SINCE its independence, major objectives of Pakistan’s foreign policy have remained fluctuated. Though, there are some constants such as efforts to keep close cooperation with the US, deep security assurances for Saudi Arabia in Middle East, and highlighting Kashmir dispute at international forums. However, over the years many approaches have been replaced during this evolutionary process in the foreign policy depending upon the ground realities and regional or international strategic environment. Excessive reliance on the US has been replaced with China, aggression against India has been replaced with pragmatic approach of unceasing appeals for dialogue, and perhaps most importantly struggles of creating balanced foreign policy between Riyadh and Tehran has taken unprecedented pace.
Recently, Pakistan’s foreign policy as a state is revolving around six major interests including softening its international image, enhancing exports and access to major markets, internationalizing Kashmir dispute, improving regional connectivity which is pegged with regional security and stability, and developing cordial relations with major powers (particularly with the US). These are the preferences of Pakistani state institutions and intelligentsia. Visit of Pakistan’s Foreign Minister to the US, participation in Quad lateral Cooperation Group (QCG), offering connectivity of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to neighbouring states, robust and unceasing multidimensional military operations against terrorists, and offering mediation between Riyadh and Tehran, are some manifestations of above mentioned objective of Pakistan’s foreign policy.
On the contrary, the society has different preferences. For a common Pakistani, America, Israel and India are responsible for every social, economic and security related issue in the country. Generally, the society has pegged various types of perceptions with different regions, which has largely affected the foreign policy of the country or developed sensitivities. For Pakistani society, Middle East is most sacred region and security of Saudi Arabia is responsibility of every Muslim, without considering any repercussion. This approach somehow has hemmed in Pakistani institutions and intelligentsia, which is nearly impossible to be removed in recent future.
Likewise, Europe has been assuming as most favourite destination of elite class since Pakistan’s inception. European region has high standards of human rights, democracy, etc and Pakistan often comes short to meet these European high standards. Few Pakistanis know how that many countries are in Central Asia. Hence, despite many economic and strategic opportunities lying in Central Asia, the country has been neglecting true potential of Central Asian region. South East Asia is Pakistani elite’s attractive destination for spending holidays and for religious hawks it is the attractive region to spread Islam. Hence, despite the overwhelming potential of trade with ASEAN region, Pakistan is facing more than five billion dollars trade deficit with the region. On the other hand, thanks to efforts of religious extremists, many societies of ASEAN region have started considering Pakistani religious class responsible for growing Islamic extremism in the region.
The aspiration of converting non-Muslims into Muslims, efforts to make Muslims as ‘Good Muslims’, rising anti-American hatred, lack of sense of co-existence in society have created numerous problem for the country to achieve its desired objectives. Pakistan’s relentless efforts for internationalisation of Kashmir dispute at every international forum and often get wasted due to a single statement of religious fanatic when they portray it ‘Kashmir Jihad’.
One can observe a clear split between state and society over the foreign policy preferences of the country. On the one hand, a growing realization among the educated youth is perpetuating to see Pakistan’s own house in order, while on the other hand, hawkish elements and religious fanatics eager to witness an aggressive rhetoric against India, America and perhaps against Iran. Pakistan has been trying for long and perhaps needs to continue its struggle to form a delicate balance between societal aspirations and pragmatic approaches for long term interest of the country. Most importantly, the state needs to create awareness in the society in order to ease its difficulties at foreign fronts. Though, quantum leaps have been taken by Pakistani educated youth in recent years through social media for spreading information about Pakistan’s foreign policy and Pakistan’s interests, yet there is a long road to go. It is hoped that the proliferation of social media, active civil society and concerned academia will promote the message of national interest and the hawkish voices will dry out gradually.
— The writer works for Islamabad Policy Research Institute, think tank in Islamabad.