The power centres all over the world have shifted. Old enemies are new friends. National interests and political values have changed.

What in old times caused wars, now result in re-conciliation and conflict resolution through dialogue. The naked and brutal military might and its display has taken a backseat. The new method and instrument of domination are social media, soft power and cyber warfare. The time of blatant military inventions is almost over. The new strategy is to attack and dominate the minds of people and nations, to burden them with never-ending debts and loans. What has brought the change from brutal military domination to overpowering the social and value system is an apparent bid to de-militarise the world and the power of ever-improving means of communication. Access to the internet and various social media tools have changed the ordinary life of citizens and also those of nations. Let analyse where this can go and what challenges we face.

Conceived in the name of Islam, Pakistan emerged as only the second country to have been created thus, in the name of ideology.

Suffice it to say that almost all of Pakistan’s political turmoil is the result of two factors.

Firstly, one finds that after Muhammad Ali Jinnah, there was no trained second tier of political leadership. Most of his companions belonged to the elite class like himself. Though the Muslims of the Subcontinent flocked around him, once independence was achieved, the Muslim League floundered as a political party.

Coming to the second factor, the political vacuum created by incompetent politicians who found favour through various backings.

Returning to the original theme of this article; the fate and policy options of Pakistan in the realm of foreign affairs under the current political, ideological and strategic circumstances.

Politically, the masses in Pakistan have achieved enough political awareness and attachment to the democratic system, mostly due to ever-expending means of communication and real-time information around the world about political processes.

The continuous political and democratic process since 2007 onwards, the post Musharraf period, is case in point. The current PTI government is the third consecutive democratically elected govt, after two full terms by PPP and PML-N.

Ideology has played a decisive role in the creation of Pakistan, as a new Islamic country carved out of the Indian Subcontinent in a movement led by Jinnah was not only against the British colonial rule but against the vast Hindu majority as well.

In her foreign policy ideology, Pakistan has been playing the role of a cornerstone through the decades, especially when Z A Bhutto spearheaded the Islamic bloc, along with some Muslim stalwart leaders. The Pakistani nuclear bomb was dubbed the Islamic bomb. Pakistan wanted to be very close to the Middle Eastern bloc and did not receive massive economic aid and support, but the faultlines within the Islamic bloc not only disappointed Pakistan but also displayed disunity in the Muslim world. Iran-Iraq went to a lengthy war. Frictions for the leadership of Muslim world continue between Tehran and Riyadh, the former strongly anti-US and the latter pro, although some drift can be spotted in US-Saudi relations.

No Muslim country except Saudi Arabia came in aid of Pakistan during her two major wars with India, in 1965 and 1971.

Pakistan’s relations with the US are like a roller coaster. Both countries avoid a clean break, although they continue to blame each other after the US accused Pakistan of fostering terrorism in Afghanistan while Pakistan called US aid peanuts. Most recently, Pakistan allowed the US to use its airspace and an air base and allowed NATO to use her local route to provide supplier to US troops in Afghanistan after 9/11, but the bilateral US-Pakistan relations remained tense. Pakistani policymakers could not put the right price on their support to the US. Our foreign policymakers faltered again and could not assess the international situation and US mood correctly.

Iran, our next-door neighbour and an important oil exporting country refused to cooperate with the US and stood her ground.

The moral of the story is that Pakistan must look beyond the traditional power centres and must find new friends to form a bloc.

Historically Pakistan and the Soviet Union started on the wrong foot. The story of their bilateral relations is well recorded in history. It is needless to reproduce history here. Pakistan has blundered in giving the cold shoulder to the Soviet Union and by jumping on the US bandwagon unconditionally.

Had the wheel of history been reversed, Pakistan should have gained much more politically and economically, had she maintained a balance between US and the Soviet Union.

It is still not too late for Pakistan to make amends. She should continue to capitalise on the Pakistan-Russia thaw in bilateral relations initiated by the Musharraf government.

Strategically, Russia the former Soviet Union, is very vitally located for Pakistan, and it produces the products required by our markets.

It is encouraging to note that the Pakistan-Russia military relations are more productive and warmer than many other fields. Both countries have various military deals with each other and many in the pipeline.

Pakistan should get out of the American shadows and look into her backyard, the Central Asian Republics, led by Russia.

The new emerging bloc of China, Iran, Russia and Pakistan can decisively challenge the US domination in this region. The honeymoon period of ideological conflicts in history is over. Our friends and foes are formed on the basis of hardcore national and economic interests. If Russian wheat is cheaply available why go to Australia? Similarly, it has been very unwise on the part of Pakistan to have exclusive military relations with the US.

Countries are now fighting a war of survival against hunger, disease and illiteracy. The tools nations need to fight this war are not bombs or tonics, but dialogue and cooperation. Viewed in the realm of the theory of realism in conflict resolution through peace, active wars and violence are no longer relevant to extend one’s national interests. What comes foremost in the foreign policy options for all the nations is to safeguard national interest, which is pre-dominantly economic interest today. We buried ideological conflicts a long time back, when the two super powers, USA and the Soviet Union called for a reduction in their mutual rivalry and when the Cold War transformed into a “detente”, (French term for friendship or absence of rivalry).

The Soviet break up into various states in 1992 was the final nail in the coffin of ideologies. All major nations, China, USA, Russia, India and the European bloc are today perusing their national interests. Their friends and enemies are determined by their economic needs and realistic national interests. Pakistan, too, should break away from the old shackles while determining her friends or foes. Policymakers should shake themselves out of the long and deep slumber and wake up to the new realities and shifting national interests. Pakistan would do well if she reaches some sort of peaceful resolution to all her disputes with India. She must lobby for the involvement of major power blocs in the resolution of the Kashmir issue, which is a constant thorn in Indo-Pakistan relations.

We need to feed the teeming millions and to educate them, we need to strengthen our political and economic institutions, become more self-sufficient in agriculture and industry. Pakistan should diversify her exports instead of only depending on cotton and raw materials. Iran is a very important country and rich in oil. Pakistan should decrease her reliance on Saudi oil and cultivate a better relationship with Iran. In plain words, the equation of religion should be taken out of politics and our diplomatic relations. Islam remains our religion and way of life. It alone can keep various ethnic realities together. The theoretic framework of Islam is the binding force the millions of Pakistanis, but it should not alone determine our friends or foes.

Pakistan is a growing country, facing multiple political and economic challenges. The uncontrolled population growth is a major threat to her progress. The fanaticism by extremist elements is another. For long, Pakistan has been fighting a losing battle against terrorism, which in itself is a potential danger to our polity.

In a nutshell, Pakistan faces challenges of existence, both domestically and internationally. She has to wage war simultaneously on both fronts. She cannot ignore either. To emphasise my point, I would again insist on diversifying our friends and re-assessing our foes. There are no permanent friends or enemies in international relations, only interests are permanent.

Pakistan should streamline economic and diplomatic measures and image-building initiatives especially in the Central Asian region, Russia and Iran. The political leadership should take some essential steps and shear away the excessive baggage and old mindset among policymakers. Pakistan should think east, and should think in her own backyard with China, Iran, Russia and India. The world in the future is more regional than international. We are fortunate to have neighbours who can meet our economic and military needs; we must not ignore our region and must realise that the US is not our sole saviour.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

No Muslim country except Saudi Arabia came in aid of Pakistan during her two major wars with India, in 1965 and 1971.