Pakistan’s foreign policy success in 2018
ISLAMABAD - Pakistan ended the year 2018 on a high on the foreign policy front as Islamabad started to regain glory at the regional level.
The year 2018 which had not started off well with the US President Donald Trump’s announcement to cut off aid to Pakistan, ended on a positive note with Islamabad starting to make a comeback as a main player in the region.
The US, which had discarded Pakistan in the outgoing year, returned to the talking terms after finding no way out in Afghanistan.
Donald Trump wrote a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan seeking help in resolving Afghanistan issue. PM Khan in response said that ‘the US has realised that peace cannot be attained in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s help.’
Officially allies in fighting terrorism, Pakistan and the US have a complicated relationship, bound by Washington’s dependence on Pakistan to supply its troops in Afghanistan but plagued by accusations Islamabad is playing a double game.
Trump had said in an interview that Pakistan doesn’t ‘do a damn thing’ for the United States despite billions of dollars in US aid, adding that Pakistani officials knew of former Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden’s location before his killing by US troops in a 2011 raid inside Pakistan.
PM Khan hit back saying that the US should not blame Pakistan for its failures in Afghanistan. Later, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that he had formed a 12-strong team to negotiate peace with the Taliban, but warned that implementation of any deal would take at least five years.
Then there were a series of visits by the US officials, holding talks with the Pakistani counterparts for the solution to the Afghanistan issue and the regional peace. Although the trust between Pakistan and the US remains weak, yet the regular interaction has upgraded the ties to the working level.
Pakistan arranged talks between the US and the Afghan Taliban in Abu Dhabi this month. Another round will be held in Saudi Arabia in January. The US has been appreciative of Pakistan’s new role, indicating improvement in the relationship.
After taking over power in August, Prime Minister Khan undertook two visits to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Both these visits were termed highly successful.
The Prime Minister also visited China, Pakistan’s all-weather friend. Additionally, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi visited Afghanistan many times and several other countries including the US, Russia and China.
Pakistan received foreign ministers from China, Japan and many other countries over the last 4 months. The foreign minister led a delegation to New York this year, in which he had more than 56 international engagements both in New York and Washington.
The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Pakistan; Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Envoy for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan visited Pakistan 3 times.
“All in all, it has been a very intense, productive and proactive 120-130 days of diplomacy that has been carried out by this government,” foreign office spokesperson Dr Muhammed Faisal said.
Most recently, the foreign minister visited 4 regional countries including Russia within a span of 3 days. Before that, the foreign minister visited Kabul for a tri-lateral meeting between Pakistan, Afghanistan and China.
“We tried to reach out to India and a letter was written by our Prime Minister to Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi in September 2018. It laid out a comprehensive roadmap on how to move forward with India on all issues including, of course, the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. The Indians agreed to it, only to back track the very next day. We haven’t had much progress with them on the bilateral front so far,” Dr Faisal said.
However, that did not stop Pakistan from inaugurating ground breaking of Kartarpur Corridor, in which two Indian ministers, one federal and the other a minister of state, along with Navjot Singh Sidhu, an Indian provincial minister, were present.
“It was very positively received all around the globe, especially by the Sikh community. We are actively working on developing the infrastructure in Kartarpur,” Faisal remarked.
Qureshi also visited Iran this month to seek Tehran’s input on peace in Afghanistan. He briefed Iranian counterpart on the Afghan Taliban’s talks with the US.
The FM participated in the China-led tripartite dialogue in Kabul which was attended by Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The meeting aimed to advance the ongoing peace talks in Afghanistan to catalyse an end to the 17-year invasion of the country by the US troops.
Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa also visited Iran and had positive meetings with civil and military leaders. During Bajwa’s visit, the two sides heaped praise on each other despite differences on regional issues – mainly Afghanistan.
General Bajwa met President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Muhammed Javad Zarif and the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces Major General Muhammad Hossein Bagheri. Days before the army chief’s visit, Pakistan and Iran had agreed to work together for peace in Afghanistan and regional stability. The two countries had held informal consultations on regional situation including Afghanistan.
In November, Russia had hosted talks on peace and Afghanistan Taliban which among Afghan leaders were also participated China, Iran and Pakistan. Sitting between Afghan representatives and their Taliban rivals, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov played the roles of mediator and experienced hand in Afghanistan’s conflicts.
Russia hosted the landmark talks almost 30 years after it pulled out of Afghanistan, ending a decade-long Soviet occupation that was seen as another chapter in what historians called the “great game” by world powers to hold away over Afghanistan and nearby areas.
There were no significant breakthroughs during the Moscow meeting, which was attended by representatives of 11 countries. But delegates widely acknowledged that the meeting itself was a feat.
Pakistan’s engagement with Russia is on the verge of translating into a partnership. The present government cannot claim all the credit for this relationship but taking it further would definitely be among the goals for the year 2019.
Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates have come to Pakistan’s rescue amid the economic crises which speaks about the friendly ties.
Friendship with China has been a cornerstone of the foreign policy and the current government too has kept faith in Beijing. Exchange of visits between Islamabad and Beijing are expected in 2019 to keep the friendship running. Beijing has already promised a package for Pakistan to boost the country’s economy.
As the New Year starts, the government will have to improve trust level with the US, enhance contacts with Russia, retain its ‘key player’ position on Afghanistan and retain ties with close friend China.
Removing misunderstandings with Iran would be a challenge. Enhancing ties with the Middle East and the European countries would also be on the agenda.
Pakistan is also expecting the US’ support to bring India on the talks’ table for the sake of regional peace.
By: Shafqat Ali