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Hilal English

A Tightrope Walk in the Offing

November 2022

Geography will always be central in the realm of international affairs. Pakistan, owing to its geostrategic location, will always be at the crossroads of global competition. The challenges that follow such competitions require delicate balance among the regional and global relations, irrespective of alliances.

This year is being celebrated as the platinum jubilee of Pakistan-U.S. relationship. It is an association that has swung from one extreme to another over the past 75 years. Without going into the details there are some conspicuous brands of connection between the two countries. Most prominent among those include a transactional relationship, an asymmetrical relationship, the most allied ally and the most sanctioned ally. These buzzwords have often been used to denote the kind of acquaintance both have had during their interactions. 
Pakistan is one such country that has always been significant for the U.S. in one way or the other. It has never lost its value in their calculus, be it related to India, China, Afghanistan, Middle East or the nuclear domain. Over the period of history, Pakistan and the U.S. have been walking along on the issues important to both of them. There has been a give and take kind of contact between the two who are located thousands of miles away from each other, yet always connected. Although, the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy does not figure Pakistan vividly, yet due to its geostrategic location, strategic capability and relations with China, India and Middle East, Pakistan is very much affected by it. The evolving scenario is ought to bring challenges and opportunities for Pakistan which are to be tackled with dexterity and proactiveness. 
The Indo-Pacific strategy has given birth to certain arrangements vis-a-vis coalitions so as to impede growing Chinese influence in the region. Among those, two affect Pakistan the most; Quad which includes the U.S., India, Australia and Japan and the I2U2 which includes the U.S., the United Arab Emirates (UAE), India and Israel. For Pakistan, it is the presence of India in both these arrangements that is worrisome. India has been embodied as the net security provider in Indian Ocean, in the U.S.’ Indo-Pacific strategy, a role that India has been vying for many years, which has now been made easy. Any enhancement in the Indian capability is viewed as problematic by Pakistan. Pakistan perceives that these arrangements and the interaction of India with these partner nations, especially the U.S. and Israel, can embolden India in the region and enable her to act as the policeman which has been an Indian dream for decades. Strategic agreements that have already taken place between India and the U.S. as well as with Israel have the ingredients to build Indian military capacity exponentially.
China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has brought phenomenal benefits for both China and Pakistan. The opportunities for connectivity that it affords can be leveraged by both countries to their utmost advantage. Gwadar Port holds an eminent position in the CPEC matrix. Chinese, therefore, have great interest in developing Gwadar Port and associated facilities for better times to come. As Gwadar takes strides in development, it also gains prominence in the locus of attention for China’s adversaries. Additionally, Gwadar is also viewed sceptically by a few regional countries, since they fear loss of business due to the strategically located port on the mouth of Strait of Hormuz, once it becomes fully functional. As India makes ingress into the domestic affairs of the regional countries and influences them through the arrangements created by the U.S., it may try to develop convergence against Gwadar Port. While, for India the issue is important for strategic reasons, for the regional countries, it holds economic value. A combined effort for delaying, if not dislodging the development of Gwadar Port, therefore cannot be ruled out, of which Pakistan and China have to be cognisant.
Pakistan-U.S. relations have been choppy in the recent past, however, efforts were made to mend the fences. The incumbent Prime Minister of Pakistan visited the U.S. for United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session and also met with U.S. President Joe Biden. Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Javed Bajwa also recently visited the U.S. and met senior leadership of the country. The recent visits by the civil and military leadership to the U.S. has put the relations back on track, irrespective of the minor hiccup that occurred over the remarks by the U.S. President in the nuclear domain. Pakistan has enjoyed a very good track record especially when compared with India. The Indian record has not been even reasonable which was further tainted by accidental firing of Brahmos missile into Pakistan a few months back. The incident has sadly been instantly forgotten by the world. Recently, Pakistan was whitelisted by Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on October 21, 2022, which brought a big sigh of relief for all Pakistanis after the hard work of four years. It is being taken as a good omen, yet may not be construed as a sign of perfect relations between Pakistan and the U.S.

The interaction of India with these partner nations, especially the U.S. and Israel, can embolden India in the region and enable her to act as the policeman which has been an Indian dream for decades. 

Pakistan has had traditional and historical ties with all the regional countries. The bond of Islam binds Pakistan further with the regional Muslim states. A considerable number of Pakistani diaspora is residing in these countries, especially in the Middle East and Gulf, which is a connection for enhanced cooperation between Pakistan and them. Our mutual stance on Kashmir and Palestine issues is aligned and we must galvanise the support of our diplomatic friends to bring peaceful resolutions for both the issues. 
Pakistan has greatly suffered because of the situation in Afghanistan. Now that Afghanistan is moving towards stability and looking for greater regional and global connectivity, it is important for us to focus our efforts and help in the restoration of normalcy along with other countries. Among all these, we need to be cognisant of the threats emanating from IS-KP, or the non-state actors whose imprints are found in the region. We must not forget that energy corridor to the Central Asian Republics CARs has to run via Afghanistan and peace in that country matters not only for our security and economy, but also for regional growth and stability. Pakistan has critical relations with the Far East too, hence, besides diplomatic ties, we need to seek more trade opportunities to bolster our relations with the extended regional countries.
China has been an iron friend of Pakistan who has withstood the rigours of our boisterous history in international relations. China launched CPEC in Pakistan with an outlay of $46 billion which over the period of time has grown over $60 billion. Pakistan’s Gwadar Port has been viewed as a gateway for development to the Chinese western province of Xinxiang. It economises Chinese trade in terms of time and money considerably, an advantage that China will never like to give up. Pakistan is responsible for the security of CPEC projects including Gwadar Port and its approaches. For landward security, a Special Security Division was raised formed while for Gwadar Port and its approaches, Task Force 88 was instituted by Pakistan Navy. Such elaborate setups notwithstanding, the threat to Gwadar Port cannot be overlooked. It is likely to grow in consonance with the growing port operations in the coming times and so must be our preparedness.
It is important to highlight that public diplomacy and digital communication are also key areas which require our immediate attention. Today is the era of digital world and physical distances do not matter. We need to explore this domain and use ‘Digital Diplomacy’ as a tool to supplement our narrative as well as good will. Around sixty percent of Pakistan’s population is below 30 years of age who dwell well in the digital world. There is a need to utilize this potential to its optimum and achieve our foreign policy objectives.
In the evolving milieu, Pakistan has to tread cautiously. Despite experiencing a rough patch with the U.S., Pakistan cannot afford to lose sight of American strategic importance. Pakistan has the advantage of enjoying good relations with the archrivals in the region such the U.S.-China and Iran-KSA-UAE, and can thus act as a bridge between them.

The writer is a Communication Strategist at the Institute of Regional Studies. 
E-mail: [email protected]