Mar 312017

The foreign relationships engaged in by Pakistan are undergoing some fundamental shifts, and those very much in line with the geopolitics of the world more generally. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is going to be one of the defining national activities for the next quarter-century, and the evolving relationship with Russia, particularly as Russia has entered the search for peace in Afghanistan, is taking on a fresh aspect. Engagement with Russia at a military level has now extended to hosting a military delegation to visit the administrative headquarters of North Waziristan Agency the better to give the Russians an insight into gains on the counter-terror front.

This is not a cosmetic move. The Russians have a keen interest in counter-terror and Pakistan has a military and paramilitary force that are perhaps the most experienced in the world when it comes to actively combating terror on home soil. The bitter rivalry of the Cold War days has dissipated, eventually absorbed by realpolitik and emergent new realities and foes. The Russians would like to see Islamic State rolled back in Afghanistan and elsewhere — see their Syrian intervention — and with America increasingly looking inwards as the Trump administration settles in the stage is clear for a fresh cast of players.

China and Russia have generally convergent regional interests, and the Afghan imbroglio, as currently configured, suits neither. Both have made moves in the direction of engaging with the Taliban. America has stood back and chosen to boycott talks brokered by Moscow in a choice that is long on jerking knees and short on wisdom. For Pakistan internal threats may be parlayed into external opportunities, and we are in the fortunate position of, unusually, being seen as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. The Kashmir issue is nowhere close to a resolution and needs to be boxed off in order that more pressing matters in the short to medium term can be addressed. It would be useful to have a foreign secretary managing the multifarious and multiplying strands of our foreign policy — but that would appear too much to ask of the current government.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 1st, 2017.

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