Pakistan’s renewed foreign policy approach
by: Muhammad Asif Noor
Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Russia last week at the invitation of President Putin. There were several questions about the timings of the visit from various analysts, whereas the visit was planned way before since there has been a strong desire from both sides to have this important visit. Both sides discussed various issues concerning mutual interest covering trade, energy, and security.
The Russian military operation overshadowed the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Ukraine. Despite this emerging conflict between the two neighbours, Pakistan went ahead with the scheduled meeting. During the meeting, both sides reiterate the cooperation in the future with strong bilateral ties. During the meeting, the Prime Minister of Pakistan pressed the need for dialogue between the parties to resolve the issues and reiterated that conflicts between the parties benefit neither party.
Prime Minister Khan was the first foreign leader to visit Moscow right after President Putin recognized the independence of Ukraine’s breakaway Republic of Donetsk and Luhansk and deployed troops in the republics. On his arrival at Kremlin, President Putin warmly received Prime Minister Imran Khan and sat just next to visit where there were three hours long wide-ranging consultations were held on bilateral, regional, and multilateral issues.
Later in his widely televised address to the nation, Prime Minister said that Pakistan would import two million tons of wheat from Russia and buy natural gas through a pipeline. Both sides signed two bilateral agreements concluding the trade deal between Islamabad and Moscow. There is a solid vigor for building solid ties witnessed between the two states, as this visit was any head of state after a drought of 23 years.
On the agenda were the mutual apprehensions and worries about Afghanistan, including collaboration to counter terrorism threats from the country. Apart from these critical security concerns, the focus of the discussion was the operation of the Pakistan Stream Natural gas pipeline that Moscow wants to build from Sindh to the heart of Punjab.
The pipeline is worth 2.5 billion USD. Pakistan lacks enough energy resources, and the pipeline is considered a lifeline for the growing industries and the country’s economy. The presser after the visit reads that the Prime Minister of Pakistan acknowledged the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and hoped that there would be a ceasefire followed by talks to end the military conflict.
Prime Minister of Pakistan’s presence at such a high time reflects Pakistan’s desire to drift and move away from taking any sides in international politics, and this has been reflected in the UNGA and other discussions ongoing amid the crisis. Pakistan has been facing the brunt of the War on Terror and the onslaught of the terrorism threat emanating from Afghanistan.
Later, when the US left, there was an upsurge in the refugees Pakistan is hosting the world’s most significant number of refugees on its terrorist hence with an increasing economic burden. Pakistan had to choose to build allies in its closer neighbourhood to build its strategic and security alliances. Furthermore, China, Russia, and the Central Asian States are obvious choices.
While writing these lines, the President of Uzbekistan is in Pakistan right now, aiming to sign the other agreement of cooperation to boost mutual trade, security cooperation, and economic collaboration, especially in the transit corridor. Apart from this, Pakistan is trying to balance its relations with Afghanistan, especially in the aftermath of the fall of Kabul on August 15.
Pakistan also hosted Foreign Minister’s conference on Afghanistan from OIC countries, wherein a fund was set up to enhance cooperation to support Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis. Pakistan and the global community are also outraged at the recent freezing of the accounts of the Afghan money parked in the US banks. In a strange move, the Biden administration has split the seven billion dollars of the legitimate Afghan money between Afghans as humanitarian assistance and the 9/11 victims.
Pakistan is, in fact managing the balance in the power politics in the region and the globe as it is a known fact that Russia has India as a principal partner in South Asia. There are intensifying tense relations with China that have led India to closer ties with the US. However, we see a split in the relations since India has abstained from voting against the Russian military action in the United Nations. On the other hand, Pakistan has also abstained from it.
Russia is also balancing its ties with both Pakistan and India. Pakistan is also seen to drift away from the traditional US alliance. In this scenario, Russia and China are also moving closer to each other, and this was observed during the Winter Olympics when Russia and China signed a crucial strategic agreement. The agreement outlined essential aspects of the relationship between both important members of the international community.
This visit is significant in many ways. Pakistan has a larger market of energy and wheat in Eurasia from where it can fulfil its energy needs. Both countries can seek regional connectivity with railway links and Northern extension of CPEC through Afghanistan connecting to BRI in Central Asia.
The expected mutual exchange of markets can potentially benefit both countries in terms of goods and services. This is a balancing act on the part of Pakistan to offset the USA’s influence and seek geopolitical and military neutrality in conflicts. It is worth mentioning that Pakistan opted to abstain from the vote in the emergency session of the UN General Assembly against Russia over the Ukraine war.
This particular reflection of neutrality can be ascribed in multiple manners, but it severely pushed Pakistan to the Asian power visually. Prime Minister Imran Khan has always been opposed to war and continued to condemn American war in the region on the pretext of terrorism.
Nevertheless, given the changing landscape of global politics, Pakistan cannot afford to become a party to the conflict only to gain the goodwill of the country in question. An up rightful, independent foreign policy is the country’s need, and Prime Minister Khan is actively taking control of it.
In this context, Khan’s visit has reflected that Pakistan aims to adjust itself to diversify Pakistan’s foreign policy and explore the geo-economics potential of national strategic policy in terms of trade, road connectivity, energy, food, and security cooperation.
The writer is the Founder of Friends of the BRI Forum.