An Important Speech
On Thursday, in his first major foreign policy speech since taking office at the end of April, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari advocated for the case for trade and engagement with other countries, especially India and the US, and observed that Pakistan finds itself isolated on the world stage due to its policies in the past. This diagnosis of FM Bhutto is not incorrect, however it is important to add some caveats to this considering the complexities in play.
During his speech, FM Bhutto particularly identified India and the US as countries with which Pakistan’s relations have been problematic. As far as DC is concerned, already strained ties hit rock bottom when the now-ousted PTI government falsely accused the US of collaborating with the opposition parties to remove it from office. This of course has meant the incoming government and new staff at the foreign office has had to conduct a reparation drive to mend relationships and give assurances to key allies.
The equation with New Delhi is very different however. Prior to 2014, there may have been instances where Islamabad could have sought more normalised ties, but the avenues for cooperation and dialogue have been on the decline since Narendra Modi became PM. The events in Kashmir since August 2019 and subsequent escalation of anti-Muslim tendencies in the country have made any kind of bilateral engagement appear to be an impossible task.
Islamabad on more than one occasion has expressed willingness to explore avenues for cooperation and the normalisation of ties, but India will have to first act as a rational actor and instil some confidence that it will sincerely engage on the Kashmir issue and end the brutal oppression in IIOJK. FM Bhutto is right in pointing out that it is time to pivot towards economic diplomacy and that Pakistan gains nothing by remaining disengaged with India. The hope is that better sense prevails in New Delhi so that the two neighbours can take steps towards stable ties where trade can be pursued. After all, if both India and the US can conduct a large volume of business with China, the two neighbours should be able to as well in the future. Given recent events such as the pandemic, Ukraine war, and ongoing economic crisis, it is evident that all the actors in the region can benefit from more interdependencies and linkages. South Asia remains one of the least connected regions in the world pursuing economic connectivity is the need of the hour.