Foreign policies follow self-interest. Two neighbours – Pakistan and Iran – have, however, divergent views on foreign policies.

An Iranian journalist Hooman Majid writes about the word 'nafs' which means self, to explain Iran’s foreign policy. Iranians, writes Majid, are very particular about self-confidence, and self-respect. Leaders who kept Iran’s 'ezat-e-nafs' and 'etimad-e-nafs' intact were historically considered to be heroes by the defiant nation.

Last week, Iran was placed under the toughest sanctions ever imposed by United States, targeting Iran’s vital oil industry. Only 8 nations were allowed to continue trade with the country, and that too, for a temporary period. Analysts are forecasting a bleak future for the nation if they continue crossing paths with the US. Iran, however, refuses to bow down. President Rouhani has declared the country will ‘proudly bypass’ the sanctions. There is no likelihood for a deal or negotiation with US, because the nation refuses to negotiate unless they are not respected, or treated as an equal state.

A big ego, an unabashed sense of self pride is what has made a tiny economy stand up against the world’s superpower. A country whose people deeply believe in the importance of self-worth can be defeated economically, but never morally.

Although Urdu shares the word 'nafs' with Farsi, Pakistan hardly gives the term any importance in means of its foreign policy. A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Imran Khan stood in a big room full of Chinese people, lamenting upon the condition of his nation, blaming corruption for the country’s economic downfall, and for an embarrassing 20 seconds, the word “begging’’ headlined the screen of state channel. A slap on our nation’s already fragile 'ezat-e-nafs' and 'etimad-e-nafs'.

Just a week before China tour, PM Imran had attended Saudi investment conference at a time when rest of the world was voicing anger over Saudi Arabia’s involvement in journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing and boycotted key investment event in the Kingdom. But, Pakistan neither took any brave stance over Khashoggi’s killing nor refrained from attending the summit. Pakistani delegation were the only senior officials of any sovereign state to attend the conference. Even Saudi crown prince Muhammad bin Sulman dropped plans of addressing conference amid absence of major investors from across the world.

But such incidents are customary to Pakistan’s foreign policy structure. Pakistan disbanded a pipeline project with Iran because it was making the US and Saudi Arabia angry. The pipeline could have alleviated some of Pakistan’s grave energy crises but we cannot make the money-lenders angry, can we? Appeasing the money-lenders in exchange of our self-respect is the one element of a spineless foreign policy which has remained constant across governments. But who cares about self-respect?

Let’s cut the PTI government some slack, though. They are new to power and cannot radically alter the foreign policy (even if the one running the foreign ministry is a seasoned diplomat). Big powers can make weak knees wobble, we understand that.

If we get back to Iran, its foreign policy and importance of the word ‘nafs’ for Iranian society and government, we might learn value of self-respect from our neighboring Muslim country, whose top leadership didn’t hide behind the walls of their offices but stepped out to voice their conduct to face US sanctions with grace and bravery, even vowed to overcome any economic crisis without bending down. It was because of their brave statements that economic giants like China, Germany, Turkey and other nations voiced against the US unjust tyranny.

Let’s wait for time’s verdict if Iran will brave the US sanctions or not, and if Pakistan will survive attacks on its self-respect or not.