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Pakistan Foreign Policy Reorientation Debate 2020

Paper No. 6583                      Dated 22-May-2020

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Reflecting Pakistan’s current dissatisfaction with the leading Arab Gulf Monarchies growing proximity to India and honouring Indian PM Narendra Modi with their highest national awards, notably visible is ongoing foreign policy debate to reset newer directions in Pakistan’s foreign policy thrusts.

In a Column in the Pakistani English newspaper Tribune Pakistani noted economist and influential voice in Pakistan’s foreign and economic issue Shahid Javed Burki has called for a ‘Reorientation’ of Pakistan’s foreign policy with a renewed focus on the North and North East ---implying that Pakistan should focus on the Central Asia “ Five Stans” and on China.

What does this call by an influential Pakistani national figure imply? Not stated expressly but unmistakeably implied by silence on incorporating the Gulf Monarchies also in the new rest call reflects that the newer directions called for in Pakistan’s foreign policy thrusts reflects Pakistan Establishment’s dissatisfaction with the Gulf Monarchies—Pakistan’s strongest pillars of political and financial support.

While Burki imparts economic overtones to his call and adding that China, Pakistan and the Central Asian Five should endeavour to establish a Common Market initiative, the more logical call should have been to advocate a Gulf Common Market with Pakistan too incorporated.

However, the underlying tenor is more strategic than economic and hence the exclusion of Gulf Monarchies as they rely more on United States than China.

The question whether Pakistan can ignore the Gulf Monarchies in its foreign policy politico-economic thrusts will be examined later in this Paper. For now, other pointers to this trend need exposing.

Noticeable also are reports that Pakistan social media is hyperactive on calls for cutting off Pakistan’s ties with the UAE in response to UAE support for India on critical issues. This trolling was generated from similar calls by Turkish President and Turkish tweeting that all Muslim nations should boycott UAE.

The Pakistan Establishment dominated by the Pakistan Army and its intelligence agencies have been rattled by United States growing recognition of India as a Major Power and the intensification of US-India defence ties. This amounts in Pakistan’s perceptions as a United States act inimical to Pakistan’s interests.

In tandem, China’s unassailable reputation in Asian and global affairs as a critical strategic asset for Pakistan of a countervailing power both against United States and Indian pressures stands that much diluted post-China Wuhan Virus19 Pandemic.

In short, Pakistan’s “China Card” is that much stands devalued in the rapidly churning geopolitical milieu.

While the social media trolling in Pakistan against the UAE can be dismissed as a knee-jerk reaction favouring Pakistan’s penchant for all things Turkish, the calls by Shahid Javed Burki for reset in Pakistan’s foreign policy directions needs special scrutinising by all foreign policy analysts and India’s foreign policy and defence establishments.

Shahid Javed Burki is a Pakistani American and has been a former Vice President of the World Bank and a former Caretaker Finance Minister. He is respected both within Pakistan and USA. Till recently, his writings were measured and objective. But lately what is discernible are anti-Indian criticisms and now this foreign policy reset call. It cannot be construed as a knee-jerk call of frustration.

Now coming to the all-important question whether Pakistan can afford to forego the billions of dollars that flow in from The Gulf both as generous grants from Saudi Arabia and UAE primarily, and the vast foreign remittances? Can China supplement Pakistan’s financial losses so accruing? Can the Central Asian Republics with intensified trade relations with Pakistan offset the loss of financial inflows from the Gulf?

The answer to all of the above questions is a resounding “NO’. Then what is Pakistan aiming for by such calls for reset of Pakistan foreign policy or supporting Turkish calls for ‘Boycott UAE’?

Pakistan has never been known for measured stances whether in foreign policy making or in securing Pakistan’s national security interests. Its policy stances have always been transactional and at many times petulant.

Concluding, it can be stated that this is one more petulant response scripted by the Pakistan Establishment to pressurise the Gulf Monarchies to steer away from India. Also, this is one more reiteration of Pakistan Establishment’s blind support of China even at the cost of Pakistan’s financial security and diplomatic servility to China and its policy credibility.