Pakistan foreign policy- between the devil and the deep sea Taaza Khabar News 08 May 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


Pakistan foreign policy – between the devil and the deep sea

Pakistan foreign policy- between the devil and the deep sea Taaza Khabar News 08 May 2023

          The recent US intelligence document leak, on Discord Messaging Platform, revealing memos of communication between Pakistan Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif, and his deputy foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Kaur, shed light on Pakistan’s foreign policy dilemma. In the memo, Kaur cautions Shehbaz that Pakistan must not convey that it is aligning itself to the west. She goes on to add that Pakistan can no longer attempt to maintain a middle ground between China and the US as it could impact Pakistan’s relations with China. Pak is being compelled to choose while desiring to be seen as neutral.

          The leaks on Discord, involving a number of nations including India and Pakistan have embarrassed Washington as it displays that they continue to spy on allies. The Pakistan memo involving Hina Rabbani was possibly of the period preceding the US led democracy summit, from which Pakistan backed out at the last minute, mainly to satisfy an angry China, fuming because Taiwan had been invited. Last year Pakistan refused to participate because China was not invited, though China is no democracy.

Another simultaneous document leak covered Pakistan’s PM Shehbaz Sharif’s deliberations with a subordinate on an upcoming UN General Assembly vote on Ukraine. Pakistan was anticipating pressure from the US to vote against Russia. Possibly faster release of IMF loan would have been on the cards. Shehbaz was advised that following the US diktat would signify a change in stance which could impact Pakistan’s relations with Russia and China. In the crucial UN General Assembly vote of 23rd Feb, Pakistan was amongst the 32 nations which abstained.

          Simultaneously, there have been reports of the Pak government supplying weapons and ammunition to Ukraine to curry western favour. Speaking to the BBC, one of Ukraine’s military commanders, Volodymyr, claimed that his country received supplies of weapons from Pakistan, which were substandard. Pakistan immediately denied the news and stated that possibly one of the countries to whom it exported weapons could have transferred them to Ukraine, despite the end user agreement. Earlier this year there were reports of British transport planes moving military hardware from Pakistan to Ukraine as also of containers transporting weapons and ammunition being sent vis Germany to Ukraine.

          For Pakistan, relations with the US are essential as it needs funding from the IMF as also spares for US supplied weapon systems. Without IMF release of loan, funds from other donors, including close allies like Saudi Arabia and Asian Development bank, are in jeopardy. Pakistan’s desperation for US weapon spares was evident when Masood Khan, its envoy to the US, stated in Washington, ‘It is important that the US restores — for Pakistan — Foreign Military Financing and Foreign Military Sales, suspended by the previous administration.’ Further, US is funding part of rehabilitation of those impacted by the floods last year. Pakistan is aware that it cannot anger the US beyond a point.

          Pakistan has been attempting to follow the Indian model and display neutrality in foreign policy as also the Ukraine war. It hopes to maintain ties with both the US and Russia, gaining in relations from both nations. To do so, Pakistan has to be globally relevant, which it is not. Being a nuclear weaponised nation is not enough. Pakistan is fractured, completely under the thumb of China and economically facing collapse while being politically unstable. It could have still claimed some relevance while the Afghan war continued, however it hurt itself by supporting the Taliban and celebrating their coming to power in Kabul. Currently, it has no value, no voice, no global relevance. 

          India, on the other hand, possesses the world’s largest population, is the globe’s fifth largest economy, with foreign exchange reserves of over USD 600 million. It is a growing market which nations are desperate to enter. It possesses the second largest army and is an essential partner to the west which is seeking to contain a rising China. Politically stable, India also holds the presidency of the G 20. Pakistan’s cries on India conducting the G 20 tourism meet in Srinagar found no takers, other than big brother China. The world ignores Pak while wooing India.

          Pakistan always had close ties with West Asia. These seem to have melted with Imran attempting to join hands with Turkey, which is challenging Saudi Arabia for the leadership of the Muslim world. The support it could have received from both, Riyadh and the UAE, have reduced, especially with India’s relations with them improving. The UAE is also a major investor in Kashmir.

          India too had come under intense western scrutiny including questions on its oil procurements. India refused to budge insisting it supports peace and dialogue as the way forward. The US had initially dubbed India’s stand on the Ukraine conflict as ‘somewhat shaky.’ Currently, Biden quotes PM Modi’s statement to Putin, ‘this is not an era of war.’ Thus, the world has grudgingly accepted India’s neutrality on the conflict.

India imports Russian crude and exports refined oil to the EU. This aspect was raised in the European Parliament. Marc Botenga questioned, ‘European media outlets have reported that Indian companies are re-exporting the surplus of refined Russian crude oil to Europe. Does it (EU) acknowledge that some of the fuel imported from India is, in fact, repackaged Russian oil?’ As per inputs, key European purchasers of re-exported oil are France, Turkey, Belgium and the Netherlands.  

Rick Russow, a senior adviser and chair in U.S.-India policy studies at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies stated that India is one of the only countries which can ‘pick up the phone and talk to leadership in both the United States and Russia on the same day.’ India’s relevance and successful foreign policy outlook would be proved when for the G 20 summit in Delhi, Biden, Putin and Xi would be in the same room for the first time since the Ukraine war began.

Pakistan is desperate to toe the Indian approach but lacks relevance and Indian credibility. The world looks up to India while ignoring Pak.  Islamabad has always believed that if India can do something, it could do better. It has failed to comprehend realities that while Indian relevance has grown, its own has receded.