Pakistan was faced during 2013-18 with a difficult strategic environment, an unremittingly hostile larger neighbour, and renewed flux in geopolitics due to waning of the uni-polar world.

Led by Nawaz Sharif, PMLN Government achieved significant success through regional recalibration of our foreign policy; underpinned by the nation’s victory against terrorism and a low-inflation, vigorously growing economy.

Inspired by the resilience demonstrated by the people of Pakistan against terrorism, PMLN promoted economic connectivity, strengthened partnerships, expanded Pakistan’s diplomatic space, served Pakistani diasporas diligently, and revitalised trade diplomacy. Mirroring PMLN Government’s intense global engagement, we re-tooled Foreign Office infrastructure with a new Facilitation Hall for the public and a state-of-the-art office block. Pakistan stood steadfastly by the side of the Kashmiri people in their just quest for freedom from unlawful Indian occupation

At every international forum, on every global platform, PMLN Government advocated forcefully the case for self-determination of the Kashmiri people. At the UN General Assembly, PMLN Prime Ministers stridently and repeatedly highlighted Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir, including the horrendous use of pellet guns and the martyrdom of Burhan Wani.

India externalised its catastrophic failings in occupied Jammu & Kashmir by raising the false bogey of terrorism, unleashed wave after wave of state sponsored repression, disrupted the Indus Water Treaty, and escalated perilously the violations of ceasefire at the Line of Control and Working Boundary. India also undermined prospects for regional peace by sabotaging the 2016 SAARC Summit due to be held in Pakistan.

The arrest and confession of Commander Khulbhushan Yadav have exposed India’s reprehensible designs to subvert Pakistan. Our eastern neighbor must abandon its xenophobic warmongering and concede the logic of dialogue towards lasting regional peace and prosperity.

For 17 years, Afghanistan and Pakistan have suffered together due to an overtly militaristic approach to tackle terrorism and violent extremism. Pakistan is part of the international consensus that there is no road to peace except through reconciliation.

PMLN Government supported consistently an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of reconciliation, facilitated talks, and hosted Hearts of Asia-Istanbul Process Ministerial. With Afghan Government as partner, PMLN Government formed and began implementing Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS). We urged Afghanistan repeatedly to take reciprocal, complementary measures to secure and manage the border; meanwhile, we initiated fencing of the border on Pakistan’s side.

As Robert Frost once wrote, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

Besides hosting millions of Afghan refugees, PMLN government facilitated Afghan capacity building and awarded an additional 6000 educational scholarships. No other country comes close to matching these numbers. After implementing substantive facilitation for Afghan transit trade, PMLN Government waived off additional regulatory duties on Afghan exports to Pakistan. Under the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Practical Dialogue, Pakistan and China devised an elaborate program for technical assistance and capacity building of Afghans in diverse fields.

The legacy of mutual distrust in Pak-US relations was one of PMLN’s major foreign-policy challenges.

Despite having a decades-old partnership that spans education, trade, science and technology, defence and security, Pak-US relations festered in the vice-like grip of Afghanistan and terrorism.

Former PM Nawaz Sharif maintained that the ultimate goal of a safe and secure Afghanistan should take priority over any differences regarding ways and manner to achieve the end-state.

The 2017 US policy on Afghanistan and South Asia has created an unnecessary divergence, as it is based largely on false perceptions rather than facts.

We remained actively engaged with the United States, but were impeded by the current US Administration’s decision to suspend Pak-US strategic dialogue. PMLN Government worked nonetheless to improve mutual trade and investment framework, and held multiple Pak-US Business Opportunities Conferences bringing together the private sectors of both countries.

Principal achievements of PMLN foreign policy are:

1.   Gave twenty-first century economic depth to the historic Pak-China friendship through launch of and rapid progress on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

       CPEC has attracted investments of $46.6 billion and has put Pakistan squarely at the centre of President Xi’s Belt-and-Road Initiative and a prosperous connected future for the region and the world.

2.   Focused outreach to Central Asian republics produced a marked upswing in our relations.

       Pakistan successfully hosted the 13th ECO Summit in Islamabad in March 2017 after a gap of nearly 22 years.

       The Summit brought together regional leaders, and underscored Pakistan’s stewardship of the regional connectivity agenda.

3.   Formal accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was a diplomatic breakthrough Pakistan achieved 12 years after assuming Observer status and 18 years after SCO’s founding.

       SCO is likely to increase in global importance as it now contains four of the world’s seven declared nuclear powers and three of the world’s most populous countries.

4.   PMLN Government created and reinforced a historically unprecedented opening in relations with the Russian Federation.

       During 2014-18, Pakistan and Russia developed mutual understanding on a wide spectrum of issues and held three consecutive annual joint military exercises.

       We have laid the foundation for Pak-Russia relations to rise into a multifaceted partnership.

5.   Despite turmoil in the Middle East, PMLN Government strengthened relations with traditional partners and allies.

       Rising tensions necessitated delicate balancing measures, while remaining true to our conviction in solidarity of the Ummah and our abiding commitment to the security of our partners.

       Our relations with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran, among others, remained robust and continue to evolve positively.

       Our partnerships with the Gulf States remain vibrant and mutually rewarding.

6.   We deepened engagement with our partners in Europe, Americas, and the Far East.

       Our trade diplomacy chalked a notable success when European Union accorded GSP Plus for ten years to Pakistan in 2014, the widest and longest trade facilitation in Pakistan’s history.

       We sustained GSP Plus successfully between 2014-18. Pakistan’s exports to the EU increased nearly 40% in this period.

7.   Pakistan maintained a lead role in international and multilateral forums.

       PMLN Government raised Pakistan’s profile at the World Trade Organization and UNCTAD, and assumed leadership of vital 21st century trade issues such as investment facilitation and e-commerce for development.

       We remained a lead contributor to UN’s global peacekeeping and peace building missions.

       Out of 30 elections to international bodies that Pakistan contested during PMLN Government, we won 27.

Invigorated by aspirations of 207 million Pakistanis and Nawaz Sharif’s vision of a pluralist, tolerant democracy, PMLN Government ushered Pakistan from the dark period of terrorism, crippling energy shortages, and a regressing economy into a peaceful, economically vibrant, energy-sufficient, and globally-connected nation.

Yet challenges remain, both global and internal. Finding Pakistan’s place in the emerging blocks—one led by the US, the other by China and Russia—will engage Pakistani policy makers. Regional tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran will also command attention, as will the hostile posture of India as it manifests itself in Afghanistan and on our borders under the Cold Start Doctrine.

Internal challenges are no less severe: crafting a foreign policy mindful of but unshackled from security and from our perennial balance of payment crises; a foreign policy that with an open mind engages the world economically; ultimately, a foreign policy for a democratic Pakistan.


The writer is a Member of the National Assembly and was Federal Minister respectively for Commerce, Defence, and Foreign Affairs during the 2013-18 PML-N Government.