2018 was the year of change in Pakistan, as Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf rose to power for the first time ever since its foundation, breaking the monopoly of Pakistan Peoples’ Party and Pakistan Muslim League. As Imran Khan sworn in as the new prime minister of the Islamic Republic, a state best described as the assortment of perplexity and hope caught the fixation of a common Pakistani’s mind. Of the most critical challenges facing the new regime were the financial crunch owing to the balance of payment crisis and to avoid the prospects of diplomatic isolation owing to the fractured relationship with the United States.
Addressing the biggest challenge, Prime Minister Khan embarked upon efforts to defy the IMF bailout, whose strict conditions would make it real tough for the cricketer turned politician, to implement his policies promised to the nation during his impressive election campaign just before making it to the Prime Minister’s House in Islamabad. In Decemeber 2019, PM Khan disclosed publicly his vision to conduct strong ‘economic diplomacy’ by urging Pakistani diplomats to strive to bring foreign direct investment back home.
PM Khan’s Economic Diplomacy
In his bid to avoid the inevitable IMF package, PM Khan resorted to Pakistan’s allies in the Middle East. He paid his first state visit to Saudi Arabia which was followed by a visit to UAE. His next visit to China secured a $3.5 Billion package including grants and loans. Imran Khan visited Saudi Arabia again in October and finalised a $6 Billion rescue package for Pakistan. Similar assistance was assured by Mohammad Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan who reciprocated Khan’s visit in January, promising a $6.2 Billion rescue package for Pakistan.
The Chinese Investments in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) have risen to $64 Billion and are expected to rise further in the coming times. PM Khan’s visit to China soon after Saudi Arabia confirmed that Imran Khan was looking forward to pursue a strategic alliance with the kingdom and the peoples’ republic. Chinese commitment to CPEC remains strong and a change in the Chinese approach towards Islamabad is highly unlikely in the near future.
Imran Khan’s Visit to Turkey also strengthened the resolve between the two countries. Turkey has been playing a pivotal role in providing technical support to Pakistan in various fields, most notably defence. Pakistani F-16s go through Mid-Life Update in Turkey whereas both the countries have already agreed on the deal of 30 T129 ATAK Multirole Combat helicopters. In his visit, Prime Minister Khan invited Turkey to join $64 Billion CPEC as a partner, an option Ankara is still considering. Pakistan’s action against Fethullah Gulen’s organisation, which Turkey declared a terrorist organisation after Coup attempt in 2016, earned the Pakistani Prime Minister respect in Turkey.
The visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to Pakistan has been very fruitful for both the countries and its success owes a great deal to the efforts of the Pakistani Prime Minister. MBS announced $21 Billion Saudi Investment for Pakistan in various fields including energy, power, petrochemical, petroleum etc. The investment holds significant importance for Pakistan’s struggling economy.
Saudi Arabia’s plan to establish an oil refinery in Gwadar is a development that is being warmly welcomed in Pakistan. The refinery, once completed will produce 300,000 barrels of oil per day and save Pakistan around $3 Billion a year, the country spends on petroleum imports. Saudi involvement will further increase the credibility of CPEC and attract more countries, particularly from the MENA region.
Notwithstanding the fact that the prime minister had vowed not to go to IMF for a bailout during his government, the government is about to seek a bailout. The government is negotiating with the Monetary Fund to seek loan at lighter conditions. However, PM Khan’s impressive economic diplomacy is proving helpful as Pakistan will now be seeking a much smaller loan and at comparatively relaxed conditions.
Peace with India
Imran Khan has been a proponent of peaceful relations with India, a fact which he proved soon after his ascension to power. Making the first move towards talks with India, PM Imran stepped forward and invited India to the table for resolution of all outstanding issues. However, Modi government’s obstinacy put a full stop to all the prospects of betterment of ties between the two South Asian Nuclear powers. India withdrew its decision to talk with Pakistan in September 2018 citing strange reasons, including accusing Pakistan of pursuing an ‘evil agenda’.
PM Khan is focusing economy and understands the future shared by both India and Pakistan, however Kashmir remains the biggest apple of discord which India is not willing to consider a dispute, hence stalling any progress towards negotiations. India calls Kashmir, its ‘integral part’ and under Modi government, is probably executive National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s offensive strategy to curb Kashmir’s UN sanctified freedom movement with military crackdowns.
Pakistani PM earned International appreciation by making first for talks with India and then proposing Kartarpur Corridor for Indian Sikh citizens to visit their holy site in Pakistan with comfort. By doing so, he has successfully convinced the world that the ball is in Indian court and its India, not Pakistan, which is unwilling to talk.
Countering Moves to Isolate Pakistan
After 2016 Uri Attack in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir, India unleashed its new Pakistan Foreign Policy which focused upon total diplomatic isolation of Pakistan. In the efforts, it turned to almost all major international forums to accuse Pakistan of terrorism. Pakistan’s counter on the other hand has the exposé of Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian spy serving in the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and indulged in acts of sabotage and subversion in Balochistan and Karachi. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke of the Indian sponsored terrorism in the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly.
In a recent development, India has just launched a renewed diplomatic onslaught against Pakistan following attack on its security convoy that killed more than 40 soldiers. Pakistan, months earlier had briefed the members of UN Security Council, expressing the possibility of a false-flag in the wake of upcoming Indian elections in which anti-Pakistan sentiments play a vital role.
Pakistan’s Iran policy has been a grey area for sometime and India has been playing its cards well to exploit it. With Indian assistance, Iran has completed first phase of Chabahar port at a cost of $340 Million. Tehran sees Islamabad’s Gwadar port as a competition to its strategic goals and is not willing to bandwagon with China and Pakistan in the $64 Billion megaproject. Iran’s frustration with the growing ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is also on the rise and is further splitting the two Islamic Republics, which Khan appears to be doing nothing about in particular.
Tehran sees Islamabad’s Gwadar port as a competition to its strategic goals and is not willing to bandwagon with China and Pakistan in the $64 Billion megaproject
With the arrival of Mohammad Bin Zayed of UAE in January and Mohammad Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, with his $21 Billion investment, in February this year, Pakistan has made a successful move in countering the Indian diplomatic assault to isolate the Islamic Republic.
However, the fractured relationship between Pakistan and United States remains a matter of concern and a weak link in Pakistan’s diplomacy. The United States repeatedly accused Pakistan of playing ‘double game’ by providing ‘safe havens’ to the terrorists on its soil. US State Secretary Mike Pompeo accused Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism against India soon after the attack in Pulwama, further fracturing the ‘strange bond’ between the two countries.
The United States repeatedly accused Pakistan of playing ‘double game’ by providing ‘safe havens’ to the terrorists on its soil
The American assault to isolate Pakistan dates back to the election of President Donald Trump who has repeatedly blamed Pakistan for US failure in Afghanistan. Dissatisfied with the Pakistani assistance, United States lobbied to gerylist Pakistan in FATF session held in June 2018 which met success.
A ray of hope in improvement of Pak-US ties, appears to be the endgame in Afghanistan for which Pakistan is to play a significant role. Whether the settlement will bring the two together is a matter of another debate but its potential to do so cannot be neglected.
The Afghan Quagmire
With no military solution in sight and US forces desperate to withdraw from the impossible terrains of Afghanistan, Pakistan’s role in Afghan solution has become even more prominent. The United States has repeatedly acknowledged the fact that a solution to Afghan problem is not possible without Pakistan and therefore had been requesting the latter to bring the Taliban to the table, which it effectively managed to do in the ongoing year as the US officials met the Taliban delegation in a head to head meeting. However Pakistan needs to condition its efforts to secure US withdrawal from Afghanistan with US commitment to stop accusing Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism.
The United States has repeatedly acknowledged the fact that a solution to Afghan problem is not possible without Pakistan
The US backed regime in Kabul is fast losing both legitimacy and power and ironically, the biggest blow in recent times has come not from the Taliban but Washington itself when it agreed to direct talks with Afghan Taliban without involving Afghanistan’s ‘democratic’ government in the dialogue, in December 2018, in UAE. PM Khan is well known for his blunt stance against America’s war on terror and campaigns for seeking a peaceful and not at all a military solution to the problem. There are no prospects of a change in Khan’s Afghanistan foreign policy particularly with Afghan Taliban getting stronger with every single day passing.
As far as preventing Pakistan from going into diplomatic isolation, with two giants pushing against it, is concerned, Prime Minister Khan has been quite successful. His approach to strengthen ties with the closest allies, which is depicted by his foreign visits to Saudi Arabia, UAE, China, Turkey, Malaysia and Qatar, has bore fruits for Pakistan. The Islamic Republic has been able to convince Saudi Arabia for a huge foreign investment whose first phase amounts to $21 Billion, which is a major achievement both in economic and strategic terms. The biggest question mark is posed on PM Khan’s approach to convincing United States to stop assaulting Pakistan on the diplomatic front.
The United States engineered grey-listing of Pakistan in the FATF June 2018 session, convincing Saudi Arabia to vote against Pakistan by offering full FATF membership, thus breaking Pakistan’s three member alliance it required to stall the move.
The biggest question mark is posed on PM Khan’s approach to convincing United States to stop assaulting Pakistan on the diplomatic front.
After recent attack in Pulwama on Indian security convoy by a local Kashmiri militant, India and the United States are the only two countries that have directly accused Pakistan and India’s renewed campaign to isolate Pakistan is signifying towards an attempt to blacklist Pakistan this time. On the other hand, PM Khan would definitely be looking forward to pull out of the greylist as he is eyeing foreign direct investment.
India’s renewed campaign to isolate Pakistan is signifying towards an attempt to blacklist Pakistan this time
Pakistan needs to prepare itself for the upcoming intense diplomatic wrangling it might be facing against the US move in FATF 2019 Session. With Pakistan entering into a new era of alliance with Saudi Arabia owing to high level visits and trade deals worth billions of dollars, in between, Pakistan can hope for good.
Another challenge is to mending fences with Tehran as Pakistan cannot afford turning up another neighbour against it, in a scenario in which India and Afghanistan are already allied against it. Pakistan’s move to enter into a strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia is a matter of concern for Iran which PM Imran has, so far, failed to address, providing India the opportunity to exploit.
Pakistan’s move to enter into a strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia is a matter of concern for Iran which PM Imran has, so far, failed to address
With its retired four-star general Raheel Sharif, a highly skilled commander with the victory against terrorists inside Pakistan as a feather in his cap serving as the Commander in chief of the Saudi led Islamic Coalition against terrorism, Iran has every reason to view Pakistan with suspicion. PM Khan needs to convince Iran and step forward in building confidence while not losing Saudi Arabia’s crucial support. The challenge is going to take some serious effort and will be an arduous task.
In a Nutshell
The Pakistani Prime Minister has got the support of its close allies and has successfully embarked upon a new era of Saudi-Pak strategic partnership. With crucial economic assistance coming to rescue to Pakistan stuck in financial crunch, Saudi Arabia, China and UAE are supporting Pakistan in its bid to evade International isolation which is being pushed by The United States and India. The progress with India has further been hampered by Pulwama attack and India’s campaign to isolate Pakistan by accusing it of terrorism whereas Pakistan is moving forward in Kulbhushan Jadhav’s, an Indian spy in Pakistani custody.
Imran’s biggest challenge now is to repair the fractured relationship with USA which is costing heavily to both the countries. Another major challenge is to build back Iran’s confidence which has been shattered by Pakistan’s pro Saudi moves, particularly soon after Khan sworn in as the Prime Minister. Pakistan needs a precarious balance in its foreign policy towards Iran and Saudi Arabia, so that it could ally itself with the latter while building back the confidence of the former. Khan’s need to take Pakistan out of confrontations. A robust foreign policy cannot emanate from a weak domestic policy, which depends upon stability in the region.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of Rationale-47.