Imran Khan’s victory speech from Bani Gala has been well received in the neighbourhood and beyond; it was nicely crafted and delivered in an informal manner, touching many hearts and capitals around the world. While PTI puts her best heads to form the government, things are moving at fast pace in the foreign relations domain, with challenges and opportunities knocking at doors of Islamabad.
I have tried to analyse the strategic environment affecting Pakistan so as to draw some conclusions for Pakistan’s future trajectory in international arena. I have tried to cover five major areas, India, US, Afghanistan, China, Middle East and Russia, as these have direct bearing on Pakistan.
Starting from India, the good will generated by IK’s speech has raised the bar of hope in South Asia; off course Pakistan would desire a peaceful neighbourhood and less hostility. Leaving cosmetics aside, improving Indo-Pak relations will be the biggest challenge to new leadership due to complexity of the relationship. With BJP government led by hawks in the South Block and a boiling Kashmir, Imran Khan would require a balancing act to develop a new trajectory, something he already alluded to in his first speech. Occupied Kashmir has witnessed tumultuous two years with Kashmiri Youth inspired by Wannism, the youth is contesting against highhandedness of Indian Military forces through protests and extensive use of social media platforms to raise their voice.
Recent report by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted the issue, “The political dimensions of the dispute between India and Pakistan have long been centre-stage, but this is not a conflict frozen in time. It is a conflict that has robbed millions of their basic human rights, and continues to this day to inflict untold suffering, this is why any resolution of the political situation in Kashmir must entail a commitment to end the cycles of violence and ensure accountability for past and current violations and abuses by all parties, and provide redress for victims”.
The High Commissioner went on to demand the UN Human Rights Council to consider establishing a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir”.
The BJP government faces a tough challenge in view of three major developments, One, the international pressure to investigate Human Rights violation in Kashmir, Two, the olive branch offered by Imran Khan to move on a new trajectory of peace in South Asia and Three, General elections in India in 2019, where BJP’s agenda of transformation of India into Hindutva Republic, built on the premise of majoritarian rule, cannot be completed through an appeasement with Pakistan.
I would vouch to say that onus of improving relations between two arch rivals will largely fall onto Indian leadership rather than Imran Khan.
Coming to Uncle Sam, we have already witnessed a warning by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that an IMF bailout of Pakistan must not be used to help repay Chinese debts that Pakistan has incurred under CPEC. While this is traditional and expected pressure tactics from the sole superpower, there are more important factors where US would need Pakistan in coming days. Afghan imbroglio has been further accentuated due to ruthless power play within Afghanistan, Taliban -ISIS contest has seen new aggressive posturing and action, Dostum has come back to Kabul and is trying to regain and expand his influence in Northern Afghanistan. Parliamentary and Presidential elections scheduled in Oct this year and April 2019 will mar the political and security environment in Afghanistan in coming months and Pakistan’s ability to talk to stake holders may have to be wait for next set of leadership to emerge; it appears that prospects of durable peace in Afghanistan will depend upon the changing environment in next eight months. US interlocutors have already started engaging Taliban leadership; Pakistan has a crucial role to play and US Pakistan relations may find a silver lining here. Can Imran Khan cash on this opportunity and help Afghanistan achieve the elusive goal of lasting peace, this is a million dollars question.
China-Pakistan relations have remained stable and positive, especially after launching of CPEC initiative; however the issues related to transparency of the project and desire on both sides to move at fast pace would require a review. Meanwhile the US-China trade war initiated by President Trump has started affecting the entire landscape of the region; Mike Pomeo’s rhetoric on IMF package for Pakistan must be seen in that perspective and Pakistan may find herself sandwiched between two giants pushing and pulling her in the midst of trade war between them.
Middle East is another big challenge for IK; despite his desire for conflict resolution between two heavy weights of the region, KSA and the Islamic Republic, things are not that rosy. With Trump’s death spell administered to JCPOA and US desire for regime change in Iran, Middle East just sits on a new powder keg. The second phase of hybrid war has been unleashed within Iran, with economic strangulation, diplomatic isolation and attempt to implode Iran from within through a sophisticated information operation. John Bolton’s rise as the National Security Advisor in Trump’s team of hawks has put pressure on Iran, he has already commented that there will be no ‘Walking Back’ this time; Maryam Rajavi and Prince Reza Pehlavi have been groomed as leaders of an exiled Iranian government in US. Next six months may witness more protests within the Islamic Republic forcing Khamenei Regime to either compromise or face an overthrow; one can only imagine the prospects of a regime change in Iran, it could be worse than Libya.
The new leadership in Pakistan will have to take these developments in Iran in view, before charting any new discourse with the Islamic Republic; what role can Pakistan play in maintaining stability and peace in Middle East will largely be governed by the environment being shaped in the region.
KSA and Pakistan relations have remained very cordial and brotherly; the cultural and economic bonds between both countries call for strengthening this relationship, especially in view of economic challenges being faced by Pakistan. While Imran Khan has desired to become a bridge between Iran and KSA, how much leverage Pakistan will have to perform this role will depend upon many external players and willingness of leadership of Iran and KSA to accept this role of Pakistan. US policy on Iran will definitely become a major factor here, along with power play by others like Russia, Turkey and China.
Russia-Pakistan relations have seen a positive development in last two years, their interests have converged on many issue such as peace in Afghanistan, Russian desire to stem the tide of ISIS and her eagerness to become a partner in Eurasia. Pakistan has become member of SCO and other regional forums headed by Russia, this new development should be fully cashed for peace and prosperity in Eurasia. Russia can also play a major role in improving Indo Pak relations and conflict resolution between two neighbors.
Pakistan relations with the rest of western world, especially UK, can get benefit from Imran Khan’s own experience and understanding of the west. It is expected that he will be able to adopt an innovative and positive approach to improve this relationship.
Other areas needing focus will be building upon existing friendship with Turkey, opening innovative vistas of economic and diplomatic relation with rest of Islamic World, ASEAN, Japan, Bangladesh, Southern Africa and Latin America, thus sky is the limit for Imran Khan.