By Aisha Saeed
The skies of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, witnessed a tremendous show of fighter jets that tore through thin clouds on the 23rd of March. Pakistan celebrated its Resolution Day with a full military parade; an occasion that was graced by the presence of Guest of Honor Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad. The Malaysian PM’s visit came in the backdrop of Pakistani PM Imran Khan’s official visit to Malaysia, during which the Khan extended an official invitation to his Malaysian counterpart. Matahir last made his visit to Pakistan under the Musharraf government and the two had decided to strengthen the bond between the two countries. Deals made during the last meeting between Matahir and Musharraf did not see the light of the day, but made Mahathir aware of the country’s potential in the region. Working on a similar idea, Imran Khan visited Malaysia with hopes of renewing ties through mutual economical means.
Malaysia’s prime interest is in the country’s defence sector as it eyes Pakistan and China’s jointly produced JF-17 Thunder aircraft. Mahathir’s admiration for the aircraft means Malaysia could be looking at other military equipment made by Pakistan. Pakistan, via Malaysia, is seeking its way through to the ASEAN Countries for trade and investment opportunities. Secondly, for Pakistan, important lessons lie in understanding how Malaysia developed its tourism industry.
Five major MoUs have been signed between Pakistan and Malaysia. Mahathir and Khan share an ideological vision for the Muslims around the world and can emerge with a strong bond to revive the Islamic bloc in the world. Another message that Pakistan is giving out to the world is that the civilian government – in particular, the Prime Minister himself is running the foreign policy of the country and fostering a relationship based on mutual interests. PM Khan sees Malaysia as a model state and wishes to replicate its economic model. This is just one of the many breakthroughs in Pakistan’s recent foreign policy.
Ever since Pakistan’s new government took over, it came with a vision to renew its foreign policy and to search for new avenues for meaningful alliances. With the utmost confidence of the country’s Prime Minister in his Minister of Foreign Affairs and the ministry itself, Pakistan managed to keep itself steady post-American dependence. A critical time for the country’s foreign affairs came with the Indian aggression. Pakistan’s MoFA was ready to cope with the diplomatic meltdown by briefing foreign diplomats. Proactive and timely use of digital diplomacy and closed door meetings ensured Pakistan conveyed its message across as the situation unfolded.
Pakistan’s assistance in the Afghan reconciliation process is another highlight of PM Khan’s foreign policy chapter. Pakistan has not only engaged with the leadership of the Taliban but also with the representatives of the current Afghan government and the United States for peace in the region. Pakistan believes that peace in Afghanistan is central for the peace of the region and may also help it become part of the bigger economic corridor initiated by China and Pakistan.
On the sidelines of civic- diplomacy, Pakistan quietly carried out defence diplomacy with countries under former military chief General Raheel, which is now being carried forward under General Bajwa. From Sandhurst to SriLanka and participation of Azerbaijan in the military parade, it expanded the foothold of the country across the global militaries. Pakistan’s services to the United Nations with its Peacekeeping missions has the potential to bridge the gap with the far African countries in terms of trades and investments. In cases like that of Russia, the defence diplomacy paved the way for civic-diplomacy and brought forth a renewed sense of partnership and an end to a decades old stagnation in the Afghan peace process.
National Security will remain entangled with Pakistan’s foreign policy as long as the situation around the county stabilizes and peace is ensured with India. Based on a goodwill gesture, Imran Khan instigated the Kartarpur Corridor, which, however, received a cold shoulder from India. What Pakistan must seek now is to strengthen its lobbying at international fora. This will aid Pakistan in averting any pressure that could comprise its national integrity or compel it to compromise its internal security.
Pakistan now must work on breaking the ice with Central Asian countries where it can offer them access to the warm waters while working on building commercial flight operations to boost tourism and others options. To make the optimum use of these geo-political opportunities, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs to train and encourage its diplomats and other officials to proactively engage with their host countries along with improving services for their citizens living abroad.
Overall, Pakistan’s foreign policy is headed in the right direction. However, the country must envision and implement a foreign policy that would serve the best interests of the country in years to come and forge multi-faceted alliances that can quickly be counted on in case of a national crisis. The aspect of defence diplomacy and the avenues it opened up for cooperation between the countries should not be negated and perhaps are a need of the hour. Only then can Pakistan’s foreign policy keep up with the pace to meet the challenges of the future and lay strong foundations for future global diplomacy.
Aisha Saeed is an Independent analyst on media and foreign policy. She tweets @MsAishaK.