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Regional Power politics and Pakistan foreign policy

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“Under the shadow of Growing antagonism among Regional Powers, Pakistan needs to formulate  pragmatic foreign policy by staying between the lines

Islamabad is undermining its relations with all weather friends situated in Gulf region. Foreign Minister of Pakistan , Shah Mahmood Qureshi issued outrageous statement about the role of Saudi Arabia in organization of Islamic cooperation to raise the Kashmir issue in assertive way. Furthermore , he warned during an interview that if Saudi Arabia did not convene a meeting of OIC’s council of foreign ministers to discuss the abrogation of autonomous status of Kashmir by revoking article 370, Pakistan would go forward to call a meeting of those states who favors  Pakistan narrative over Kashmir and this meeting might be held either  within or  outside of OIC forum.

These statements clearly pointed out the role of Saudi Arabia in Organization of Islamic Cooperation to support Pakistan. It is no doubt that Pakistan and Saudi have been enjoying friendly Bilateral relations and Pakistan always took side of the Arab Brothers States . The role of KSA in improving the economy of Pakistan in difficult times can not be neglected and it has been a major contributor of aids to support the shrinking economy.

In the result of outrageous behavior of Foreign ministers, KSA forced Pakistan to return the $1 billion. In the beginning of Imran’s government, Pakistan’s economy was at the brink of destruction and in this critical situation, KSA extended a $ 6.2 billions package which was comprised of $ 3 billions loans and oil in deferred payments worth of $ 3.2 billions. Now, the situation is in very trouble conditions and KSA demanding her rest of payments and frozen oil credit facility. However with the help of China, Pakistan has returned $ 1 billion to the KSA.

To normalize the tense situation, Chief Of Army Staff, Qamar Javed bajwa along Chief of Intelligence, Faiz Hameed, visited the Saudi Arabia but were not welcomed heartedly. MBS refused to meet and they just called on some official and discussed the matter. In the recent arena, the politics of Middle East region is showing dynamics. UAE and  Bahrain have signed a peace agreement with the Israel and KSA aims to improve relations with the Israel. In response to this, Palestinians showed anger against the Arab states and rejected the agreements. It is very important time for Pakistan  to take foreign policy decisions towards Arab states particularly Saudi Arabia.

Historically, Pakistan shares common religious ties with KSA and due to holy shrines and cities sees with eye of respect. Pakistan is sunni dominated sect states who have strong heart ties with the KSA and supports morally and military at every situation. On the hand, KSA also supported Pakistan in the wars of 1965 and 71 opposed Indian stance over the establishment of Bangladesh. As far it is concerned with the Kashmir issue, KSA supported the Pakistan at every forum in past.

In the same way, the competition between USA and China has put Pakistan into a condition where to take any side would accelerate other to take strict actions. The revisionist Turkey and Iran’s  role in Muslim world is threatening the status quo KSA and its allies. The contemporary world politics is passing through a transitive phase in which new blocks are emerging.

On the dynamic stage of world politics, regional players have activated to exploit the opportunities to fulfill their national interests. To do so, they are forming new blocks particularly in the Middle East and Indo Pacific regions . It is very critical time for Pakistan to formulate a pragmatic foreign policy to deal with other important states. Pakistan is not in a position to execute independent foreign policy. Pakistan has lesser action space due to economic vulnerabilities. An imbalance in imports and exports, the perils of FATF and  the strict policies of IMF bound  Pakistan to not play in the world political field. Albeit, it would be possible if Pakistan tend to improve the economic conditions.

Kashmir is not a sole  a reason but there are several other reasons which are potentially souring the relations . Among them, one of the intense is that Pakistan’s growing relations with the potential political  Islamic states e. g Turkey, Iran and Malaysia. These states are construed as rival of Riyadh leadership in the Muslim world. The Revisionist Turkey under the leadership of the Tayyip Erdogan wants to regain its glorifying status of ottoman empire. The secular Turkey has shifted away from the secular ideology and leading towards the destination to be a theological state. Turkey has emerged as new leader of Anti – Saudi bloc and leading from the front. The historical role of Turkey and Iran in Arab springs cannot be overshadowed.

The Bilateral rations and recent agreements of Iran and China have influential implications over Pakistan via Iran’s relations with Pakistan. China has invested almost $62 billions in CPEC and wants to connect the chabhar port with Gwadar port to gain maximum economic benefits. On the other hand, Arabs state particularly KSA and UAE are playing in the hands of West specifically USA and Israel to get secure position in the Middle East to deter the new enemy Turkey and traditional rival Iran. Recently, UAE and Bahrain has acceded the Israel and signed a peace deal to start formally  diplomatic relations. KSA has aims to stretch the diplomatic and economic relations with Israel. Multiple Arabs states have already recognized the Israel and the most prominent are Turkey, Egypt, Bahrain and UAE. In this Situation, Pakistan needs to clear its position towards Palestinian issue and should reconsider its policies towards Israel to find a permanent solution of Palestinian as well as Kashmir issue.

Moreover, The traditional Rival India is very active in Middle East region and playing its role to strengthen feet in the Muslim world. Various agreements in diverse sectors have been signed among India and other Arab states. KSA wants India as South Asia Strategic partner and UAE had its economic interests in almost world largest market. It is also a prominent reason due to which  KSA is not openly supporting the Pakistan stance over Kashmir issue. Pakistan also sees it a future threat. Pakistan foreign policy always have been Indian centric. In this contemporary situation, Pakistan should not deteriorate its relations with all weather Arab friends but should urge them to take side of Pakistan by exploiting their weak points.

When we comes to the foreign policies of Pakistan towards a friends whose friendships is sweeter than honey and higher than Himalayas, it is very evident that Pakistan always show a soft image. But, in multi polar world, China and USA has undergone into a phase where they are taking steps to harm the economy of each other. Undoubtedly, China has surpassed the USA in economic growth rate but it has to complete billions dollars project yet. In the same way, Pakistan also enjoys good relations With USA to get financial assistance. In the age of New cold war, Pakistan would have to opt a middle ground to take benefits of both aid and economic activities. If Pakistan takes one of side then it would put herself into troubles because still international organizations are under the influence of USA and deeply depends upon the morally, militarily  and economic support of China.

It can be analyzed that it is not only Kashmir but there are also multiple  factors which are intensifying the situations for Pakistan . It is stated that there is no free lunch in international rations. As in the same way, KSA and UAE have their own preferences and interests in arena. Their foreign policy does not allow them to be influenced by someone else. It is very significant time for Pakistan in which important decisions have to be made by the officials but one thing should be keep in mind that we should not make it either us or without us situation but exploit the opportunities.  To increase the number gains and popular support at domestic level, such kind of outrageous statements should not be released until you don’t have strong relative power. Economy plays a very significant role in the states future. Pakistan is economically a vulnerable state and it does not allow it to take independent decisions. Saudi Arabia is the main exporter of Oil to the Pakistan, thousands workers work in Saudi, holy land and always support Pakistan  in the difficult time all these factors should be keep in mind to take any decisions.

If Pakistan aligns with Turkey , Iran and Malaysia block thenit will have to face west and other benefactors resistance. China is also interested in developing good relations with Saudi because they are oil scarce and assisting them in technical developments. Turkey and Iran are not in a position that they would come to rescue the Pakistan. If Pakistan openly opposes the west block then it would have to face repercussions. The international organization like FATF, IMF and united nations considerably led by the United sates and they have already trapped Pakistan in this web.

To face the future challenges in Bilateral relations, Pakistan must secure normalcy in its Bilateral ties with Saudi Arabia to renew the oil facility agreement. On the other hand, it should not relinquish a leading role in a separate Saudi-rivalry block and should prioritize the Kashmir issues. Albeit, it is evident that Turkey can only offers Pakistan clout but not cash. The Iran cannot replace the Saudi Arabia in oil exports to the Pakistan due to under pressure of imposed international sanctions.

Pakistan should reconsider its policies towards Middle East Region. Pakistan should not let anyone to interfere in the matters but it is need of hours to strengthen the economic conditions by maintain a balanced foreign policy towards benefactors .

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South Asia

Afghanistan: the US and NATO withdrawal and future prospects

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On April 14, the United States of America announced that it would withdraw all its troops stationed in Afghanistan from May 1 to September 11, 2021. On the same day, NATO also said it would coordinate with the White House military to initiate the withdrawal.

The year 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the outbreak of war in Afghanistan, a conflict that has actually been going on since the Soviet invasion of that unfortunate country on December 24, 1979.

What are the plans of NATO and the United States? How will the situation in Afghanistan change in the future?

Regarding the US announcement of the deadline for troop withdrawal, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said that the Afghan government respects the US government’s decision to withdraw its troops by the agreed date.

According to the Associated Press, there were 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan before May 1, far below the peak of over 110,000 in 2011.

According to the websites of the Financial Times and theDeutsche Welle, some ten thousand soldiers from the 36 NATO Member States and other US allies are currently stationed in Afghanistan, including as many as 895 Italian soldiers, as well as 1,300 Germans, 750 Brits, 619 Romanians, 600 Turks, etc.

President Trump’s previous Administration signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan in February 2020, setting May 1, 2021 as the deadline for NATO to begin withdrawing from that country. The Washington Post reported that after the current US government issued the withdrawal statement, the Taliban immediately said that if the United States violated the peace agreement and did not withdraw its troops in Afghanistan, the situation would get worse and one of the parties to the agreement would take responsibility for it.

This year is the twentieth since the United States started the war in Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The war in Afghanistan is the United States’ longest overseas war, and has killed over 2,300 US soldiers and wounded some 20,000 people, at a cost of over 1 trillion US dollars.

Although the United States and its allies attacked the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the situation in Afghanistan has been turbulent for a long time, with over a hundred thousand Afghan civilian casualties in the fighting.

According to The New York Times, both Parties’ members of the US Congress have differing views on the consequences of withdrawal. According to the newspaper, Republicans and some Democrats believe that the troop withdrawal will encourage the Taliban insurgency, while others believe it is necessary to put an end to this indefinite war.

But what considerations can be made for the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan?

It is well known that the purpose of the United States in taking the war to Afghanistan was a very heavy measure of retaliation against al-Qaeda, which had organised the terrorist attacks of September 11, and against the Taliban regime that protected the top leaders of that terrorist organisation. Although al-Qaeda has not been destroyed, it is unlikely to create similar problems. The United States has achieved its strategic goals and is no longer involved in East Asia’s tactics and strategy.

The interests of NATO (considering its individual Member States) in Afghanistan are fewer than those of the United States. As a military alliance with the United States, the achievement of US strategic goals means that NATO’s equal strategic goals have also been achieved. Hence, rather than continuing to run the risk of confronting the Taliban and al-Qaeda after US military withdrawals, NATO is more willing to remove the “political burden” as soon as possible.

While announcing the terms of the withdrawal, the White House has stated that the threat of extremist organisations such as Somalia’s al-Shabaab and ISIS is spreading globally and it is therefore meaningless to concentrate forces in Afghanistan, with a steady expansion of its military cycle. At the same time, however, the White House has stated that after withdrawal, diplomatic and counter-terrorism mechanisms will be reorganised in Afghanistan to face security challenges. Hence, from the US perspective, there is currently a greater terrorist threat than al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The prospectsfor advancing the Indo-Pacific regional strategy to oppose China also means that it would be counterproductive for the United States to remain in Afghanistan any longer. Even after the troop withdrawal, there will be insecurity in Afghanistan. That being the case, however, the United States will still find ways and means to support the Afghan regime and the armed forces of the Kabul government.

The Washington Post has also reported statements by a Pentagon official who has stressed that Afghanistan is a landlocked country: consequently, once US and NATO forces withdraw, one of the biggest challenges will be how to effectively monitor and combat extremist organisations and resist threats to US security: at that distance it will be even more difficult without sea landings.

According to Reuters, the CIA predicts that the possibility of a further US-Afghan peace deal is little and has warned that once the United States and its allies withdraw, it will be difficult to stop the Taliban.

The Afghan government forces currently control Kabul and other large cities, but the Taliban are present in more than half of the country’s territory and rural areas. In the future, the possibility of a Taliban counter-offensive cannot be ruled out.

Great Britain’s The Guardian has commented that the years of war have generally made Afghans feel a strong sense of insecurity and the withdrawal of troops will not bring much comfort to the local population. According to the London-based newspaper, for the United States this is yet another war that cannot be won.

According to experts, there are two extreme possibilities in the future situation in Afghanistan. The excellent situation is the one in which the less extremist wing of the Taliban mediates so that, once the United States withdraws, the Taliban can gradually move from being an extremist organisation to being an internal administrative one and then negotiate with the legitimate government supported by the United Nations: this would mean a long-term peace after forty-two years of war.

Under extremely unfavourable circumstances, instead, the Afghan government forces would overestimate their military strength and intend to continue the war alone against their traditional opponents, at which point peace negotiations between the two sides would break down.

This would mean falling again into a prolonged civil war and into eternal war.

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Bhashan Char Relocation: Bangladesh’s Effort Appreciated by UN

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Bhashan Char. Image source: dhakatribune.com

Bhashan Char, situated in the district of Noakhali, is one of the 75 islands of Bangladesh. To ease the pressure on the digested camps in Cox’s Bazar and to maintain law and order, Bangladesh has relocated about 18,500 Rohingya refugees from the overcrowded camps to the island since December last year. The Rohingya relocation plan to Bhashan Char aligns with the Bangladesh government’s all-encompassing efforts towards repatriation. The initial plan was to relocate 100,000 of the more than a million refugees from the clogged camps to the island. From the onset of the relocation process, the UN and some other human rights organizations criticized the decision pointing to remoteness and sustainability. UNHCR showed their concern over the island’s susceptibility to seasonal storm and flood. They proposed for a “technical assessment” of the Bhashan Char facilities.

An 18-member UN delegation visited Bhashan Char Island on March 17 this year to have a first-hand assessment of the housing facility for the Rohingya forcibly displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMNs). Shortly after the UN’s visit, a team with 10 diplomats including heads of missions of embassies and delegations from Turkey, the EU, US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands also went to the island on April 3 to appraise the facilities. All the members of the technical team opined that they are ‘satisfied’ with the facilities in Bhashan Char. The experts of the UN told, they will hand over a 10-page report of their annotations and they have already submitted a two-page abridgment. On April 16, they released the two-page synopsis after a month of the visit.  After the three-day study of Bhashan Char by the UN delegates, they recommended the Bangladesh government to continue the relocation process to the island in a ‘phased manner’. The team twigged three points – education for Rohingya children, increasing heights of the embankments and better communication system. The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh A. K. Abdul Momen concerted to take the necessary measures to create a safe and secure environment for the Rohingya refugees until the repatriation takes place. The relocation is not the solution of the Rohingya crisis rather the over emphasis of the relocation and facilities inside Bangladesh is protracting the crisis and distracting the attention from the broader emphasis on the repatriation to Myanmar.

The UNHCR and other concerned parties should plan for a long run repatriation process. Repatriation is the only durable solution, not the relocation of the Rohingya refugees. For the time being, resettlement under the Asrayan-3 project is an ease for the FDMNs but in the long run the Rohingya crisis is going to turn as a tremendous threat for regional peace and stability. Besides, resentment in the host community in Bangladesh due to the scarce resources may emerge as a critical security and socio-economic concern for Bangladesh.  It is not new that the Rohingyas are repatriated in Myanmar during the Military rule. Around 20,000 Rohingya refugees were repatriated to Myanmar in the 2000s. The focus of the world community should be creating favourable conditions for the Rohingyas to return safely regardless who is in the power seat of Myanmar-civilian or military government. The UN should largely focus on repatriating the Rohingya refugees in a “phased manner”, let alone deciding their concern in the camps and the Bhashan Char. After the praiseworthy relocation plan, they should now concentrate on implementing speedy and durable repatriation. Proactive initiatives are essential from all walks for a safe and dignified return of the FDMNs. To be specific, the relocation is a part of the repatriation, not the solution of the problem. 

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Afghan peace options

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President Biden’s decision to withdraw unconditionally all foreign forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 will leave behind an uncertain and genuine security concerns that ramifications will be born by Afghanistan as well as the region.

The Taliban seems least interested in peace talks with the Afghan government and appear determined to take control of the entire afghan government territory by force during post-withdrawal of American forces. Short of the total surrender, Afghan government has no possible influence to force the Taliban to prefer talks over violence. Resultantly, the apprehensions that Afghanistan could plunge into another civil war runs very high.

The consequences of yet another civil war will be deadly for Afghanistan and the whole region as well. Among the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan will bear the severe burnt of an escalation of violence in particular. A civil war or possible Taliban takeover will surely upsurge and reinvigorate the Islamic militancy in Pakistan, thus threatening to lose the hard won gains made against militancy over the past decade.

The afghan and Pakistani Taliban, nevertheless, are the two sides of the same coin. Coming back to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan is surely emboldened and revives Pakistani Taliban and other militant outfits. Moreover, spread of violence not only reduce all chances of repatriation of refugees but possibly increase the inflow of refugees from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Furthermore, worsening of the security situation in Afghanistan will jeopardize the prospects of  trade, foreign investment and economic development initiatives such as china-Pakistan economic corridor. The chances of Gawadar and Karachi port to become a transit trade route for the region and link the energy rich region of central asia will become bleak until a sustainable peace and stability is achieved in Afghanistan.

It is against this background that the successful end of the intra-afghan talk is highly required for Pakistan, for its own sake.  Officially, Islamabad stated policy is to ensure the afghan-led and afghan-owned peace solution of the afghan conflict. It helped in bringing the Taliban on the negotiation table, which finally resulted in the signing of the Doha deal between US and Taliban. Further, Pakistan has time and again pressurized the Taliban to resume the dialogue. Moreover, Islamabad holds that, unlike in the past when it wanted a friendly regime in Kabul, it aims to develop a friendly and diplomatic relation whoever is on the power in Kabul.

Notwithstanding the stated policy and position of the Islamabad, the afghan government and the many in the US remains dubious of Pakistan’s commitment. Against these concerns, Islamabad categorically stated that it does not have complete control over the Taliban.

The success of the peace process will require coordination and cooperation among the all regional actors and the US and afghan government. Pakistan’s role is of an immense significance because of its past relation with the Taliban. There is no denying of the fact that Pakistan has not complete control over the Taliban. Despite, it has more leverage than the other actors in the region.

The Islamabad’s willingness to use its influence over the Taliban is her real test in the achievement of peace process. However, Pakistan has successfully used its leverage and brought the Taliban on negotiations table. Although, history is the testimony of the fact that mere cajoling won’t dissuade the Taliban from unleashing violence.

The prospects of intra-afghan talks will develop in success when the cajoling strategy is backed up by with credible threats of crackdown which may involve denial of safe heaven to militant leaders and their families, stopping medical treatment, and disruption of finance etc. on the other hand, strong arm tactics fail to bring the Taliban to the table, then Pakistan should make sure that its territory is not used to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.

The afghan peace process has an opportunity for Pakistan to bury its hatchets with Afghanistan and start its diplomatic journey with a new vigor. While Kabul every time attach its failure with the Pakistan and shun away from its responsibility of providing peace to people of Afghanistan, it has a fair point about our pro Taliban afghan policy. Now that the US is leaving Afghanistan, it is high time that Pakistan bring forth a shift in its Afghanistan policy. Sustainable peace in Pakistan, especially Balochistan and ex-fata region is unlikely to achieve without Pakistan contributing to peace in Afghanistan.    

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