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Diplomacy Politics

PM’s Visit to the US: Nothing New, Imran Khan Is A Continuation Of The Old

As usual, both the establishment and the sitting government feel that their foreign policy objectives should remain shrouded in mystery as no efforts were made to form a consensus. The whole government machinery was focused on projecting simplicity of the prime minister and that he will be staying at the ambassador’s home rather than at an expensive hotel. Does he practice this when visiting other countries or it was just something special for the USA? Also, the government did not explain how the simplicity of a prime minister helps in achieving the foreign policy objectives.

In this piece, I will focus on two aspects of the visit – bilateral relations and the importance of the expatriate community.

Few days before Imran Khan’s visit, I sent some proposals, in a private message, to the government and the foreign policy establishment. I will not talk about the specifics of my advice but in general terms I have always advised that Pakistan should give up a zero-sum policy approach; learn to engage in strategic rather than transactional relationship; avoid becoming too close to anyone power whether it is the USA, Russia or China; improve relations with all neighbours; and change focus from security to economy.

For an effective foreign policy, our planners need knowledge of history, understanding of common objectives of the two nations, past relations and future possibilities – both the establishment which dominates foreign policy and the foreign ministry does not have these capabilities to have an in-depth view of the region and geopolitics. This is a serious concern and I don’t see any efforts to change that.

President Trump is a reality show TV star. As soon as cameras are turned on, he comes into his element and becomes a showman. Extravagant statements in a press conference do not translate into actual policy and there are plenty of examples to prove that. I have largely ignored what transpired in the press talk at the Oval Office when Trump and Imran Khan met. The press statement issued by the White House is more important to understand their policy position.

The good news is that bilateral relations will improve. But the bad news is that there will be no fundamental structural change in the relationship and it will remain transactional. America will demand do more and maintain high pressure for it through IMF, FATF, and financial support from their regional allies Saudi Arabia. Trade will be conditional on security cooperation. Both Bush and Obama lumped Pakistan with the Middle East which was a geopolitical anomaly. President Trump administration has reverted back to including Pakistan in South Asia which is the correct position. There may be de-hyphening of Af-Pak as the conflict wind down and reverting back to Indo-Pak.

Apart from meeting Americans, it was an opportunity to mobilise the expat community to act as ambassadors for the country. Imran Khan’s address to the expat community at a stadium was an opportunity to mobilise and inspire them. He lacks vision and his repetitive speeches reflect that. The Washington speech was all about me, me, and me. He focused on his “truck ki batti” pursuits of getting back looted money which has produced zero dollars so far. It was a wasted opportunity. Imran Khan is a celebrity who is always a crowd puller although Shah Ruth Khan pulls larger crowds. That is all that it was.

There are two roles expats can play – firstly, to lobby with their Congressmen and Senators to push for better bilateral relations and, secondly, to help with attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). Meeting Pakistani-American investors should not have consumed too much time as they can go to Pakistan to meet with the prime minister. Most of his time should have been spent with foreign investors to convince them that Pakistan is a viable destination for their money. Expat can play a significant role in setting those appointments.

Pakistan is the fifth most populous country in the world. This makes us a large consumer market very attractive to companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, McDonald’s and many others. These companies already make millions of dollars from Pakistani consumers and also employ expat Pakistanis at the senior level of management. No visiting prime minister has approached these successful people to make them FDI ambassadors for the country. Imran Khan’ visit is no different.

Our focus has always been to attract foreign governments’ money as it is easy to acquire and does not require deep structural reforms. It serves the interests of our ruling elite as they are the key beneficiaries of these public funds. FDI, on the other hand, will not come to Pakistan until we amend our ways and improve our governance. It is the only way to create employment and grow the economy on a firm footing.

The trip is a failure in that sense as no major investment commitments were made by US corporations. Our failure to attract FDI is one key reason I believe the current republic has failed and we need to replace it with the second republic.

We are non-serious and badly managed country which becomes evident every time our politicians visit foreign countries. No wonder there is no FDI coming to the country. Imran Khan is a continuation of the old and nothing new. I would prefer that he stays at the expensive hotel but come prepared for a foreign visit. The establishment, on the other hand, comes prepared and get most of the thing they want for security needs but they also are the reason the FDI does not want to come to Pakistan.


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