Over the past several years Pakistani army chiefs have been strategizing war against terrorism that was fought in the streets and on the borders of Pakistan. However, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s current army chief, has gone one step ahead as he has devised a grand strategy for Pakistan that has readjusted the country’s foreign policy to the global changes and geostrategic shifts, closing the gaps that had earlier caused diplomatic isolation. Gen Bajwa’s approach in reaching out to regional powers and countering the challenges before they occur has been bold, sagacious, and intelligently crafted.

There are new challenges and opportunities for Pakistan. The changing global and regional dynamics demand new alliances that can benefit the country. These challenges in present times are different from the challenges that Pakistan faced in the past. Therefore, the strategy to address them also needed to be changed. Therefore, Gen Bajwa has cultivated new friendships and crafted a new role for Pakistan. Take the example of Pakistan’s policy of engagement with Afghanistan.

The war in Afghanistan has entered its 19th year. In these years there have been ups and downs in Pakistan and Afghanistan relations. Frequent cross border firing and skirmishes over fencing the border have been a severe issue. The Afghan soil has been used frequently against Pakistan too. The blame game and spat of words have undermined the relations on several occasions.

Fighting a war is fierce, and winning the narrative of war is the toughest. The biggest challenge for Pakistan was and had been winning the war of narrative. Bajwa has done that boldly. He has redirected the discourse on the war in Afghanistan by productively engaging with the Afghan Government and other stakeholders.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have a common foe and a common enemy that is extremism and terrorism. The menace has played havoc with both countries in the last almost two decades. Pakistan’s stance has been to find the common grounds with Afghanistan to fight this evil. This approach has benefited both Afghanistan and Pakistan. To cement this further Bajwa has visited Afghanistan twice. Not just he but senior Pakistani politicians and military officials have been visiting Afghanistan to develop trust, which is crucial for peace. This military diplomacy with Afghanistan has worked out well for both countries. President Ghani of Afghanistan and senior Afghan officials, too, have reciprocated by visiting Pakistan. Though President Ghani stance over peace talks and Pakistan’s role in it has been varying from time to time.

The fencing of Pakistan-Afghanistan border has been the most daunting task for any Pakistani military chief. Those who are familiar with the terrain of the Pak-Afghan border know the hardships of fencing it. It’s challenging and expensive. Many experts have been skeptic about achieving this difficult task. However, it has been executed. The fencing has been tough, but half of the difficulty has been to convince the Afghan civil and military leadership on the idea that fencing the border will make both countries secure. Amid tensions, Pakistan has now made several check posts and fenced considerable border area to protect its frontiers from any infiltration of terrorists from the Afghan side.

The frequent visits to Kabul by the civil and military leaders from Pakistan speaks volumes about Pakistan’s regional security approach and getting involved with regional countries to chalk out a plan for connectivity and development. Over the past several years the precarious nature of security in the region has kept the Pakistani border area and its economic potential off-balance. Especially its regions bordering Afghanistan and Iran. The mushroom growth of various terrorist organizations, especially Daesh Khorasan chapter, has brought Pakistan and Iran closer to collaborate and fight the notorious terrorist organization.

Here too, military diplomacy has been instrumental in connecting with Iran. Iran and Pakistan enjoy cordial relations. But these have been marred by occasional irritants along the Iran-Pakistan border. It is important to note that Pakistan and Iran have no major conflict, but the irritants have been there. However, Pakistan-Iran relations have been marked by American domination. In this case, reaching out to Iran has been a bold step that requires foresight to assess the changing regional and global dynamics. Bajwa’s meeting with Iranian President Rouhani and calling for a ‘military and defense cooperation with Tehran’ has been a bold move. Keeping in mind that Iran defies and resists the American order, and warming up with Iran has never been easy for Pakistan who has friends in the American circle. Pakistan too is an American ally, albeit misunderstood.

The rise of IS Khorasan chapter, which has its base in Afghanistan, has brought a regional consensus not just between Pakistan and Iran but China and Russia as well. The Russia-Pakistan relations have warmed up dramatically in the recent past. So much so that adversaries of late ’80s have been actively involved in joint military exercises and Russian generals have been visiting Pakistan. This development has helped Pakistan in exploring additional strategic and intelligence support from Central Asia. Russia which has been historically backing India in supplying arms, and still does, is now warming up with Pakistan. It is a development unsettling for many of Pakistan’s opponents. Bajwa’s visit to Russia in April 2018 marked a new era in defense cooperation between Pakistan and Russia.

Pakistan, in recent years, has made sure that it keeps a right balance in its policy with all its time tested friends. Also, Pakistan’s relations with one country shouldn’t be at the cost of the other. Bajwa has kept that balance well. His frequent and timely visits to the Gulf States like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and UAE, right after he became the chief of army staff, reflected his political acumen in military diplomacy. Taking the Gulf States and strong allies like Saudi Arabia and UAE into confidence and then strategically improving relations with the opposites like Iran and Qatar shows Bajwa’s preparedness and efficient execution of strategy.

This strategy of pulling off well with the opposites has worked with US and China too. Though in recent times, Pakistan’s strong relations with its trusted ‘iron brother’ and strong ally China can in no way be compared with the ‘transactional’ Pakistan and US relationship. In one of Chinese General, Xiong Guangkai’s words, “Pakistan is China’s Israel.” That’s enough for anybody to understand the relationship. Especially for the academics struggling to understand Pakistan and China relationship.

Pakistan’s relations with the US is Afghanistan-centric. Both look at each other through the Afghan lens. The pressure from the US side has been immense in recent times. The blame game and do more mantra has never actually stopped from the US side, yet Pakistan has time and again worked out with the US in Afghanistan for its security interests. Discussing Afghanistan and the withdrawal of the US has been a game of nerves for the Pakistani military. Collaborating with the US has been a thankless job, yet crucial for Pakistan.

Bajwa has been tactful in dealing with the US since Afghanistan is a matter of prestige for the US and a matter of strategic security for Pakistan. US’s growing defense deals with Pakistan’s arch-rival India and a ‘larger role’ in Afghanistan has been a concern for Pakistan, which has been duly conveyed to the US counterparts.

Pakistan is at the crossroads of a world order which is not uni-polar anymore, the strategic shifts have taken place already. Intensive security threats are a challenge to Pakistan’s economy and regional stability. In such circumstances, Bajwa’s proactive military diplomacy has brought in opportunities and allies for Pakistan. His next three years in office can be expected to shape the future direction of the country’s progress.