Every country’s closest relations are normally with its immediate neighbors – in our case, Pakistan’s relations with its immediate neighbors are tension-filled and the powers that be have never tried to improve these relations focusing instead of building ties with great powers.
The next government that takes charge after the February elections needs desperately to put Pakistan’s external relations on track.
As an editorial in Dawn noted, “unfortunate truth is that ties with three out of our four neighbours are strained, and it will take deft diplomacy to improve matters. Relations with India are the most complicated, and fixing these will be a time-consuming process. Bilateral ties with Afghanistan and Iran are also lukewarm and, in the case of the latter, have witnessed severe turbulence over the past few days.”
Regarding India, ties have “been in deep freeze since August 2019. Elections are due in India in the next few months, and at this point, it appears that a BJP government will again run New Delhi. It remains to be seen whether the new Indian set-up will be willing to turn the page with Pakistan, or if toxicity will continue. The new administration in Islamabad should, however, extend a hand of friendship to New Delhi, without compromising on Pakistan’s key concerns.”
Regarding ties with Afghanistan, “the Afghan Taliban are difficult customers; yet Pakistan has no option but to engage with them. The recent border closure at Torkham has shown that even administrative disputes can quickly spiral into bigger spats. The incoming administration should work to mend ties with Kabul and improve trade relations, while reiterating Pakistan’s demand that terrorist groups operating from Afghan soil be reined in.”
Finally when it comes to Iran, “before Tehran’s provocative strikes in Panjgur, ties were cordial, though there was room for improvement. Luckily, sense has prevailed after the Iranian strike and Pakistan’s retaliation, and matters are returning to normal. However, there can be no further infringement of this country’s sovereignty.”
It is essential that foreign policy is fashioned and led by professional diplomats, not the ubiquitous military-intelligence establishment.