Three foreign policy opportunities for Pakistan: PTI Government needs to cash?

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Jan Achakzai |

Pakistan has this rare opportunity in its foreign policy and geo-strategic battle space to capitalize on that has perhaps never been seen before. The following three undercurrents need Pakistan’s coherent response:

1. Iran again under sanction following Nov 5, 2018, by the US, is facing a tough 2019 as Washington ratchets up pressure on it by closely working with Israel, Saudi Arabia, now Turkey and Pakistan denying Tehran geopolitical gains in Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen.

Islamabad as a neighboring country with a 960 km long border can greatly benefit: a) it can serve as a conduit from procurement to food and can get its energy needs cheaper and on deferred payment, for example, [Just like other regional countries, Pakistan can get a waiver for Energy supply].

The initiative– that Pakistan pulled off Taliban, pushed them to the table, taking a driving seat –has already started improved prospects for geopolitical gains for it in the region.

For the first time, Tehran wants Pakistan’s strategic, economic, financial, energy and border cooperation both overtly and covertly. As India likely to reduce economic cooperation with Iran including Chahbahar port investment due to US pressure in the run of to 2020 presidential elections, Islamabad will likely get compound leverage out of the increasingly competitive relations between the US and Iran.

Interestingly, after the resignation of the US Secretary Defence James Mattis– who was the architect of Trump Administration, now mostly discarded South Asia policy of 2017 and had pushed most strenuously to keep India in the Afghan game by granting a waiver for India on Chabahar and Iran oil purchases– it remains to be seen whether Mr. Trump will continue those waivers past May 2019.

Read more: Who is making Pakistan’s foreign policy?

2. With Saudi Arabia, Pakistan can really get more out of its relations if it understands KSA’s cumulative insecurities heightened by post-Khashoggi squeeze, aggressive Iranian proxy snarling, domestic unrest, expensive wars in Yemen and Syria and the alternative flooding of oil supply by the US.

Saudis’ fear that Pakistan may tilt towards Iran and hence limit its cooperation at various levels with KSA is still somewhere on their policymakers’ thought process. Here, a coherent strategy can get us not only long-term deferred payments on oil without taking loans, and cash injections to stable foreign exchange reserves, but also pave way for more Pakistani labor and immediate investment in CPEC, Aviation and social infrastructure, for example.

Binary relations (e.g., either China or the US) have never been a wise foreign policy course even if Islamabad is trying to complete Asia pivot as a strategic choice in the next decade.

3. The biggest opportunity, however, for Pakistan comes in Afghanistan. After the US changed its gear in West Asia strategy, strengthened State Department, appointed full fledge Ambassador and filled in vacant posts of Special Envoys including signing up Zalmai Khalilzad (in a sign of desperation) to jump start reconciliation process putting US Generals’ prescriptions on hold, Islamabad has successfully brought the Taliban to the negotiating table with the US, calling off the bluff of Washington for peaceful solution to Afghan imbroglio.

4. The initiative– that Pakistan pulled off Taliban, pushed them to the table, taking a driving seat –has already started improved prospects for geopolitical gains for it in the region. First, since India has no fallback strategy on the Taliban talks, it has been relegated to passivity and would be left with no option but to rely upon Pakistan and concur with Islamabad on defining what might possibly be legitimate interest of India from Pakistan’s angle and is acceptable to Islamabad; this is a welcome development from Pakistan’s national interest point of view. Second, Chinese and Russians are also on board and looking towards Pakistan for recognizing their stakes in Afghanistan’s stability post the thinning of the US forces from Afghanistan in 2020.

Here is how Islamabad needs to tactically inform and guide US negotiations for strategic gains using its levers to maximum advantage. Islamabad must insist the US to inform Pakistan about the contour of the final settlement of the possible deal with the Taliban—the end settlement—and advise on the final red-lines of Afghan factions within the government and outside the government as to who will accept the contour of the end settlement; Pakistan takes this proposed end settlement to the Taliban and make them converge on the contour; It isolates and contains the more obdurate elements both politicos and military commanders inside Afghanistan; Pakistan advises Americans on containing Afghan faction leaders who will not converge.

Read more: Pakistan’s ‘new’ foreign policy under Imran Khan

All the above measures for final push and top-level cooperation with the US to help forge convergence for a final settlement, should be the function of the following adequate quid pro quo: inducing and incentivizing for India to meaningfully engage on Kashmir issue with view to revisit some of the old proposals for resolution; resumption of Coalition Support Fund (CSF) by Presidential waiver; withdrawing coercive measures by Trump Administration and generous PTA to ensure our goods’ access to the US markets.

Whilst these are some steps Islamabad can negotiate with Washington, Pakistan will achieve the following objectives:

— We will find out how serious the US on reconciliation through this way is.

—We would do the most difficult work discreetly before going public.

—We will avoid spoilers along the way.

—We will be able to offer a concrete proposal to the Taliban to chew and help pave way for an immediate ceasefire.

—If nothing comes out we will avoid US pressure, for now, hold on to our levers at least for the timing of the next US administration.

Read more: Reshaping foreign policy of Pakistan

— Since Pakistan needs functioning bilateral with the US as a sole superpower, Islamabad would be able to assure the US that it has genuinely played a constructive role for regional stability and a respectful US exit from Afghanistan, if reconciliation fails.

—Binary relations (e.g., either China or the US) have never been a wise foreign policy course even if Islamabad is trying to complete Asia pivot as a strategic choice in the next decade.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst and a politician. He served as an advisor to previous Baluchistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service in London covering South and West Asia. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy

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