Imran Khan faces an uphill task on Foreign Policy front

Certainly, establishing and maintaining a peaceful relation with Afghanistan will be the key to solving one of the most important parts of this puzzle.

Imran Khan faces an uphill task on Foreign Policy front

Mohammed Talukder

As Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party chairman and Prime Minister-elect, Imran Khan is all set to take oath as Pakistan’s 20th Prime Minister (ignoring the number of some repeats and caretaker PMs) on August 15, he is going to face some of the most formidable challenges on the foreign policy front. It will require no less than a magician’s power and a Machiavellian acumen to juggle and solve the complex puzzle and resolve the foreign policy issues facing the country.

However, given the history of the bumpy relation between these two close neighbors over the last many decades, it is really easier said than done.

For instance, while sharing his vision for the country and pledging to safeguard the interests of ordinary citizens in his first public address after his party was declared a winner in the General Election, he said about Afghanistan, “They have suffered most in the ‘war on terror’, and before that in the Afghan jihad. Peace in Afghanistan means peace in Pakistan." He further added that he envisioned open borders with Afghanistan reminiscent to those within the European Union.

Now, on the surface, it seems quite sincere and laudable intention, but because of the existence of so many bones of contentions between the two countries, including tricky border issues, the goal seems to be too difficult to achieve, if not completely impossible. For long, Islamabad has a strained relationship with Kabul and in spite of some efforts by both Pakistan’s military establishment and its civilian government, it didn’t succeed in gaining many inroads into Afghanistan’s corridor of power and creating a credible political constituency there.

However, at the same time, it is also true that Mr. Khan has always been in favor of a strong Afghanistan and maintaining a good relationship with this close neighbor. He has always expressed this desire in so many words since the beginning of his political career.

The same sentiment was expressed by the Pakistan President, Mamnoon Hussain in a session of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit at Qingdao. While speaking about relations with Afghanistan, he remarked: “peace and stability in Afghanistan is our common objective and Pakistan is playing its due role in this regard.” Pakistan and Afghanistan are working on a comprehensive strategy on a bilateral basis to establish peace in Afghanistan, he said, adding that ‘ceasefire in Afghanistan is a positive sign for regional peace’.

Nevertheless, Mr. Khan’s friendly intentions, expressed so warmly may help set the right tone for his interactions with Afghanistan and indicates a willingness to reset the existing imbalance in the foreign policy and national security matters. Besides this, the fate of the US-Pakistan relations is implicitly tied to peace in Afghanistan and has become an urgent regional priority.

Mr. Khan must be given credit to show great political maturity and good statesmanship by choosing right sound bites in his first public address to the country and declare his clear intention to resolve issues and improve ties with the countries such as the US, China, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and India. These are, of course, the priority areas of Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Speaking about Foreign policy challenges in his first address, he said, "No other country needs peace like we do. We will strengthen our relations with China, they have given us a chance by investing in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and we also want to learn how to improve people's lives, drag them out of poverty."

Undoubtedly, China is always central to Pakistan’s policies and to a great deal, its economic future depends on the good relation with it. Especially, with a view to China–Pakistan Economic Corridor, a collection of infrastructure projects that are currently under construction throughout Pakistan, it has become all the more crucial. The project was originally valued at $46 billion, which has over the time grown up to about $62 billion.

The Belt and Road Initiative in this respect plays an important role in the growing ambition of China as a major world power. For Pakistan, the CPEC-related projects are a sort of guarantee and assurance to its much needed external financial aid and its economic dimension and importance can hardly be overestimated. In addition to that Pakistan’s strategic position in South Asia also makes it closer to China as it seeks to balance India’s prowess in this region.

Apart from big assurances and flowery rhetoric one must also admit the fact that Mr. Khan failed to deliver in five years even half of what he promised to the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at the time of forming his party’s government for the first time. Yet, it is also his charisma that people of the region have given him a second chance as his party won a comfortable majority there in the provincial election and gained control over 66 out of 97 seats.

Hence, if his performance at KPK is any indication, it is better to wait and watch rather than jumping to any conclusion over what he promises to do.

Perhaps, cementing the strained relationship with the United States will be one of the most difficult challenges he will be facing on the foreign policy front. The US President Donald Trump is well known for his mercurial nature and impulsive hard-hitting tactics and for long he has been maintaining quite a hard-line approach towards Pakistan. Against this backdrop, mere rhetoric will not serve any purpose. He will have to prove his good intention with some real results in terms of tackling the problem of terrorism and containing unruly elements in Pakistan.

Just like its rock-solid relation with China, Pakistan has also maintained friendly relation with its south-western neighbor, Iran. One can hope that under the stewardship of Mr. Khan the historical relationship between these two nations will be further strengthened. However, it will have to be delicately balanced as the US threat of sanction is looming large there.

About Pakistan’s relation with Saudi Arabia, Mr. Khan said in his first speech to the nation, "Saudi Arabia has stood by us in our toughest times. We would like to be a reconciliatory state and help them resolve their inner tensions."

But unfortunately, against this well-intentioned approach, he seems to have a rocky start with Saudi Arabia. Mr. Khan has reportedly rejected Saudia Arabia’s offer over former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and its suggestion to send deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif abroad on ‘medical grounds’ while stating that if Saudi Arabia can bring back its trillions of dollars from abroad then why it is stopping Pakistan from doing the same. It must be said that it will be in larger interest for both the countries to create a robust meaningful bilateral relation with multilevel cooperation.

So far as Pakistan’s relation with India is concerned, in spite of all the conflicts and confrontation, there is a near consensus among all major national political parties that a good relationship with India is important for Pakistan. In his speech, Mr. Khan minced no words while saying, "I am a person who arguably knows the most people in India because of my days in cricket. (Together), we can resolve the poverty crisis in South East Asia. …… We want to improve our relations with India, if their leadership also wants it. This blame game that whatever goes wrong in Pakistan is because of India and vice versa brings us back to square one,"

Notwithstanding the intangible aspects of character and personality traits, we surely expect some real changes in Pakistan’s positions under Mr. Imran Khan’s leadership. A proper well-formulated foreign policy is indeed very important for Pakistan. The billion-dollar question, however, is how Mr. Imran Khan is going to balance Washington, Kabul, Beijing, and Delhi while at the same time keeping the military establishment in Pakistan in good humor as well. Mr. Khan is known for his great captainship on pitches in Cricket Fields and had regularly earned awe and admiration not only from his innumerable fans and friends but also from adversaries and his fiercest critics. It remains to be seen that whether he shows the same maneuvering skill while holding the reign in Islamabad’s corridor of power.

Last Mod: 03 Eylül 2018, 18:02
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