Foreign policy is the face of a state. It depicts the interests, goals, and means to achieve those goals. Every state develops and amends its foreign policy as per its national interests. The states that do not alter their foreign policy according to their national interest and regional and global demands will remain shaky and frail states. U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s take on foreign policy wholly affirms this idea: “Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.”
An imprecise foreign policy will lead a state to volatility. This is the case with Pakistan, whose policymakers are reluctant to look for new relational horizons in place of the United States. Pakistan chose to be a member of the Capitalist Bloc immediately following its independence in 1947. In 1979, and yet again in the post-9/11 era, Pakistan became an ally of the United States. Pakistan is often labeled as the “front ally” of the United States in this War on Terror.
Despite this history, the tilt of the United States leans towards India. After 9/11, the United States signed the Next Step Strategic Partnership (NSSP) and the Civil Nuclear Deal with India in 2004 and 2006, respectively. Following President George Bush, President Barack Obama has continued this policy. In his recent official visit to India, President Obama stated: “As I’ve said many times, I believe that the relationship between India and the United States can be one of the defining partnerships of this century.” At another point, President Obama stated: “India and the United States are not just natural partners—I believe America can be India’s best partner.” These statements indicate the depth of cordial relations between India and the United States.
Like all other states, the United States directs its foreign policy according to its national interests. Howard Zinn, an American political analyst and academic described U.S. foreign policy as thus: “In the United States today, the Declaration of Independence hangs on schoolroom walls, but foreign policy follows Machiavelli.” The point is that international politics and foreign policies are designed according to realism, which means that every state strives for its own national interest. Pakistan needs to understand this phenomenon, and must set its national interests and foreign policy goals on emergency footings.
Pakistan needs to be realistic and has to prioritize its own national interests while meeting the geopolitical interests of a superpower. In realist politics, a state is neither a friend nor a foe permanently. Allegiances change in the global arena, and Pakistan needs new alliances and strategic partners. The world is transferring from a unipolar to bipolar environment, or perhaps even multipolar again.
In the context of the U.S. tilt to India, Pakistan needs look for new allies and strategic partners. The Pakistan’s policymakers have to look for new strategic horizons. In the coming years, with unstable countries like Afghanistan and Iran, and the ever-present threat of India, a close, trustworthy ally is a strategic necessity for Pakistan. The unipolar world which emerged after 1991 is gradually transforming into a bipolar (or multipolar) one. Russia has emerged as a strong entity (see the crises in Ukraine and Syria). Russia is challenging American hegemony. As a neighbor of Pakistan, Russia could be a new strategic partner.
Pakistan’s government needs to divert the focus of its foreign policy to its regional counterpart. Strong relations with Russia could surely give Pakistan military and economic strength. The Russian military and weaponry could provide much-needed advantages to Pakistan. The Russian government is also not pleased with the increasing cordial ties between the United States and India. Icy relations between Russia and Pakistan have melted somewhat recently, evident with a 2014 military deal – the sale of Mi-35 military choppers to Pakistan. Furthermore, economic indicators show an increase in bilateral trade between Russia and Pakistan from $348 million in 2011 to $500 million in 2014, and both states have shown interest in increasing trade volume. It is a positive indication, but considering the geostrategic significance of both states, this trade volume is surprisingly low.
If Pakistan enhances its associations with Russia, it will not only give the country a new supplier of military assistance, but also a new market, especially regarding Central Asia, which is the center of the “New Great Game” for the developed powers. Although these states are no longer under the Soviet regime, Russia still has a dominant role in this region. These states are rich with natural energy resources. Pakistan could have a strong foothold in these markets with Russian support. Relations with Central Asian states will provide Pakistan with two-way profit, and its energy needs can be met by the help of Central Asian energy resources. The Pakistani government needs to work efficiently on the diplomatic front to acquire a strong foothold in the region.
Turkey is another alliance option for Pakistan. The historically close ties have become even more cordial recently. Then-Prime Minister, now President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Pakistan in December 2013 was a sturdy step in bilateral relations. During his visit, three Memoranda of Understanding were signed, regarding quality control, industry and railway, and agreements in sports and disaster management. Both heads of state agreed to enhance cooperation related to the economy, defense, and tourism. In a joint press statement, Pres. Erdogan stated:
“Our political relations with Pakistan continue strongly. We attach great importance on mutual high level visits intended for further develop our relations that are in excellent condition in line with our common interests. We would like to expand this to all areas such as military, economy, commerce, culture and tourism.”
On the one hand, Russia will give Pakistan’s economy a gateway to the Central Asian trade market; on the other hand, Turkey will offer an incomparable trade route to the European markets. Pakistani foreign policymakers and government officials need to comprehend the changing political tide of the region. Pakistan needs to have more allies; not just the United States. Russia is the best available strategic, economic, and political option for Pakistan. Such an alliance would enable Pakistan to sustain a balance of power and stability in the South Asian region. It is the time for Pakistan to change its policy priorities.
Image: Farooq Naeem-AFP, Getty