New vistas in Foreign Policy | Afzal Hussain

On September 15, 2015, the breaking news was “Pakistan military band enthralls Moscow”. A 78-member Pakistan Tri-Services Military band enthralled audience by their fantastic performance when they played ceremonial tunes including the National Anthem and patriotic songs at the International Military Music Festival, as part of celebrations to mark 868th birthday of Moscow City in Russia. Unfortunately, Pak-Russia relations have a tumultuous history. It must be understood that the objective of the foreign policy of any state is to secure its national interest. There is no permanent friend or foe in politics. Therefore, owing to the changing geopolitical dynamics, Pakistan and Russia that stood in a hard opposition to each other in the 1980’s due to the wrong policies of General Zia ul Haq (cold-war rivalry) now rightly decided to foster good relations.

Therefore, in August 2014, Admiral Viktor V. Chirkov, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Federation Naval Forces came on his first-ever visit to Pakistan. The Pakistani authorities hailed the first visit by a Russian naval chief to Pakistan as historic. Subsequently, in June 2015, the Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif visited Moscow on an official visit to Russia and he met with top Russian civil and military leadership. Precisely, General Raheel Sharif’s visit to Russia was part of proactive foreign policy launched by Pakistan to reach out to regional countries.

It is noteworthy that earlier this year, Pakistan’s closest ally China, announced plans for a massive, Chinese-funded infrastructure-building program (CPEC). The announcement of the initiation of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) during the visit of the President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping is a grand historic achievement for the Government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The CPEC, if completed as per the timeline will generate enormous dividends for Pakistan. Iran-Pakistan Gas pipeline project, the Central Asia South Asia electricity import project (Casa-1000) for supplying surplus central Asian (Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan) power to Afghanistan and Pakistan and TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline project are of immense significance for Pakistan and the whole region. Therefore, there is a need for fast-tracking progress on regional energy projects to advance the goals of greater regional integration and economic development in the region.

For the first time, in Pakistan’s history, the foreign policy is on the right track. Pakistan is trying to maintain a balance between its relations with the western powers and the regional countries. It seems to be that Pakistan has decided that although America will remain important, it must have good relations with other countries. Recently, in July 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in Ufa, Russia on the official invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is beginning of a new chapter in Pak-Russia relations. The most explicit sign of the new chapter in the rising relationship between Pakistan and Russia is the offer made by the Russian state-owned corporation to build a pipeline for Pakistan that will carry natural gas from Iran to cities in Pakistan. The estimated cost of the project is 2.5 billion dollars. The pipeline will extend from Karachi to Lahore, Pakistan. This is going to be the first major project in Pakistan after four decades in which Russians will be involved (since the Russians helped in building the Pakistan Steel Mills, Karachi in 1973).

It seems to be that both China and Russia are interested in investing in Pakistan to protect their southern underbellies against the export of extremism. Certainly, these regional powers cannot afford further instability in the region therefore; they want to promote economic development in the region. They are also determined to get full access to the Pakistani market. Pakistan must start a multidimensional relationship with Russia, which should encompass defence, trade, education, culture and the energy sector. Pakistan was founded for the social and political empowerment of the subcontinent Muslims. Therefore, the salient features of our foreign policy must vigorously include developing trade and economic relations with all regional countries.

The European nations have achieved peace and prosperity by not meddling into the affairs of each other. The one basic reason of the stability in Europe is the advancement of trade and economic relations. The regional countries should follow the European vision on regional trade and Pakistan should follow the footsteps of its oldest and closest ally China that has good trade relations with almost every country in the world. The regional countries should promote business and tourist visa policies to encourage people-to-people contact and trade in the region. It is best for Pakistan to focus on strengthening trade and economic relations with regional countries such as China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and the central Asian countries particularly, Tajikistan. It is time to tell the world that Pakistan is absolutely committed to trade, economic development, cultural promotion, peace and prosperity in the region.


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