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Pakistan’s India-centric foreign policy based on geopolitical lies is backfiring

The repeated snubs Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif has suffered internationally is a result the contradictions in Islamabad’s foreign policy

editorials Updated: Jun 17, 2017 11:43 IST
Hindustan Times
Nawaz Sharif,Donald Trump,Xi Jinping
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif looks out the window of his plane (File Photo)(Reuters)

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is used to humiliation. Traditionally, those who put banana skins under his feet are his own generals. In recent weeks, however, it has been the foreign governments who Pakistan sees as its friends who have left him red-faced.

First there was the United States president, Donald Trump, who declined to meet Mr Sharif when the two were in Riyadh together last month. Mr Sharif reportedly carefully worked on his speech on the flight to Saudi Arabia only to be told, on arrival, that the US president had better things to do.

Then Chinese leader Xi Jinping pointedly did not hold a bilateral meeting with Mr Sharif at the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit, held at the Kazakhstan capital Astana. Reportedly Mr Xi was unhappy at the recent deaths of two Chinese in Pakistan. This week Mr Sharif was put on the spot by the Saudi ruler who asked whom he supported in the present fight between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

A foreign policy built around hanging a ‘For Sale’ around your sovereignty runs into problems when you have multiple buyers. For decades, Pakistan has sought to balance India’s preponderance by wooing external allies. During the early half of the Cold War its preferred friend was the US. In the 1960s, Islamabad developed a taste for Chinese. A few decades later it began positioning itself as the sword arm of Islam to Saudi Arabia. Amid all this it has also flirted with Iran, Bangladesh, and recently with Russia.

There were two contradictions in this policy. One, Pakistan’s reasons for alignment were all centred on countering India. However, other than China, none of its other allies shared this interest and signed up with Pakistan for other reasons. Two, many of the countries Pakistan has sworn fealty are today at daggers drawn. The worst contradictions are in the rising friction between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a subset of which is the present boycott of Qatar. It has had to walk a tightrope on the US and China relationships as well.

Unlike India, which has always made it clear that its closeness to specific countries is about a convergence of interests, Pakistan’s has been based on thinly-veiled geopolitical falsehoods.

With global faultlines becoming sharper, Islamabad is finding it harder to avoid injury. Afghanistan is an example of where Pakistan has had to juggle a variety of patrons. There is evidence that similar contradictions are spilling over into Balochistan. The humiliations of Mr Sharif are an almost comic harbinger of worse things to come.

First Published: Jun 16, 2017 14:28 IST