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Pakistan: A Circular Foreign Policy

We are a nation that moves in circles and it is for this reason we don’t progress. Our economy, our politics, and our foreign policy, all exhibit a circular behaviour. The supporters of Imran Khan and establishment are all dancing with joy that the recent trip to the US was a big success. But is it a reality or just the start of another circle? Let us analyze some visible behavioural elements of Pakistan foreign policy.

In America, whenever there is a Republican president, the relations with Pakistan improve. Gen Zia got the cold shoulder and peanuts from Democratic President Jimmy Carter, but everything changed during the era of Republican President Ronald Reagan. He gave a red-carpet reception to the Pakistani rulers, showered them with aid and weapons, overlooked martial law, and trade improved as well. Under Democrat President Clinton, the relations got bad again and we got the cold shoulder. But as soon as Republican President Bush got elected, things started improving again, especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the launch of the war on terror. When he was replaced with Democrat President Obama, we returned back to tense relations.

Another feature of note of these boom and bust cycles is that under the Republican presidents, the military-to-military contacts are excellent, while civil relations and democratic values take a back seat. The Republicans like to give us shinning weapons, over loom media freedom, prefer their strategic objectives rather than democratic values, and do not want mind dealing with dictators. The Democrats, on the other hand, prefer to deal with democratically-elected civilians and emphasise on protection of civil liberties. Clinton’s support for Nawaz Sharif and a cold shoulder to Gen Musharraf and the Kerry Lugar Bill during President Obama tenure are good examples.

President Trump is sort of an anomaly in many respects. He was a democrat before he joined the Republican Party. He hails from New York State which is a stronghold of the Democratic Party. He is a democrat in his foreign policy and a Republican in his domestic policy. This creates tension with his foreign relations team of Secretary of State, NSA, Trade Representative and Secretary of Defence. This tension is evident in many world theatres including North Korea, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, China, Russia, Turkey, EU, and Pakistan. Imran Khan’ visit was great for its optics but business as usual in its content, exhibiting the circular nature of our relations.

Pakistan too exhibits a certain predictable behaviour in its foreign policy posture. Whenever a civilian government is in place, our relations with the US becomes tense as they refuse to do more; we try to improve relations with Iran; balance relations with Saudi Arabia; try to engage India but relations remain tense as the establishment does not allow a dialogue, and the economy takes precedence over security.

On the other hand, when the establishment is directly ruling the country, our relations improve with the US as we agree to do more, Iran takes a back seat and Saudi Arabia is preferred, dialogue starts with India as it is now kosher to do, and security takes precedence over the economy. There was a lot of similarity between presentations of Imran Khan and Khawaja Asif at the US Institute of Peace but being on the same page was missing which is now celebrated.

We are now in the security establishment rule cycle as evident from by its activities in foreign policy. Asad Umar recently acknowledged that all foreign loans from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and China were arranged by the military chief. While Imran Khan was busy taking selfies with POTUS and FLOTUS, the security establishment was busy negotiating with the Trump administration officials. No one received Imran Khan at the airport, but the case was different for the power to be at the Pentagon. Imran Khan left for Pakistan on July 23, while others stayed behind to complete the negotiations, agreeing to do more like Gen Musharraf.

When the Americans want something, they know how to charm a visiting dignitary. Imran Khan’s supporters claim that he cannot be bought. But he is the easiest person to be bought. Just stoke his ego and he will do anything for you. Americans inflated his ego so much that he declared upon arrival at Islamabad that it feels as if he has won the World Cup again. Gen Musharraf succumbed to a threatening call from the US but Imran Khan succumbed just by selfies.

The bottom line is that they have asked us to deliver more and in return, they will throw some bread crumbs at us. The first trench of those was delivered yesterday when they announced $127 million technical aid for the F-16 programme while, at the same time, announced $970 million for India. Imran Khan and the establishment should pray that Trump wins his re-election because if a Democrat is the winner then we will enter another cycle of a downturn.

Meanwhile, if I can see the circular nature of our foreign policy then this is also observed by Russia, China, EU, and others as well. We have to break these cycles to build a sovereign and prosperous nation.


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