Pakistan is passing through the most interesting phase of its history when it comes to foreign relations and strategic alignments. At a time when we are moving towards attaining a semblance of internal stability, we appear to be hounded by ‘demons’ from all sides and there is talk of encirclement of Pakistan, much to the chagrin of our foreign policy establishment, who are getting all the flak, especially in the absence of a full time Foreign Minister and with the Prime Minister expected to remain abroad for some time. This has given the impression of the dominance of, what they call the security establishment in strategic decision making.

In order for us to analyse and make some sense of the fast moving scenario around us, we have to look at the series of events which took place since 2013, and which is reflective of our internal and external scene. I have selected 2013 because this year marked the first smooth transition of political power after a general election, which installed Mr Nawaz Sharif to power and who in turn selected General Raheel Sharif to head the military establishment in the same year. Actions by these two personalities brought by far the most significant changes in the national scenario, which in turn effected our foreign policy outlook.

Now let us look at these milestones, not necessarily in the chronological order.

First, is the ascendency to power of Mr Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India, who owes this more to his anti-Muslim agenda then to good performance in Gujrat. His main credentials which endeared him to Hindu-India was his presiding over the massacre of Muslim in Gujrat Province. Anti-Muslim means anti-Pakistan, a trait which he significantly demonstrated in his treatment of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who was simple enough to assume that his attendance of Mr Modi’s inauguration would endear him to Indian people and the Government. Mr Modi’s belligerent policy towards Pakistan was amply demonstrated till he changed strategy and made a surprise personal visit to Jati Umra, Lahore. However, by then, Pakistan had firmed up a policy to deal with Modi’s India and the Indians too had finalised and put into operation its plans against Pakistan.

The second event is the commencement of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, with or without the consent of the Government, coupled with the Karachi Operation and the unannounced Operation in Balochistan. This was immediately followed by the Army Public School massacre, which put the seal of national approval to the Operation. It was for the first time that the whole nation was united in its resolve to eliminate the TTP menace and we never looked back. The success of this Operation gave new vigour and confidence to the despondent nation and put Pakistan Army in the driving seat of decision-making related to matters of security.

The third is the Saudi operation against Yemen and the refusal by Pakistan to be a part of the Saudi Coalition. This brought a strong reaction from the Gulf States, manifested by the statement from the UAE Cultural Minister of teaching Pakistan a lesson, prompted by the disappointment over always having taken Pakistan for granted. Coupled with this is the Saudi-Iran row over execution by the former of a senior Shia cleric which brought a very strong reaction from Iran, and here again Pakistan remained neutral, opting for the role of a mediator.

Fourth is the visit of the Iranian President to Pakistan, eclipsed by announcement of the capture of Mr Kalbhushan Yadav. Pakistan for the first time publicly reprimanded Iran for having ‘hosted’ him.

Fifth is the winding up of the Afghan Dialogue through disclosure of the news about death of Mullah Omer and the later killing by United States of his successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. This dealt the final death blow to the whole exercise and finally ended the confusion as to who leaked the news and who wanted this process to terminate. With U.S in the driving seat in Afghanistan, this is the unfolding of a new policy by them and which our security establishment must be trying to appraise. Read into this the new emerging alliance between United States and India.

Sixth, is the game changer and cause of all this diplomatic upheaval around us, the CPEC. The Chinese have been working on CPEC for at least ten years, if not earlier. I know for sure that since 2005, they have been broaching this subject at various bureaucratic levels. Handing over the Gawadar Port to Singapore irked them, but indicated their resolve remained firmed, till they decided to take it back. The Chinese have always been extremely supportive of Pakistan, even in areas which the general public has not known of. However, they have always endeavoured to avoid this becoming public knowledge. The motive behind this is to avoid any backlash from world powers, including India. It is, no doubt, the first time that China came out openly and with a table-thumping gesture, in the case of signing the CPEC agreement with Pakistan. In any case there was no choice because of the enormity and size of the project. This agreement has not just been signed between two governments but between the two establishments of the state, indicating an even stronger partnership between them. By announcing the $42 billion investment package, the two nations have come up with their resolve to support each other, come what may, and laid the foundation of an enduring strategic alliance, the cornerstone of which is the Gawadar Port. China has been given access to the waters of the Persian Gulf, which was denied to the Russians for two centuries and which was the basis of the Great Game, giving Afghanistan its historic importance. China has achieved this in no time, thanks to Pakistan.

Thus Pakistan, with its newfound confidence in tackling the internal threat and in having realised the primacy of its national interest, is embarking into the realms of a policy away from opportunism, which was based on short term gains, both economic and political, all thanks to democracy.

There is a tremendous strategic fallout to this for United States and its allies, which now includes India, the greatest of which is the rescuing of Pakistan from the United States. USA has benefitted more from its relationship with Pakistan then we have. It will take a very long time for US to lose its relevance for Pakistan but the process has just begun. With the signing of CPEC, Pakistan’s Foreign Policy is coming on its own. What India has been doing is following the events. Mr Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iran is indicative of this trend, that is to capitalise on Pakistan’s more independent stance.

Contrary to what has been said, throughout these events, the military and civil establishments appear to have remained on the same page. It is not possible for such decisions to be taken separately. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif learned his lesson early when dealing with Mr Modi. There is nothing he could do to prevent him from coming to Lahore. Detractors aside, all decisions appear to have been taken in unison. The extraordinary huddle in the GHQ simply indicated that decisions cannot wait, as events don’t. They have to be taken. Mr Sartaj Aziz’s tone and tenor has left no doubt about this.

The future holds many challenges. More pressure is coming. However, massive Chinese investment will mark the beginning of reducing our economic reliance on the US. The F-16s episode has set the ball rolling for moving away from military dependence.

Pakistan’s Foreign Policy is getting aggressive. It has found its direction in CPEC. Whether this was the right path to choose, only time will tell, but with a democratic setup in place, it could not have been devoid of the peoples’ will. The key to this success will be democracy and the personal integrity of our political leadership.