Though elected for only 45 days still, the day-to-day work of the prime minister is a tough job. Since the passage of the 18th amendment, the job of the prime minister has become more demanding. Most of the departments and powers have been transferred to the provinces. The prime minister has been left with the job of maintaining good coordination, overseeing national financial matters and implementation of foreign policy. The last was the weakness of the outgoing prime minister and now is Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s greatest challenge.

For four years, Pakistan had to take a back seat on the diplomatic front. Nawaz Sharif failed to pick up one person from his party to work as foreign minister. He relied on his advisor Sartaj Aziz and special assistant Tariq Fatemi. Since both did not have the authority of foreign minister, it proved to be a disaster at the UN, the Shanghai Cooperation Conference, OIC, ECO and all other international forums. At no place could we look after our interests or even plead the Kashmir cause to embarrass India. Instead, we have seen New Delhi maligning us at all forums. The most unfortunate part is that allies and old friends like Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UK and European Union states almost backed out from supporting us on Kashmir and other issues related to our sovereignty.

The opposition had been bitterly criticising Nawaz Sharif for not appointing a full time foreign minister. The former prime minister wanted to keep both key ministries of foreign affairs and defence. This created tensions between the civil and military leadership. The damages of not having foreign minister were huge. We lost our case completely on water terrorism with regards to the Indus Water Treaty. Indian media yesterday reported that the World Bank, which is also signatory to the treaty that was signed after nine years in 1960, has permitted India to construct hydroelectric power facilities on Jhelum and Chenab with certain restrictions. The discussion between the two countries on the issue, however, will continue in Washington in September.

Our relations with China, however, grew stronger and it stood by us at times when we were altogether on the losing end. It used its veto power twice. Once was in the case of Maulana Masood Azhar and the second was on the issue of membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. China is still defending us against the US mantra of ‘do more.’ We are losing heavily in the diplomatic arena while India has astonishingly outsmarted us while dealing with countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iran. After the lifting of sanctions on Iran, we have not been able to make any gain in terms of trade or cooperation in any field. Saudi Arabia, which has traditionally been very supportive to us has not shown good gestures lately. Our diplomacy was seen at its worst during the meeting of heads of states in Riyadh.

Nawaz Sharif claimed a great diplomatic victory when he congratulated Donald Trump on his election as President of the USA. Text of the friendly conversation was shared with media. This was a major diplomatic blunder as such pleasantries are not openly discussed. The result was that Trump administration distanced itself from Pakistan. We saw a 30-second meeting held between former premier Nawaz and Trump in Riyadh. No formal meeting could be arranged by our diplomats.

With the new premier in office, the PML-N government has a chance to appoint a foreign minister, who could stand up for Pakistan on the diplomatic front. Relations between China and Pakistan are good but the top diplomat can ensure better deals under CPEC, mark-up on loans can be reduced and how our industries and agriculture grow can be established.

We need to take up the Kashmir issue on all international forums. Only this can put pressure on India to come to the negotiating table. India has played smart under Modi, who despite being a Hindu extremist, has been able to keep the pretence of secularism of the country intact in the international arena. Pakistan has not been able to present its soft image to the world. It has failed to show the unity in our cultural diversity to the world.

Democracy has been saved for good but the new government needs to change its stance with regards to foreign affairs. We need to set our priorities first and not compromise on vital national interests. Instead of going to countries where we do not have any economic interests the new foreign minister needs to consolidate on building relations with our old friends like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UK, Europe and the USA. It is high time we link economic interests with our foreign policy. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has a chance to prove his mettle.

The writer is a member of staff.