New era of bloc politics

Farkhund Yousafzai

New era in international relations has begun with its different challenges for Pakistan. It has to maintain balance in its ties with China and the US while navigating the Sino-US confrontation, to deal with Afghanistan’s uncertainties with TTP’s continuous attacks from the soil, to manage the adversarial relationship with India and to balance ties between strategic ally Saudi Arabia and neighbor Iran. All these issues need bilateral as well as multilateral approaches in the times of new bloc politics.

After China’s spectacular rise, Russia’s aggressive posture and Afghan debacle; the US is looking for new role in the region by signing the AUKUS Agreement (with Australia and UK), reviving Quad (with Australia, Japan and India) and forming I2U2 (India, Israel, UAE, US). In response, its major rivals China, Russia, Iran and Turkey are coming closer on different fronts. Major countries are changing friends and foes. The US exchanged Pakistan with India; Gulf is ready to be a darling of India at the expense of Pakistan and is welcoming its arch-rival Israel.

Where Pakistan stands in changing world scenario, what options are on the table of policy makers and what are the success chances in future are the frequently asked questions. A brief analysis of Pakistan’s foreign policy during the last 75 years could be a guiding light.

The first phase of Pakistan’s foreign policy (1947-53) was the era of neutrality. During this period, Pakistan claimed itself to be a neutral state but it was leaning towards the Anglo-American bloc. In this period, the Western colonialism was taking its last breath and Pakistan morally supported many Muslim countries i.e. Indonesia, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Eritrea and Palestine in their independence struggles. Pakistan was the champion of Muslim cause. But this neutrality proved short-lived when the then Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan decided to visit the US in spite of invitation by the Soviet Union.

In the second phase, the era of alliances (1954-62), Pakistan entered into defense pacts with the US like SEATO and CENTO to get military and economic aid. Meanwhile, India proclaimed its neutrality, played host to heads of many Muslim states, which resulted in to isolate Pakistan from Muslim countries. Many Muslim states criticized Pakistan’s participation in alliances and its pro-West policies. The result was that Pakistan could not support the nationalization of oil by Iran and nationalization of the Suez-Canal by Egypt. Thus, it abruptly lost the status of the champion of Muslim cause.

In the third phase, era of bilateralism (1962-69), Pakistan began to put greater emphasis on cultivating relations with individual Muslim states particularly, and other states generally at bilateral levels. In March 1963, Pakistan entered into a border agreement with China and developed bilateral ties with Turkey and Iran.

The fourth phase of Pakistan’s foreign policy was the era of non-alignment movement (1969-81). During this period, Pakistan shifted its foreign policy from alignment with the West to an independent and non-aligned disposition and joined Non-Alignment Movement. It withdrew from the Commonwealth and SEATO.

In 80s, the cold war between two super powers the US and Soviet Union reached its climax and Afghanistan became the hot spot. Pakistan once again reviewed its foreign policy and started the sixth phase, era of revival of policy (1981-90). During this period, Pakistan once again adopted West-oriented approach and established close ties with the US and West due to Russia Afghan war. It is still languishing under jihadi mind-set, opium and Kalashnikov culture in society by this unwise decision.

The seventh phase was the era of regionalism (1990-2001). After the Afghan war, the US left alone Pakistan with its exploding jihadi camps, sectarian violence and Pressler Amendment sanctions crippling its society and economy. So, Pakistan shifted its foreign policy towards regionalism. It joined the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and tried to strengthen the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). But due to multiple problems, both organizations proved toothless tigers.

While the current phase of Pakistan’s foreign policy could be called as the era of confusion. When the US attacked Afghanistan after 9/11, Pakistan joined her as a front line ally, further destroying its social fabric and economy. It lost more than 80,000 lives in the US war on terror and is still struggling to put the genie back into the bottle. Ironically, despite its status of front line the US ally in the war, the most-wanted US foes like Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Akhtar Mansour killed in the US strikes on the Pakistani soil. Such developments deepened mistrust between the US and Pakistan and aggravated its difficulties.

This confusion is also evident on the other front that is how to maintain balance in relations with the US and China? After it signed CPEC agreement with China in 2015, Pakistan started to face the US brunt on diplomatic and economic levels. It is pressurizing Pakistan to limit its collaboration with China but Pakistan is unwilling to pay attention to its calls as it is watching the growing US-India relations with awe.

Ironically, Pakistan cannot afford to despise the US for long due to the complexities of world order. The US has full control of the crucial economic institutions like IMF and World Bank and these financial bodies are the lifeline for the weak economy of Pakistan. It is a hard test for Pakistan demanding shrewdness and prudence from the policy-makers, but there seems indecisiveness and total confusion instead.

The discussion reveals that there has been no clarity in goals or consistency in the foreign policy of Pakistan in the last 75 years. All the phases discussed here were the result of the lack of vision and were focused on short term goals. Unfortunately, Pakistan never utilized its geo-strategic location and potential to attain development and stability. In the era of new bloc politics, the policy makers are still confused what to do? Pakistan is completely isolated and is being abandoned by its traditional allies the US and Gulf countries.

It’s about time to reassess the policy options and start working for building new ties and strengthening old relations. Pakistan needs a holistic and systematic approach to adjust itself in the transitory world politics. It needs a proactive not passive foreign policy to meet the new challenges.

The writer is a journalist and analyst, based in Islamabad. He may be contacted at:

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  1. Tariq Ullah Shah Afridi Sep-08-2022 06:57:pm


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