Last Three Years: A Turning Point In Pakistan’s Foreign Policy

By Masood Khan

A leader’s success in foreign policy will be judged by one’s party platform before the election and its delivery after the election. In his manifesto, the Prime Minister, on behalf of his party, spelled out three objectives; a) “[I]n consonance with the Quaid-e-Azam’s belief in good relations with all countries,… make concerted efforts to enhance and strengthen Pakistan’s relations with its proven and time-tested friends, to make them truly strategic”; b)”… pursue a policy of normalization with countries with which we have differences, so as to seek their resolution by means of peaceful negotiations” and c)”establish cordial and cooperative ties with all countries”.

This is precisely what Pakistan has been pursuing in the past three years. The turnaround in foreign policy and economic outlook has been bought about by a number of factors: one government passed the baton to its successor through elections foreshadowing continuity and stability; a perception that all state institutions would work together to fight terrorism and violent extremism and they acted upon that intent; Pakistan would make serious peace overtures towards its neighbours; and Pakistan’s policies will be business friendly and hospitable to foreign investment.


As a result, the most striking breakthroughs in our foreign policy in the last three years have been in the economic realm and security situation in the country . You must be wondering what these things have to do with foreign policy. Foreign policy practitioners know that if your economy is under performing and and the security situation is volatile, your foreign policy operates on very thin and slippery slopes.

I remember that, back in May-June 2013 when I was in New York representing Pakistan in the United Nations, hopes soared post-election that Pakistan’s growth would pick up momentum and it would be able to push back terrorism and neutralize it. At that time, naysayers said this would not happen; but this is happening. There have been ups and down, but Pakistan’s movement towards growth and security has has not faltered. This has enhanced our traction in international community.

This June, MSCI has designated Pakistan as an “emerging market” placing it in a different league and foreshadowing brisk economic pace in the future. The growth rate has increased to 4.7 per cent and is forecast to rise in the coming years. In the past two years, credit rating agencies and investment analysts have projected Pakistan as the next success story.

But the images and perceptions of violence and turbulence linger. We need to bring entrepreneurs, investors and financiers to Pakistan enable them to see for themselves the positive transition unfolding in Pakistan. Now the perception must match the changing reality on ground.


The biggest success in foreign policy has been the launch of the transformative CPEC agenda. It has been a real clincher. The meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Xi Jinping in April 2015 was historic in the sense that it inaugurated a new geo-economic interface between Pakistan and China and heralded a period of strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries.

Construction of the Gwadar port and completion of energy, infrastructure and industrial projects will usher in a new era of economic stability and prosperity in Pakistan. Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif quickly engaged top Chinese leadership to crystallize the conceptual basis of the mega-project, deployed a competent team to finalize its legal and financial aspects and started CPEC’s implementation in record time. Full cooperation has been given to Chinese entities and corporations. What is most remarkable is that both civil and military entities have have shown unanimity of approach in pursuing projects under CPEC. The pace of the implementation of CPEC projects is quick, even as the political leadership has been trying to clear the underbrush which could impede progress on CPEC. Repeated efforts have made to forge consensus around the CPEC and eliminate risks one by one. Our Armed Forces have vowed, and taken practical steps, to ensure the security of CPEC by raising a full military division comprising military and paramilitary forces that would protect Chinese personnel, premises and enterprises.

Pakistan-US relations

The Pakistan-US relations, which after reached their lowest point in 2011 and started moving slowly towards tentative engagement in 2012, were put on an even keel during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington in October 2013. In the course of the next two years, up to October 2015, the two sides tried to build on convergences and reduce the real and perceived divergences. The US and Pakistan started collaborating productively on Afghanistan. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also decided to enhance ties in the fields of trade, investment, education, science, technology, energy, environment and climate change. In the past year, our relations became strained because of the US demands that Pakistan curb or cap its nuclear programme, backpedaling on the F-16 deal and drone attack in Baluchistan. Pakistan and the US are currently engaged to remove irritants and put the relationship back on track.

Exploring a triangular relationship

While maintaining strong ties with China and the US, Pakistan has worked on a renewed entente with Russia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), including Belarus. The response is encouraging.

European Union

In December 2013, Pakistan clinched the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus deal with the European Union that helped increase Pakistani exports to Europe. As a result, more than 78% of Pakistan’s exports are entering the EU at preferential rates. The overall trade volume has gone up to Euro 11 billion, with some 44 percent constituting Pakistan’s exports. A bit of uncertainty hangs over the future of our trade with the United Kingdom, after its decision to withdraw from the EU, but all indications are that our trade with the EU and Britain would not plummet.

Unfinished business

Pakistan has maintained its moral high ground vis a vis India and Afghanistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, even at the risk of alienation of some domestic constituencies, reached out to India in search of peace and dialogue. His initiatives were thwarted by Delhi but Pakistan has held its ground and kept its invitation for talks open even after the arrest of Indian spy Kubhushan Yadav on Pakistani soil. While seeking dialogue, Pakistan has raised the issue of Jammu and Kashmir at the United Nations calling for the fulfillment of the aspirations its people.

Pakistan had some spectacular successes in putting together a four-country diplomatic conclave to explore peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. Its efforts were hailed by all. Difficulties and doubts remain but Pakistan’s diplomacy continues to pick up the threads of peace. There is no other alternative.

Responsible Balancing

In regard to the Middle East, Pakistan’s foreign policy was put to a severe (stress) test. The choice was between a partisan entanglement or an equidistant policy towards Saudi Arabia, our longstanding ally, and Iran, our next door neighbour with whom have strong historical and economic bonds. We chose the latter and went a step further. Instead of choosing one side over the other, the Prime Minister embarked on a conciliation mission when the relations between the two regional giants flared up; and we explored new avenues to upgrade our relations with Iran. By walking past sectarian fault lines, we set a good precedent for emulation.

Multinational domain

Pakistan has had a proactive profile in the international organizations and multilateral forums. As a result of intense engagement with the founding members, Pakistan succeeded in securing a coveted seat in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). It active and principled stance helped stave off Indian onslaught to get into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a decision that would have blocked off all avenues for Pakistan’s legitimate nuclear trade. Pakistan has been part of decision-making circles in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Economic Cooperation Organizations and D-8.


With its unique, strategic location, Pakistan is leveraging its economic geography so that it turns into giant confluence for regional connectivity for East, South, Central and West Asia. Pakistan’s motto is creation of shared spaces instead of proliferating silos. That is why, it is investing its time and energy in Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline, CASA 1000 electricity project and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.


In the past three years, highest priority has been accorded to developing the defense capability of the nation encompassing training, new technological platforms, joint exercises with friendly nations, and exchange of high level visits of defense leadership. Both in the strategic and conventional realms, our nation is ready for its defense as never before, mainly because our foreign and defense policies have been working in tandem. There is genuine interoperability at work.

Two force multipliers of our foreign policy

The successes of the Zarb-i-Azb Operation and a homeostasis in civil-military relations have been two key factors that have contributed to the relative grip in our foreign policy. Absent these factors in the most turbulent of times, we could have lost our orientation.

Continuity and stability

It is axiomatic that political continuity, social stability and economic development at home are guarantors of a successful foreign policy spanning many decades. It is imperative that on critical strategic, economic and commercial interests of the country, there is multi-party consensus transcending instant briefs and partisan inclinations.

Multidimensional foreign policy:

The new emerging paradigm of our foreign policy is multidimensional, rather than being ‘unifocal’ or ‘monomaniacal’, as Pakistan’s adversaries used to taunt us. Increasingly, our compass is geo-economic and our outreach multi-pronged.

Is everything “hunky dory”?

No and no way. We have a long way to go. This is not the time to sit on our laurels. We have to build on our successes, redress deficits, hone our skills and take on the daunting challenges ahead. Pakistan should not be encircled and isolated. CPEC must be completed on time. Pakistan must realize its full economic potential as a nation. We have to work for a peaceful neighbourhood and seek resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. This is a full agenda for the present and future generations.

Has our foreign policy failed?

The answer is NO. Even if you look at the successes I have listed, which are only a fraction of what is being done, we are not failing. Not at all. The problem is that other nations in the region – China, India, Iran, Turkey, Indonesia, and even some African nations – are developing economically at a much faster pace. We need to excel to compete. We have to catch up and quicken our speed; and we have be innovative and flexible. There is also urgency to conquer the enemy within – the terrorist, the violent extremist, and the wily bigot. Over and above, we need to eliminate abject poverty, social deprivation, marginalization, and growing income disparities.

The writer is Director General Institute of Strategic Studies and former Ambassador to the United Nations and China.

Categories: Analysis, International Affairs

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