Imran elaborating on his foreign policy in his victory speech, and Narendra Modi congratulating him on his party’s performance in the recently held elections, have rekindled hopes that cooperation will guide bilateral relations between the two nuclear neighbours. Dissecting Imran’s foreign policy vision tells us that it aims not only on improving Islamabad’s ties with its neighbours but it also is an attempt to stabilise the country’s economy. Imran and his party, Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI), believe that to revive country’s economy, a foreign policy with a focus on trade between Pakistan and its neighbours is a pre-requisite. Enhancing trade, many experts believe, removes tensions and resolves conflicts between countries, guaranteeing sustainable and long-lasting peace.
Though Imran wants strong ties between Islamabad and New Delhi, Kashmir remains an important sticking point. In conversation with Modi, Imran opines that both countries need to hold dialogues on resolving border disputes and Kashmir instead of relying on force, as wars and bloodshed bring catastrophes.
However, Imran’s emphasis on resolving Kashmir first, and having a discussion on areas where cooperation can develop mutual trust between the two sides, is the same stance that every previous political party that was in power held. There is nothing new that he has added to this facet of Pakistani foreign policy. The warm overtures to the neighbour are welcome, but rhetoric alone will not solve the issue at hand. Pakistan and India’s bilateral relationship has stagnated over the years – following the same policy lines as before will not yield different results. Furthermore, Modi’s India has proven to be a belligerent and bellicose nation towards Pakistan at many occasions, improving relations might not be as simple as inviting the Indian head of state to a dialogue.
Since Khan maintains that the real bone of contention between Pakistan and India is Kashmir; many in India see his statements on Kashmir as a repetition of Pakistani establishment’s line of argument. Likewise, many in Pakistan are sceptic if Khan can strike a balance while developing ties with hostile neighbours and the United States (US) – the leader of the war on terror and Islamabad’s mercurial partner in the war.
Nevertheless, both governments in Islamabad and New Delhi need to show some flexibility if a solution for Kashmir is what both sides desire. At the same time, one is yet to see what establishment’s reaction will be to Imran’s foreign policy if he deviates from the establishment’s vision for Pakistan’s foreign policy.