Pakistan’s foreign policy can best be described as a tumultuous relationship, which although wants to be redefined as necessitated by multilateral economic linkages, is instead dominated by geopolitical challenges facing the state. There’s a seven-decade long tussle between civil and military institutions but what ultimately determines the winner is whether or not the geo-strategic situation can take a back seat.

In the past few years, the state boasted about strengthening multilateral economic relationships by way of the multibillion-dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor. But aspirations of an economically prosperous Pakistan are short-lived as tensions only momentarily subside along the Line of Control with India. In this case, however, the Machiavellian proposition of trouble along the border unites people within a state, almost always holds true. United towards a common enemy, leadership in Pakistan manages to garner domestic support on its stance against India. No matter the cost of war, Pakistanis accept economic bankruptcy over a chance to live freely, and stand on a moral high ground for the state’s stance in favor of Kashmir’s freedom struggle.

Hence, when last year during August, India illegally annexed the Kashmir valley and stripped it off of its special status, Pakistanis expected a robust anti-India stance from the state – something the state continues to deliver on. For legitimizing the set narrative, garnering international support is the second step for the state. On this front, Pakistan has been successful in appeasing its citizens by internationalizing the Kashmir issue. There has been international condemnation about the atrocities; the communications blackout and total clampdown of the valley. International forums and United Nations Secretary General, too, has taken notice of the plight of Kashmiris. Despite all of this, the question remains, where do we go from here? What more needs to be done? Is there a solution to the Kashmir issue? But now, we are dealing with three kinds of Kashmir issues. Firstly, is the question of liberation of Indian Occupied Kashmir which has been an Indian state governing itself under special status. Secondly, Azad Kashmir which although identifies itself with Pakistan, ethically carries the option of choosing how it wants to be governed. Thirdly, is the matter of separation and reunification of both parts of Kashmir into a new, separate, self-governable state.

However, there is an inherent bias in the narrative that the state has set for itself in defending its choices. In the similar instance as the Kashmiris’ struggle for independence is supported, that of the Uighurs isn’t even acknowledged. Defences of regional differences cannot even be applied here, but only that of selective morality, which in itself breeds disregard for the state’s narrative, in the domestic sphere.

While the state’s efforts in garnering global attention towards this crisis are too grand, it puts a strain on the economy and asserts itself as a mammoth challenge for the government in its tackling of governance-related issues. This coupled with selective morality has, in the past two years, caused the domestic consensus towards the government to dwindle.

But advocating for Kashmir isn’t the extent of the muscle-stretch that the government practices ever so often. Pertaining to the geographical location of the country, a host of geo-strategic-economic challenges find Pakistan in their midst. The soured relations between US and Iran reached a low point when top Iranian Commander Qassem Solaimani was killed by a US airstrike. This coupled with US’ withdrawal from the JCPOA over allegations of Iran backtracking on its commitments, created a political vacuum where Pakistan’s mediatory role was needed to maintain balance. In turn, this raises pertinent questions about the political leverage that Pakistan has and can harness for its advantage.

Pakistani authorities, especially under the auspices of Imran Khan have taken an increasingly active role in mediating talks between Afghanistan and the US. A role that the US has itself applauded. This appreciation for a mediatory role and countering the influence of terrorism, especially in Namaste Trump rally by Trump himself, points towards US’ adoption of a more regional approach towards its alliances.

This regional approach could be interpreted as a means of reducing tensions, however, in furthering US’ own agenda. Here, US’ selective morality for the protection of its own people, with little or no acknowledgement given to Kashmiris propagates the need for US-mandated regional peace. Like its own personal pawns; India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan would conjoin to pressurize Iran in joining the alliance. This would come by way of economic prosperity, improved internal security, strategic partnership, resumption of military aid, and foreign investment as soon as Pakistan’s name is removed from FATF’s gray list.

While these series of events are nothing we haven’t been spectators to in US’ longest-running war; however, what presents itself as a newer challenge, is China’s involvement in the country through China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Rallying for Afghan Peace is imperative for the smooth-functioning of CPEC, but there is no way of knowing to what extent Pakistan will be pressed to be used in expanding US’ influence in the region. With the signing of the peace deal between the US and Taliban and the prominent role that Pakistan has played in making this possible, new challenges emerge as US formally withdraws from its role of global policeman. With Afghanistan’s internal political turmoil worsening with two scheduled oath-taking ceremonies of Presidents, and insurgent attacks making headlines, chances of a peaceful Afghanistan are slim to none.

With trouble along the border, can Pakistan’s vision of being a regional-peace mediator ever be realized?

Though there is persistent discourse on new directions that this government is taking in approaching newer arenas, such as Africa for strengthening bilateral relations in trade, commerce and culture; and even more so in working towards creating a pro-Muslim bloc. There are, however, grim chances of this ever happening, considering how strategically the government is yet again being asked to ‘do more’ to protect the values and interests of what might cater to our military might in the long run. In all of this, selective morality for the Kashmiris still prevails.

Remshay Ahmed

The writer is a journalist based in Lahore. Her work focuses on economic and political issues.