declined mainly due to its strong and in-depth relationship with China, rapidly growing relations with Turkey and warming up of the relations with Russia.
Its economy has started getting positive leaning towards reasonable growth andhuge Chinese investment is pouring in; Turkey has also started positioning noteworthy investments in Pakistan. Russia has already lifted unilateral arms embargo on Islamabad and also Okayed the helicopter gunship sales to Pakistan.
Saudi and Gulf money is also losing its meaning in Pakistan. When Pakistanis compare Saudi Arabia, UAE and other GCC country’s financial aid to al-Sisi’s Egypt after the military coup they find their financial aid to Pakistan is meager and stringed with too many demands.
Because of all these swings and recalibrations, Pakistan’s archrival India has entered the GCC and Middle East with more fervor. India’s relations with Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries have taken a positive shift in the recent time. Though, India has its own limitations to significantly influence the course of action in the Middle East, there is undoubtedly a growing economic relation with Middle East region as India is one of the fastest growing major economies and among the top energy importing countries. And, there are millions of Indian workers who send billions of remittance back to their native country.
After seeing little scope of influence in South Asian region where India has almost blocked any space for Pakistan to maneuver, now Pakistan is looking at expanding its ties with Central Asian states not only in order to strengthen its economic potential, but also to advance its political aims. Pakistan has already managed to get the unconditional support of Central Asian republics for their support of its request for membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on the permanent basis.
The much touted deep sea port of Gwader built and operated by Chinese company has recently started operations and it will help Pakistan to focus more towards Central Asia and West Asia than the South Asia where its arch rival India has created so many hurdles for Pakistan.
With the beginning of multibillion dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a major artery of China’s massive One Belt One Road (OBOR) project of economic connectivity of Asia Europe and Africa Pakistan is expecting for economic growth in the coming years.
With all these developments the influence of the countries like the US, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iran will significantly decline in Pakistan and they will have to find new terms of engagement to deal with the new Pakistan.
Suffice it to say that Pakistanis have started sincerely thinking about exploiting their strengths especially their unmatched geographic location, a confluence of Middle East, South Asia and central Asia.
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