The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) may be reeling from a defining misstep on the domestic front, with the controversy surrounding the Economic Advisory Council (EAC); however, away from the intense scrutiny that it is facing now, it arguably went through a similarly defining period on the international front. A slew of meetings with diplomats and dignitaries from Iran, Saudi Arabia, USA, and China in quick succession have put PTI’s foreign policy positions through their first real test – out in the open and beyond the contents of campaign speeches. How has Naya Pakistan arrayed itself with regional powers, what are its new positions?
The short answer is: not much different from the previous ones. The PTI has iterated on existing plans and policies and has advanced their own principle positions to the respective parties, but the overall diplomatic and strategic equation remains the same before and after the election.
The much sought after “reset” with the USA could only materialize in the statements made by diplomats. The correct lip service was paid to the correct ideas, but the beyond diplomatic-speak the relations between the two nations remain as stagnated as ever. If there was any doubt about the strain, the Pompeo and Dunford’s visit to India should put it to rest. The USA toeing of the Indian line on “Pakistani sponsored militants” and China is a clear display of intent. Relations thus could not be meaningfully reset.
Next, taking place days after the American pair had left, Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi’s meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi served to reaffirm the strong ties between the two nations. The reassurances by the Mr Qureshi, that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will remain the top priority of the new government in Islamabad, echo the soaring platitudes bestowed by the previous government on the alliance. While increasing Pakistani exports to China and setting up industry in Pakistan was quite appreciably discussed, a wide ranging review of the CPEC project – which many people had hoped for – did not materialise.
Perhaps it is only on the Middle Eastern front – balancing the equation between Iran and Saudi Arabia – where a change in policy could precipitate. The explicit support of Iran against US sanctions was a decisive step, which furthered the previous foreign policy of reeking regional cooperation with our western neighbour. While a quick visit to the kingdom bought up notions of further military assistance and cooperation with Saudi Arabia. There is a precarious balance here – as there always has been – but it can be skewed quite easily if the government wanted too.
As it stands; our foreign policy is one of continuity rather than of radical reform.