Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan and India remain primary vectors.
While it is believed that the Afghan situation has veered to the advantage of Islamabad after a favourable Islamic Emirate government in Kabul, instability of the Taliban led administration and lack of international approval given the non inclusive and terrorist image is now raising concerns.
Spill over of terrorism and extremism in the Western provinces of Khyber Pakhtoonwa and Balochistan which have a teeming threat of separatist and ethno-religious militancy from Afghanistan is a realization that has seeped very rapidly.
Pakistan is perceived as a key player in Afghanistan due to the links of the country’s Establishment – Army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) with the Taliban who have sanctuaries across the Durand Line. However, Pakistan believes that stability in Afghanistan is a collective responsibility of all stakeholders, a stand that was reiterated by Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa on August 11 at the two-day 242nd Corps Commanders’ Conference. The COAS claimed that Pakistan has made every possible effort to facilitate the Afghan peace process leading towards a negotiated settlement with utmost sincerity and will continue to do so.
Another western neighbour, Pakistan’s relations with Iran are relatively stable. Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani who hails from Balochistan a province that shares a long border with Iran attended the inauguration of the newly-elected Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
Raisi is reported to have agreed to opening more trade routes though there is no confirmation of the same from other quarters. Iran’s Armed Forces Chief Mohammad Baqeri visited Pakistan in October where he had interactions with the Prime Minister, Army and Navy Chiefs.
Pakistan’s relations with the Eastern neighbour India remain contentious with a history of three wars, a major border skirmish and continuing support of Islamabad to terrorism and insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir as well as other parts of that country.
Recently the two – India and Pakistan have engaged in backchannel dialogue which however seems to have stumbled after the promise of commitment to a Cease Fire agreement by Director General Military Operations at the Line of Control (LoC) in February thereby restoring some peace on the troubled frontier and providing relief to civil populace.
Nevertheless most recently, Foreign Office spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri on August 10 said Pakistan was ready to hold talks with India, provided it ensured an enabling environment that “primarily” focused on resolution of the Kashmir dispute. “Pakistan will take every possible step to save the lives of innocent Kashmiris, suffering unabated violence in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir,” he told reporters in response to their queries on the foreign policy narrative, at the APP [Associated Press Pakistan] Headquarters.
Internationalisation of Kashmir as per Pakistan entails highlighting the — legal, humanitarian and security facets as perceived by Islamabad. Pakistan also claims India’s role in fomenting terrorism in Khyber Pakhtoonwa and Balochistan.
The two countries have expressed re-commitment to the 2003 ceasefire arrangement.
Pakistan accuses both India and pre Taliban Afghanistan of fomenting terrorism in the country, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on August 12 that Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies seem to be involved in the attack on a bus of Chinese engineers working for the Dasu Hydropower Project in July. “India’s intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS) nexus were behind Dasu terror attack as per the probe carried out into the incident,” said Qureshi.
China Pakistan relations is frequently touted, “as higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans,” represented most recently by the commitment of over US $ 60 Billion from that country for development of communications, energy and industry.
China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a binding factor which is expected to have an impact for decades ahead. The two countries also have intimate cooperation in the military and the nuclear field – the latter civilian as well as weapons related.
Most recently Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa met Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Nong Rong and exchanged views on several matters of importance on August 10 where “matters of mutual interests, defence collaboration, progress on CPEC, and regional security were discussed in detail”. Director-General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed was also present during the meeting.
This comes about after China expressed serious concern over the loss of Chinese lives in a bus accident in Pakistan. At least 12 people, including nine Chinese nationals working on the Dasu Hydropower Project, were killed when a bus carrying them fell into a ravine following an explosion on July 14. Dasu in Upper Kohistan is abutting Gilgit Baltistan of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and links with Chilas Bunji and Gilgit on the N 35 highway.
Pakistan’s recent claims of a foreign policy shift from geo-politics to geo-economics may remain a declaration of intent rather than possible achievement in the near future given instability in Afghanistan.
Pakistan believes that restoration of peace in Afghanistan will enable rail access to Central Asian republics as most recently expressed by Prime Minister Imran Khan to a delegation of the Pak-Afghan Youth Forum (PAYF)Pak-Afghan Youth Forum (PAYF) in Islamabad. This includes a railway line through Afghanistan, energy (TAPI) and power linkages (CASA 2000). However these goals will be realized once there is security and stability in Afghanistan.
Pakistan United States relations are likely to remain contentious in the months ahead. Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a wide-ranging talk with foreign journalists at his residence on August 11 openly blamed hasty retreat by the United States from Afghanistan for deterioration of the situation in that country. Khan is peeved that the United States President Joe Biden has not called him up so far and of growing proximity of India and United States relations.
In a post Taliban Afghanistan, Pakistan was much sought after as a route for evacuation of foreign citizens who were stranded in that country after the Taliban took over power. This saw many high profile visits to Islamabad which it may cash in at some point of time, providing a degree of leverage.