Pakistan: Changing the Paradigm in Foreign Policy

« Back

Pakistan: Changing the Paradigm in Foreign Policy 19.12.2017 13:48


At the beginning of September, 2017, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, H. Asif, announced the replacement of the paradigm in the country's foreign policy. The reason for this was the new US war in Afghanistan announced by President D. Trump and partly the accusations of the BRICS countries in condoning Islamabad to terrorists on their territory

The new US strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia (August 2017) and the Declaration of the BRICS countries on combating terrorism, adopted in early September 2017, once again stated the inadmissibility of activity in the region, including Pakistan, of prohibited terrorist organizations. Moreover, foreign militants, carrying out cross-border transitions to Afghanistan, together with Afghan militants conduct subversive activities against Kabul, blocking the process of peaceful settlement in this country. It is obvious that Islamabad rejected all accusations against him.

Despite the similarity of the accusations of the United States and the BRICS countries towards Pakistan, their goals and approaches to peace in Afghanistan remain fundamentally different.

In 2017 President D. Trump made a bid to increase military support to the authorities of Kabul in the fight against the armed opposition. Thus, he radically changed the policy of President Barack Obama. The purpose of the former US administration was to withdraw the bulk of the coalition forces from Afghanistan while simultaneously establishing a balance of forces within the country, which implied a division of power between the Kabul administration and the Taliban. That is why in 2015-2016 the US authorities took part in the quadrilateral negotiations Afghanistan - China - Pakistan - the United States. And announcing a new war in Afghanistan, President D. Trump delivered an ultimatum to the militants about the need to lay down their arms. This is the American formula for the settlement of the situation in Afghanistan (2017).

At the same time, Washington requires Islamabad not only to continue its struggle against the Afghan Taliban, but also to liquidate the leadership of this organization. Such a statement of the issue, in the opinion of the Pakistani military establishment, does not meet the interests of national security. Proceeding from the long experience of the anti-terrorist struggle, it is believed in Islamabad that this will lead to a response reaction - the intensification of militant aggression in the interior regions of Pakistan.

Recently, the media reported a lot about the military operations of the Pakistani army to eliminate or expel local and foreign fighters from its territory, both in the interior of the country and bordering with Afghanistan, the zone of Pashtun tribes. As for the Afghan Taliban, since the 1990s, they have remained for Islamabad or a strategic reserve, or an instrument of governance and influence both for the internal situation and for Afghanistan. At the same time, southern, populated primarily by Pashtuns, the northern neighbor's provinces enter the orbit of protecting Pakistan's national interests.

For a number of reasons, Islamabad is not ready for another war in Afghanistan. And he faced a difficult choice: to accept Washington's ultimatum in the framework of his new strategy or to support the formula for the settlement in Afghanistan proposed at the BRICS summit in Xiamen. In such conditions, the new Afghan vector will determine the "paradigm shift" of Pakistan's foreign policy. What will it be like?

The BRICS countries for several years are promoting two adjacent negotiating projects: the Moscow format of consultations on Afghanistan and "The Heart of Asia - the Istanbul process". In 2017, within the framework of these projects, firstly, the refusal to use military force in Afghanistan was confirmed. Secondly, variants of settlement in this country with wide participation of regional powers are offered: Afghanistan, Iran, China, Pakistan and Russia, Turkey.

The visit to these countries in September 2017 by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, H. Asif, is explained by the search for support in the region, which he received. However, the mechanism of its rendering is not worked out. And this is not accidental due, for example, to the policy of Beijing, which seeks to achieve regulation in Afghanistan under Pakistani-Chinese control. In this regard, over the past few years, China has organized various forums with a reduced number of participants, remaining always at the center of events. In the status of an observer in 2015-2016 the PRC participated in the quadripartite process (Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, USA) to settle the Afghan problem.

In the first half of 2017, already within the tripartite format (Afghanistan, China, Pakistan), Beijing proposed the resumption of quadrilateral negotiations with the participation of the Afghan armed opposition represented by the Taliban. After the failure of these talks in September 2017 during the visit of H. Asif to Beijing, the Chinese side again proposed a tripartite mechanism for meetings of foreign ministers (Afghanistan, China, and Pakistan). Consequently, the United States on the one hand and Afghanistan, Iran, China, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey, on the other hand, have expressed opposite positions on the issue of resolving the crisis in Afghanistan.

An analysis of military sources and materials of Pakistan's foreign policy showed that the peculiarity of the Afghan vector of Islamabad's foreign policy is that it is formed, first of all, by the military establishment. It should be borne in mind that the country's generals supported the Mujahideen in Afghanistan for the last thirty-five years, and in the first decade of the 21st century served as a strategic ally of the United States in the antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan. Simultaneously, Islamabad, at least, condoned the deployment of bases and training camps of local and foreign fighters on its territory.

Considering the foregoing, President D. Trump's statement and the calls of the BRICS countries for strengthening the anti-terrorist struggle are primarily directed towards the Pakistani military. However, Islamabad reacted negatively to the announcement of a new US war in Afghanistan, which in the second decade of the 21st century does not meet the national interests of Pakistan. Therefore, this country is changing its foreign policy priorities towards the BRICS, seeing protection only from the regional states.


Natalia Zamaraeva, senior researcher of the Pakistan sector of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, PHD (history).