The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Al Thani was accorded a red carpet welcome upon his arrival in Pakistan last week. This high-level visit paved the way for a $3 billion Qatari investment in Pakistan. Advisor to Prime Minister on Finance Abdul Hafeez Shaikh has thanked the Emir of Qatar for his visit as well as investment in the country. Islamabad, indeed, greatly values any economic assistance provided by its foreign friends at the time when it is in dire need of foreign currency owing to its crippling balance of payment crisis. Qatar is the fourth country to provide such economic assistance to Pakistan after China, Saudi Arabia and UAE since Imran Khan came to power in the country in August last year.

Earlier in April this year, a high-level delegation from Pakistan, led by Prime Minister Imran khan, attended the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation hosted by China in Beijing. PM Imran Khan, essentially referring to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in his keynote speech at the inaugural session, said that Pakistan was proud to have partner with China in such “transformative endeavor”. Pakistan, indeed, has been viewing the CPEC as a great opportunity to stabilize and boost its troubled national economy. If not the first one, I was probably one of the few who first termed the CPEC an “economic game changer” for Pakistan in early 2015. Interestingly, the very phrase “game changer” has now become somewhat a prefix to the CPEC project.

Pakistan’s troubled relationship with its arch-foe India from the outset coerced it into becoming a national security state. So, the primary objective of the country’s foreign policy has been preserving its “national sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence”. Having chosen to join the so-called Western Bloc during the Cold War, Pakistan readily became part of certain global military alliances solely to offset the perceived existential threat from India. Since both hostile neighbors remained engaged in a zero-sum geopolitical game, Pakistan also eagerly endeavored to expand its influence in the region.

Pakistan’s foreign policy, noticeably, underwent a metamorphosis over last couple of years. There can be observed a strategic shift in the focus of such policy from geopolitics to geoeconomics since Pakistan formally joined the China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2015. Essentially aimed at attracting and accelerating the inflow of foreign capital, particularly foreign direct Investment (FDI), from China and other countries in the world, a new economic-driven model appears gradually replacing the country’s conventional India-centric foreign policy. Therefore, it seems Pakistan is currently viewing the region as well as the world at large through purely an economic prism.

To achieve its cherished economic goals, Pakistan is trying to extensively exploit its advantageous geographical location. Pakistan is central to the connectivity and economic integration of a large number of Asian countries. It acts as a land bridge between the Central Asia and the South Asia. Similarly, Pakistan comprises the territory which had hosted one of the most crucial segments of the ancient Silk Route. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) megaproject signifies more the significance of Pakistan’s geography than anything else. Pakistan means a lot for the landlocked Afghanistan and 5 Central Asian Republics (CARs). Moreover, Pakistan is also an important component of the transnational gas pipeline projects in the region, e.g. Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) project and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project.

The CPEC project is currently a pivot to Pakistan’s national policy to revive its ailing economy through a massive injection of foreign investment. The volume of the CPEC-related investments in Pakistan has increased from $46 billion to $62 billion within few years. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, during his recent visit to Pakistan, pledged some $20 billion as the “first phase’ of Kingdom’s investment in Pakistan. Similarly, the UAE has also hinted at investing in Pakistan. Pakistan has also invited all regional countries, including India and Iran, to join the CPEC. The Imran Khan-led PTI government in Pakistan is also pro-actively endeavoring to allure potential global investors.

A number of factors, indeed, have been instrumental in transforming Pakistan’s outlook on its foreign policy. The fundamental shift in its foreign policy does necessarily not mean that Pakistan no longer perceives any security threat from India. It, however, shows that Pakistan is now fully capable of coping with such conventional threats by itself. Over a period of time, Pakistan has somehow succeeded in perfectly maintaining the nuclear as well as conventional balance of power vis-à-vis India. Moreover, Pakistan has also achieved self-reliance in military hardwares largely through an extensive Chinese support. At the same time, there has also expanded the domain of national security in Pakistan. So now, inter alia, the country’s economy is essentially a matter of national security.

Some economic cum demographic compulsions of Pakistan are also the contributing factors. Pakistan’s economy is currently in disarray. It is drifting towards stagflation. The so-called twin deficits continue to plague it. The country’s accumulated public debt has more than doubled during the last decade. Pakistani Rupee has also been in free fall during last few months. On the other hand, Pakistan’s more than 200 million population is growing at alarmingly high rate of 2.4% annually. Obviously, Pakistan will find it hard to offer employment, education and basic civic amenities to such a large population without substantially improving the miserable state its economy.

The CPEC has played a pivotal role in shifting the focus of Pakistan’s foreign policy. The CPEC-related energy and infrastructural development projects in Pakistan would have a multiplier effect on its economy. There are also being established a number of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) under the CPEC. They will certainly help boost up the industrial growth in Pakistan. There are hopes that the CPEC along with its allied projects would create a lot of employment opportunities for Pakistanis besides positively contributing to the country’s troubled economy.

Understandably, Pakistan can’t successfully pursue its ambitious economic goals unless it is internally stable and tranquil. At the same, there must also be the peace and stability in the region. Pakistan has experienced a bloody wave of terrorism resulting in a loss of more than sixty thousand Pakistanis. There is, however, a visible reduction in terror incidents in Pakistan as a result of its domestic counter-terror measures. On the external front, maintaining a durable peace in the region is now the keystone of Pakistan’s foreign policy.

It is indeed in the interest of Pakistan to have a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. Officially, Pakistan favors the ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’ dialogue process to stabilize Afghanistan. Pakistan has also been supporting every single initiative to bring peace to Afghanistan. Pakistan has also played a positive role in the conclusion of a framework peace deal between the US and Afghan Taliban at Doha in January this year.

Pakistan also looks eager to pursue a policy of detente to normalize its troubled relations with India. Prime Minister-elect Imran Khan, in his victory speech, expressed a desire to make peace with India. He also offered to resume the suspended dialogue process to resolve longstanding disputes with India. Later, Pakistan also extended an olive branch to India by opening the Kartarpur Corridor to facilitate Indian Sikh pilgrims inside its territory. Similarly, Pakista­­­­­n also actively tried to de-escalate tensions between the two nuclear-armed countries following the Pulwama terror attack in Indian-administered Kashmir last month.

Undeniably, the changed focus of Pakistan’s foreign policy is in line with the country’s multiple domestic compulsions as well as the contemporary trends in international relations. The success of such foreign policy, however, depends on how efficiently Pakistan translates these foreign investment opportunities into some concrete economic accomplishments to lift its depressed economy, and how early it attains economic stabilization by ensuring a fiscal discipline. Moreover, Pakistan will also be required to effectively overcome its domestic bureaucratic inertia, public-sector corruption, and chronic energy crisis.

Externally, regional instability and turbulence would be the major stumbling block to Pakistan’s ambitious foreign policy goals. The outcome of the ongoing peace negotiations in Afghanistan would determine how early peace and stability are restored in the volatile country. Lastly, Pakistan’s success would contingent upon its ability to make peace with ‘Modi’s India. And it is also important how seriously and sincerely India responds to Pakistan’s such initiative to bring peace to the region.