The Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) conducted a round-table on the subject “Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Imperatives and Opportunities” in collaboration with Konrad Adenaur Stiftung (KAS) on the 7th of November, 2017 at Nazara Lounge, Serena Hotel. The speakers on the occasion were Mr. Inam-ul-Haq, a Pakistani career diplomat who served as the Foreign Minister of Pakistan in 2002 and Foreign Secretary in 2000; Mr. Khusro Bakhtiar, currently a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan, belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League (N). Previously he remained Minister of State for Foreign Affairs from 2004 to 2008, and was also part of Chairman National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs; and Mr. Salman Bashir, Pakistani diplomat who served as the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and as the High Commissioner of Pakistan to India.
Ambassador Naqvi began the proceedings of the round-table by thanking the speakers for their kind consent to come to the round-table as speakers. In his introductory address, he said that the foreign policy of Pakistan seeks to promote the internationally recognized norms of interstate relations, i.e. respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states; non-aggression and peaceful settlement of disputes. In view of the current transformations in the regional and global geo-political and strategic environment, the foreign policy of Pakistan as an integral part of the South Asia and global world, plays a major role vis-à-vis its neighbors as well as regional and global powers. In the recent years, Pakistan’s efforts in Afghanistan, its policy of neutrality in the Middle East, the joining of economic forums such as SCO and position on Kashmir provide a window into Pakistan’s understanding of not only its own position in the global arena but also the balanced lens with which it views the world.
Mr. Inam-ul-Haq was the first speaker of the round-table. He spoke about the Imperatives of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy. He said that international politics do not operate on the basis of principles, but rather, on the basis of power. The only general principle that exists is “might is right” and as a result of this principle, a weak country is unlikely to get justice even if its cause is just. Thus, justice becomes a subjective concept, respective only to the proprietor of power.
Mr. Haq stressed the importance of economic independence, saying that no nation can be sovereign in terms of absolute sovereignty or autonomy unless it is economically strong. Thus, as the Pakistan Foreign Minister’s recent comment about “putting the house in order” is of course the first foreign policy imperative. He highlighted the most significant determinants/factors that drive foreign policy.
First, the population of Pakistan was about 200 million, with a large portion of it suffering from malnourishment due to lack of water and food, and a huge reservoir of vulnerable, unemployable people, a likely prey to terrorism and crime.
Secondly, the economy is under duress as the production rate does not match consumption. Real estate prices are rising and many industrial units remain unutilized and new units are not being added.
Third, Pakistan happens to be among the ten countries in the world which faces water scarcity. The population has increased six to seven-fold since 1947 and the water that is available to Pakistan, it has not been utilized smartly. In addition, climate change and global warming remain major issues.
Fourth, there is a serious dearth of capital for lack of savings.
Fifth, business skills of entrepreneurs in the country are exploitative.
Sixth, religion, which should ideally function as a binding factor and a primary element of nationhood, is exploited and used for personal gains.
And finally, there are numerous divides existing within the country’s people – the rich and poor, expectations and reality, ethnic divides, the divide between the voter and the people in power, etc.
Mr. Haq said that while China rises to what it claims to be a “peaceful rise”, the US is doing everything in its power to ensure that it is hindered, by, for example, forming an anti-China alliance with India and Afghanistan.
Pakistan should have a clear policy for Afghanistan, of sending the refugees back and building a fence to end cross border attacks and drug trafficking. Pakistan needs to develop closer ties with Russia and Iran, seek Chinese support to build the Iran Pakistan pipeline, adopt immediate austerity measures and reduce administrative and developmental expenditures.
The second speaker, Mr. Salman Bashir, talked about the opportunities for Pakistan in the current geo-strategic environment in the region. He said that policy-makers in Pakistan were driven by an idealism that predated even pre-independence times. Pakistan was driven by the causes that it gave support to and it viewed the values behind the formation of the UN body with a lot of optimism. But globalization and regional processes have begun to fray.
He said that opportunities for Pakistan are tremendous, especially in China-Pakistan relationship. Mr. Bashir said that he was skeptical about the ideas of Chinese “colonialism”. The OBOR is based on some basic principles. The B&R will certainly be a pathway to integration and rejuvenation of the economy.
The third speaker, Mr. Khusrow Bakhtiar, gave an overview of the changing international strategic environment. He said that he was a believer of the idea that since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the concept of a zero-sum game has ended.
He began by taking into account Afghanistan, saying that a national narrative regarding a robust border management is required, even if it is expensive. He stressed that Afghanistan-Pakistan border management should be a top-priority, followed by a constructive engagement with the US.
He said that US President Trump was a reluctant participant in the Afghanistan War and it now seemed that he wanted a quick fix to the problem. The US, he maintained, is now trapped in its own strategic construct. Moreover, on the military level, the US does understand that India has a very limited role to play in Afghanistan.
He said that the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue platform was a good forum for resolution of the issue.
He stressed that opportunities for Pakistan lay in its strategic location, which could be utilized to its maximum potential because of CPEC. Mr. Bakhtiar said that he was optimistic because Pakistan was on the right side of economic growth at this point in time.