Categorized | South Asian Politics

Looking Back at Pakistan’s Foreign Policy in 2016

Posted on 29 December 2016 by admin

   Dr. Hasan Askari

Pakistan had a difficult year in foreign policy. With the exception of China, Pakistan had problems with its three neighbors, India, Afghanistan and Iran. Pakistan’s difficulties with India increased manifold after Narendra Modi became India’s prime minister in the last week of May 2014. The growing role of Hindu hardline groups in the ruling BJP and a strong emphasis on nationalism have increased anti-Pakistan attitude of the Indian government, the media and societal groups.

The dialogue process was postponed by India in August 2014 on the pretext that Pakistan’s High Commissioner (ambassador) to India had met with Kashmiri Hurriyat leaders. During 2016, India refused to hold any dialogue unless Pakistan satisfied India on the terrorism issue. It wanted Pakistan to handover Hafiz Saeed (Jamaat-ud-Dawa) and Maulana Masood Azhar (Jaish-i-Muhammad) to India for their alleged role in plotting terrorist attacks in India. Pakistan was willing to discuss terrorism along with other issues including the Kashmir problem. Other issues of contention between the two countries in 2016 were: The Kashmir problem, especially the popular resistance in Kashmir that started in July and Pakistan’s complaint of human right violations in Kashmir by India’s law enforcing agencies; construction of new water storage and electricity generation projects on Jhelum and Chenab rivers in violation of the Indus Waters Treaty; propaganda against each other; repeated exchange of fire on the Line of Control in Kashmir that killed civilians and military personnel on both sides ; arrest of fishermen by both sides, the Siachen Glacier, boundary in the Sir Creek area and Pakistani complaint of Indian intelligence agencies funding Pakistan Taliban and dissident Baloch groups. As no talks were held, these grievances increased bitterness between the two countries.

There were periodic complaints of mistreatment of Pakistani film artists and music groups on visit to India. Pakistani Cinema owners retaliated by not showing Indian films in their Cinema houses. However, towards the end of the year, the cinema owners in Pakistan were thinking of reviewing the ban on showing of Indian films.

With Afghanistan, the differences pertain to the roots of internal war between the Kabul government and the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan government attempts to hide its failure to cope with the Afghan Taliban groups by blaming Pakistan for providing a place to hide to Afghan Taliban. It argues that these Taliban come from Pakistan to engage in violence otherwise the situation is normal in Afghanistan. It also refuses to cooperate with Pakistan on increasing monitoring of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border; instead it wants Pakistan to take action against Afghan Taliban when these are in Pakistan. Afghanistan also refuses to accept that Pakistani Taliban leaders, Mullah Fazlullah and others, are based in Afghanistan and the Afghan government does not take any action against them. During the year Pakistan agreed to extend the period of stay of Afghan refugees in Pakistan for another year.

There are no territorial or political disputes between Iran and Pakistan. However, the movement of the terrorist groups across their borders has been a source of irritation. Iran is interested in selling gas and electricity to Pakistan. Pakistan has accepted this offer but no practical step is being adopted to get Iranian gas or electricity. Instead, Pakistan is getting LNG gas from Qatar and it is interested in getting gas from Turkmenistan and electricity from other Central Asian countries. Iran is perturbed by this and it thinks that Pakistan is consciously delaying the implementation of the Iranian offer.

Pakistan is pursuing very active cooperative relations with China in civilian and military sectors. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a massive project of roads, energy projects and other industry that will link Gwadar port with the Xinjiang province (Western region) of China where the Muslims are in a majority. This project will take about 10 years to complete. After its successful completion, it will give boost to Pakistani and Chinese economies.

Another positive development is that Russia is showing keen interest in improving its relations with Pakistan. Pakistan is expected to get some MI helicopters and some light military equipment from Russia by mid-2017. Pakistan should explore the Russian option on a priority basis so as to moderate Russia’s traditional support to India.

Pakistan maintains friendly relations with the United States which provides economic assistance and military sales and training to Pakistan. However, they diverge on the details of how to counter terrorism and especially how to deal with the Afghan Taliban. The U.S. has often complained about the use of Pakistani territory by the Haqqani group, an ally of Afghan Taliban. However, the U.S. is not willing to deal with Pakistani complaint that Pakistani Taliban operate from Afghanistan and that the U.S. and Afghanistan should make sure that these Pakistani Taliban do not use Afghan territory for attacks inside Pakistan. As the U.S. administration changes in January 2017, the U.S. is expected to reduce financial assistance to Pakistan from the next American financial years that begins in October.

Pakistan has active economic and trade relations with the European countries, especially Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. It also maintains good economic relations with Japan and other East Asian states. With Central Asian states, its trade is limited because of the internal conflict in Afghanistan. It also maintains close relations with the Arab states, especially with the conservative Arab kingdom. However, Pakistan has avoided being a partner of Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen and Syria. This pattern of relationship will continue in 2017.

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