Pak Foreign Policy & Strategic Framework By Mahrukh A Mughal

NOTWITHSTANDING the fundamental principles, the foreign and security policy of a country cannot remain static or indifferent to the evolving conditions in the regional or world politics. Rather, it is a continuous process that remains subject to review and readjustment in accordance with the political and strategic changes taking place at regional or world level. Asia is undergoing a perceptible change triggering a strategic realignment of states. Pakistan, sitting on the confluence of three regions — South Asia, Central Asia and South West Asia— is destined to have an important position in these alliances. The Afghanistan problem seems far from a peaceful settlement in the near future compelling the USA and its NATO allies to prolong their military presence in that country for another two decades. Having thus far evaded defeat at the hand of the combined forces of NATO and the Afghan National Army, the Taliban are determined to seek a solution to this decades-long imbroglio on their own terms to extract maximum political advantage out of the stalemate that has come to characterize the Afghan situation.
Pakistan would continue to suffer from the adverse consequences of the low intensity war in her immediate neighbourhood. Pakistan has two vital strategic objectives in Afghanistan. The territory of this luckless country should not be used by any adversarial country or force for terrorist attacks in Pakistan or destabilize parts of her territory including Balochistan. Apparently, these adversaries are the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Indian intelligence — RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) whose activities from across the Afghan border into Balochistan are now an open secret. The second objective is to have a peaceful, stable and a friendly Afghanistan in her neighbourhood. This is very important in view of the geo-strategic and economic interests shared by two neighbours since centuries. These two core objectives would continue to be main concerns of Pakistan.
Pakistan also has centuries-old cultural and spiritual relations with Iran. Our bilateral relations with Iran since the inception of Pakistan have been close and mutually supportive. The Shah of Iran was the first foreign Head of State to pay an official visit to Pakistan in 1952. Pakistan and Iran after lengthy negotiations resolved their border issue in February 1958. At one stage, the Shah of Iran had proposed to have a confederation of the two countries with joint defence and he himself as the Head of the Confederation. He was of the view that at a later stage, Turkey could also be co-opted into the Confederation. Though the proposal of the confederation could not materialize, it gave birth to the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) comprising Pakistan, Iran and Turkey with the help of the USA. This regional organization has now been expanded into the larger Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) that in addition to the original three members includes Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics.
We may remember that Iran was the only country to have allowed Pakistan strategic depth during the 1965 war with India. Our aircraft had been shifted to the nearest Iranian airports. This was a great support in a difficult time. There could have been flourishing trade between Pakistan and Iran. Iran has massive energy surpluses but is devoid of food sufficiency. We are abundantly endowed with food yet suffer from energy shortage. Iran consumes a lot of superior quality of rice. The natural affinity between the two countries has not been tapped, partly due to the sanctions, but in an equal measure, because of our position in the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the larger Middle Eastern context. However, the Turkish bilateral trade with Iran has since been growing. Turkey is the main buyer of the Iranian gas. Turkey exports over two dozens of various items to Iran.
Bilateral trade between the two countries was estimated at $23 billion a decade ago. Turkish economic links with the Central Asian states have also been on the rise since their independence from the erstwhile Soviet Union. At present, Turkey has a formidable presence in these countries. Iran has already rehabilitated its road and railway links with the Central Asian States. Since the lifting of the western sanction from July 2015, Iran has also been increasing its economic connections with the Central Asian States particularly through energy corridors for which it is strategically located. Iran has so far been the main country providing seaport facilities to these landlocked countries through Bandar Abbass Seaport, though situated at a greater distance. The nearest seaport to these States is Gwadar. Keeping in view the distance of Bandar Abbass, Iran has embarked on the development of Chabahar Seaport, only 70 kilometers from Gwadar to take a share from the foreign trade of the Central Asian Republics along with Gwadar in the future.
Pakistan has not shown keen interest or made proactive efforts to exploit the forum of ECO to her advantage. Unfortunately, Pakistan adversarial relations with India and Afghanistan did not make her able to utilize its geo-strategic location to increase political and economic relations with the Central Asian States. We have not yet revamped our rail link with Iran from Quetta to Taftan to connect with the Iranian railway network onwards to Central Asia. Similarly, we have also been unable to extend our rail and road links from Peshawar to Jalalabad to Uzbekistan. The controversy on the question of giving India access to Afghanistan through Torkham border has adversely impacted our relations with Kabul. For the last one decade or so, we have no access to Central Asia through Afghanistan. The Afghan regime, as a retaliatory act, has stopped the transit of our overland trade with the Central Asian countries. This is unfortunate for both the countries. The bilateral trade between the two countries has recently reduced from $2.50 billion to $1.50 billion. The Afghan transit trade has also been affected by bad relations between the two countries. Pakistan cannot afford to overlook the future economic boom spurred by these international and regional trade connections. Pakistan could enhance the size of it’s bilateral trade with Iran by directly importing natural gas and oil. Pakistan’s foreign policy guidelines should therefore aim at active regional participation and good neighbourly relations for pursuing a path towards peace and prosperity.
— The author, a freelance columnist, is based in Lahore.

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