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Pakistan's foreign policy challenges

25 December, 2013

By Dr Qaisar Rashid

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Policy is a method by which to meet given objectives. It is said that the foreign policy of a country is a reflection of its internal socio-economic and political strategies. This is also true for Pakistan. There are five areas that offer challenges to Pakistan's foreign policy.

First of all, Pakistan is faced with the challenge of the way it should preserve the sanctity of its sovereignty. The post-9/11 world opened a new era of challenges to Pakistan. The violation of its sovereignty by US drones is a recent phenomenon. Though the breach of sovereignty has been in existence since 2004, major escalation was witnessed after March 2009 when US President Barack Obama announced the AfPak strategy. From the Salala check post attack to the Abbottabad raid, there are several incidents of the breach of Pakistan's sovereignty. Pakistan is still enmeshed in this tangle: first, how to secure its western border and how to avoid a conflict with the US and its allies, even with the Afghan national army, and how to preserve the sanctity of its sovereignty while ensuring the perpetual inflow of foreign aid/loans to Pakistan?

Second, Pakistan has been facing the challenge of the vanishing of the principle of parity with India in the region. Since 1947, Pakistan has been endeavouring to achieve (and keep) parity with India as an equal friend or foe in the region. By 1998, Pakistan had achieved nuclear parity with India. However, in the post-9/11 world, the US-India nuclear energy deal in 2008 confirmed Pakistan's status as being far below India on the ladder of regional importance. Afterwards, in 2009, the AfPak strategy of the US made Pakistan realise once again that the US does not consider Pakistan's parity claim vis-à-vis India. The strategy de-hyphenated Pakistan from India and hyphenated Pakistan with Afghanistan. Pakistan is still struggling to come out of that status. It may be possible that post-2014 Afghanistan offers Pakistan an opportunity to hyphenate itself once again with India. Pakistan is relying on time and not on its efforts to offer a strategic alternative to the world in the region of South Asia.

Third, the next challenge haunting Pakistan is its failure to see the world through the economic lens. Pakistan is still seeing the world through the antiquated political and ideological glasses of the Cold War. It seems obsessed with its geo-political importance. The internalisation of this point has made Pakistan's policy makers, in both the bureaucracy and military, convinced that the world is in need of Pakistan's help and cooperation, and consequently the world should come to terms with Pakistan on the conditions laid down by it. This obsession has become a major hurdle in changing Pakistan's approach towards the world and a reason for Pakistan's failure to notice the changes happening around, especially in the field of economics.

Similarly, Pakistan thinks that a kind of ideological conflict, similar to the one prevalent in the Cold War era, is still going on and Pakistan can seek monetary benefit out of it. This delusion has become another major obstacle in transforming Pakistan's approach towards the emerging realities of the world. Pakistan has still not been realizing the importance of economic global polarity driven by the capitalist school of thought. Similarly, Pakistan is still not realizing the importance of regional trade (in South Asia and with Central Asia) to strengthen its economy locally.

Fourth, Pakistan has been facing the challenge of being seen as a country equipped with nuclear weapons but flooded with Islamic extremists. Pakistan may declare 1,000 times that its nuclear assets are in safe hands and that it is observing certain special safety protocols but the world is apprehensive of a single mistake, which may happen in these 'safe hands' or a single breach of any protocol being observed. The existence of non-state actors (Islamic extremists) associated with Pakistan or working on Pakistan's land with impunity is considered a threat to the peace of the world. The ongoing war on terror has increased the numerical and ideological strength of these non-state actors. Moreover, any news of an attack launched by non-state actors on any nuclear facility of Pakistan will bring Pakistan under immense international pressure either to abandon its nuclear programme or hand over the weapons to any international security force. In the beginning of this year, Pakistan confessed that the major challenge to its security was coming from inside. Pakistan is not only struggling with curbing the menace of non-state actors on its land but is also trying to find a way for the amelioration of its international image.

Fifth, the next challenge is that Pakistan is failing in playing a significant and proactive role in the Muslim world. In the past, Pakistan tried to be the voice of the Muslim world, besides being considered its leader. Pakistan tried to observe the 'ideology of Pakistan' in its diplomatic relations with other countries. However, not only had the end of the Cold War but also the post-9/11 phase changed the policy contours of the countries of the Muslim world. The attack of Iraq on Kuwait in 1990 and the invasion of Iraq by the US and its allies in 2003 divided the Muslim countries. It is now obvious that the acquisition of nuclear technology has not automatically graduated Pakistan to be a significant voice of the Muslim world. Pakistan lacks economic development and political stability, which keeps on making Pakistan dependent on international players and financial institutions. The Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act 2009 was also a major manifestation of Pakistan's deteriorating status in the eyes of the US. The ongoing sectarian conflict is also persuading Pakistan to think of the renewal of its relations with the countries of the Muslim world.

The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at

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