Foreign policy options for Imran Khan

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Shahid M Amin

THE general election in Pakistan held on July 25, 2018 produced a resounding victory for Imran Khan. It is a victory for change, the slogan under which he was campaigning for many years. It is a vote against corruption by the ruling elites that has almost brought the country to economic collapse. It reaffirms belief in essential values: decency, compassion, honesty, equality and self-respect. It is a vote for rule of law, for democracy and constitutional rule. The victory speech made by Imran Khan was an uplifting moment in Pakistan’s history. Here was a man who struggled for years against all odds, putting across his vision of a new Pakistan, free of corruption and ending oligarchic rule. He was pilloried but stood his ground, mobilized the masses and raised a fervor not seen since the Pakistan movement in 1940s. To his credit, he was humble in victory, modest in his choice of words, and balanced in his approach. He recalled the vicious personal attacks on him during the political campaign but said he had forgotten and left them behind because “my cause is far bigger than me.” He assured his opponents there would be no political victimization and vowed to cooperate with them to investigate complaints of voting irregularities. Imran Khan said his model was the first Islamic state in Medina, as also the vision of Pakistan’s founder Jinnah, who had set the Medina Charter as his model, when the Holy Prophet (PBUH) signed an alliance with various local tribes including Jews that gave non-Muslims equal rights with Muslims in a pluralistic society. It was described as the world’s first written constitution. Imran promised to work to build a welfare state in Pakistan where uplift of downtrodden would get high priority. He said accountability will start with him. “We will set an example of how law is same for everyone.” He said that the biggest challenge Pakistan was facing was economic crisis. It never had such a huge fiscal deficit: the economy was going down because of dysfunctional institutions and “no one is coming to save us”. His recipe for economic revival was ending corruption, helping small businesses and creating jobs.
Coming to foreign policy, Imran Khan said “if any country needs peace right now, it is Pakistan.” We want to have good relations with all neighbours. It would be “very good for all of us if we have good relations with India”. He offered dialogue on the core issue of Kashmir and promised that if India took one step forward, he would take two steps forward. Imran Khan stressed the need for peace for Afghan people who had suffered the most in the war on terror. If there is peace in Afghanistan, there will be peace in Pakistan. He wanted to have open borders with Afghanistan one day. Imran Khan said he wanted to improve ties with Iran. He said Saudi Arabia was a friend who had always stood by Pakistan in difficult times. Pakistan wished to play the role of reconciling neighbours in the Middle East.
Speaking about relations with Great Powers, Imran Khan said that China had given Pakistan a huge opportunity through CPEC. He wanted to learn from China how it brought 700 million people out of poverty, as also its anti-corruption measures. With USA, Imran Khan wanted to have a mutually beneficial relationship, which until now had been a one-way situation. “The US thinks it gives us aid to fight their war.” Imran Khan’s speech was also carried live by CNN and BBC and has been largely applauded at home and abroad for its balanced and reconciliatory stance. The reaction in India is notable. It was unhappy to see Nawaz Sharif defeated who was regarded as pro-India. However, India has given a cautious welcome to Imran Khan’s speech. It also takes satisfaction that religious parties, including some advocating anti-India militancy, lost ground in elections. Nevertheless, it would be premature to think that India will reciprocate meaningfully to Imran Khan’s offer of friendship. Modi’s BJP regime has thrived domestically by its anti-Pakistan policy. It is unlikely to change direction or show any accommodation on Kashmir.
It is in Pakistan’s national interest at this time to improve relations with USA. A key reason for our current economic crisis is the stoppage of US aid to Pakistan. Since 1947, the US military and economic aid to Pakistan has amounted to about $75 billion. Imran is only partially correct in saying that it has been a one-sided relationship in which the US gives aid and Pakistan fights its wars. From 1953 to 1965, Pakistan received substantial aid from USA, which helped build up its military strength, enabling it to hold its own against India in 1965 War. The aid was actually received to fight against Soviet aggression but no occasion arose when Pakistan had to do so. In 1980s, Pakistan supported Afghan jihad for its own reasons and not due to any US inducement. After 9/11, most countries including China were supporting US military operations against Al-Qaeda and Taliban regime. Pakistan was left with no option but to cooperate, or else it would have been isolated and condemned as a terrorist state. But we should have secured far better terms in return for providing logistic route to Afghanistan. In 2003, US offered $30bn to Turkey for such transit route to US military invasion against Iraq.
Similarly, since the 1950s, Pakistan has made a huge commitment to provide security to Saudi Arabia. But Riyadh has given far more aid to countries that have done much less. In 2014, Saudi Arabia gave an aid package of $25 billion to Egypt. In June 2018, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE pledged $2.5 billion to Jordan to help it come out of a financial crisis, plus annual support for its budget for five years. UAE gave Egypt $3 billion after the coup in 2013 and provided $4 billion in April 2016. The last Saudi aid to Pakistan was $1.5 billion in 2013. Hopefully, Imran Khan would keep these comparative figures in mind when he talks to Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman during his forthcoming visit to Pakistan.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.

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