Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who replaced Nawaz Sharif in July this year after he was ousted in connection with corruption charges, tried to put up a brave face at the United Nations General Assembly session on Thursday, September 21, especially at a time when his country is facing serious challenges to its foreign policy.
Abbasi, who caught a special attention the day before for not sporting a tie while meeting world leaders, media personalities and a high-profile audience at the world body, spoke on various issues on Thursday, clearly trying to send across the message that Islamabad is not rattled despite the tough challenges it is facing at the moment on various fronts.
Brave face, but for how long?
But how long will this ‘bravery’ stand in reality? Abbasi’s meeting US Vice President Mike Pence and the two sides’ resolve to revive the relationship which has been adversely affected of late, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani’s appeal to Islamabad in his UN speech to engage in dialogue with Kabul and also, the Pakistani Army chief General Qamar Bajwa’s meeting with Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal last month suggest that there is an urgency among the concerned parties to resume the process which can lead to stabilisation of Afghanistan. But does Pakistan itself have enough political stability to prove that Abbasi’s words are meant to be real?
Abbasi said in his speech that it is “galling” for Pakistan to see the amount of blame everybody puts on it for the “military and political instability in Afghanistan” especially after the big sacrifices it has made while contributing towards the campaign against global terror.
The premier’s take sounds good but it is not consistent with the policy that Pakistan has taken over the years – its civilian government, military, ISI, business, law-keepers etc. etc. – towards patronising the Taliban in Afghanistan in every possible way. The Pakistani policy-makers had always hoped that patronising the Taliban would bring it strategic advantage and also economic blessings but the real outcome has been something else.
Years of policy blunders, lack of vision and a stubborn stance on backing the Taliban have hurt Pakistan’s interests more than not. The September 11 attacks had put Pakistan’s dangerous Afghanistan policy under a serious threat and while former president Pervez Musharraf had somehow walked the tightrope in the wake of 9/11 to balance between the US and Taliban, the subsequent leaderships in Islamabad have never succeeded in finding a strong policy to tackle its foreign policy challenges. Sixteen years since 9/11, the Pakistani establishment has not only been badly exposed, but it has also seen a sharp rise in the number of its adversaries, locally as well as globally.
Abbasi said at the UN that Pakistan is not prepared to be anyone’s “scapegoat” but the reality is that the Pakistani state has mostly remained ineffective in pursuing a sound Afghan policy all these years, leading to the surrounding countries distrusting it more for allegedly destabilising the region. To bring into effect a paradigm shift which is essential for Pakistan if it wants to see it at a better position on the Afghanistan issue, Abbasi needs to show an iron will towards bettering relations with its neighbours, including India. But that is much easier said than done.
Abbasi playing to the galleries before elections?
Pakistan’s foreign policy is clearly a prisoner of the past and a little-weight leader like Abbasi is parroting from the old script just to keep the constituencies of himself and his party happy, perhaps because the national elections in Pakistan are not far off. But by issuing hot statements against India and not showing any interest to depart from the game plan of patronising the extremists in Afghanistan to disrupt New Delhi’s plans in that country, Pakistan is only ensuring that its cooperation with either Kabul or Washington to uproot terror will remain unsatisfactory and it will, in turn, build up pressure on Islamabad, despite the presence of its all-weather friend China.
To allow itself a chance to return to reckoning on the international stage, Pakistan must focus on improving its relations with India and Afghanistan which in turn can pave for better Pakistan-US ties. But for that to happen, Islamabad needs a strong leadership and also a foreign policy of consensus which will be free of selfish and suicidal schemes. Under the premiership of Abbasi whose duration in office nobody really knows, expecting a Pakistani policy seeking a genuine solution of the Afghan crisis is akin to daydreaming.
The opinions of this author may or may not reflect the views of The Duran PLC