You are here

Foreign Policy Trends in Pakistan

  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • July 16, 2010
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: Shri R Banerji
    Discussants: Prof. Kalim Bahadur and Prof. Savita Pande

    The paper titled “Foreign Policy Trends in Pakistan” concerns itself with the context set by 9/11, though its key objective was to analyse the most recent trends in Pakistan’s Foreign Policy. The central argument of the paper is that there is no consensus within Pakistan on the issue of relations with the United States and the rise of radical Islamist groups renders the evolution of such a consensus even more challenging.

    Key Drivers of Pakistani Foreign Policy were identified as:

    • Increasing American Intrusiveness
    • Karzai’s Inclination to Patch up with Pakistan
    • India’s Impatience with Pakistan’s Response to Terrorism
    • Garnering Continued Strategic Support from China
    • Magnifying the India Threat by leveraging its Water Crisis
    • Ensuring Adequate Energy Supplies

    Ms. Kumar argued that within Pakistani circles, mistrust of the US has increasingly less to do with Indo-US relations, but about the American presence in the region. Citing examples of this, she outlined its implications and consequent Pakistani reactions. She also examined the contradictions resulting from Pakistan’s policy objective of playing a central role in the reconciliation process in Afghanistan while simultaneously extending support to the Taliban, the nature of which was further substantiated.

    In relation to India, it was suggested that the tenor of the Pakistani attitude has been largely self–congratulatory in light of resumption of talks. It was contended moreover that the expected gains from the current round of talks must not be over-estimated. Recent co-operation between Pakistan and China was evaluated and understood as being inconsistent with international opinion and certain US policy pronouncements. Conclusion of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline deal was deemed yet another instance of safeguarding national interest despite oppositional American pressures.

    The paper’s overall assessment was that the US is likely to remain a significant element around which foreign policy in Pakistan is shaped. The US continues to perceive Pakistan as a crucial player in the Afghan theatre, even as the latter has redoubled efforts to minimize the scope for active Indian participation. The argument was made in conclusion that dialogue for its own sake was certainly unlikely to resolve outstanding issues that cloud the Indo-Pakistani relationship.

    External Discussants:

    Prof. Kalim Bahadur: On certain very important issues, national consensus within Pakistan remains intact, for example the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Condemnation of deployment of non-state actors as instruments of policy was near non-existent in Pakistan. In the same vein, actions directed by these elements against India enjoyed the tacit support of the establishment. The drone strikes launched from Pakistani soil delegitimised Pakistan’s overt stance that such American actions were counter to its sovereignty. Pakistan’s continued perception of its relationship with China as a useful hedge against both India and the US was also understood as vital to its foreign policy stance.

    Prof. Savita Pande: “Memory”, “external environment” and “state’s domestic composition” are determinants of foreign policy as argued by a recent academic work on the subject. At the institutional level, there is lack of a clear delineation of responsibilities within the Pakistani establishment vis-à-vis external relations. Such entities as Blackwater were functioning in Pakistan with, rather that in spite of, the consent of the Pakistani leadership. Speaking in favour of maintaining an analytical distinction between the Afgan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban, Prof. Pande described the optimistic, pessimistic and pragmatist positions which are all currently in vogue in Pakistan on the matter of dealing with the Pakistani Taliban. China’s pursuit of its own interests in the Af-Pak theatre was briefly examined to draw out lessons for India, while on the Iran-Pakistan pipeline, India’s centrality to the viability and success of this project was postulated.

    Internal Discussants

    Dr. Behuria mentioned the importance of drawing an analytical distinction between objectives and drivers of foreign policy. Adding to the list of drivers on the domestic front, he drew attention to the significance of economic decline and political clout of the military in shaping the context for foreign policy design in Pakistan.

    Once again separating drivers from relevant issues, Dr. Kalyanaraman addressed important shifts in the Afghan scenario and corresponding attempts by Pakistan to reposition itself. He further identified the past year or so as the more closely relevant frame of reference for purposes of arriving at helpful conclusions about new developments in Pakistan’s foreign policy. The future of Afghanistan was singled out as a potently useful prism to anticipate Pakistan’s relationship with the US, China, Iran and India.


    The need to explicitly comment on the extent to which foreign policy in Pakistan is influenced by the military was highlighted and it was suggested to consider ways in which greater civilian control over policy formulation would change its content and character. The author was suggested to give proposals on how the dialogue might be supplemented to attain key goals on the Indian side. It was advised that a considered assessment be made of greater Pakistani involvement in Afghanistan, for reasons of achieving strategic depth, in terms of the backlash that this would have for the Pakistani state. Pakistan’s attempts to strike a balance between its relations with the US and China was identified as meriting close observation.

    Chair’s Summary

    The chair took the view that consensus on key national issues in Pakistan has not quite broken down nor has the influence of the military sustained any erosion. He acknowledged a role for Pakistan in containing the effects of American involvement in Afghanistan while coping with the extremist blowback that this might incur. He concluded by thanking the gathering for a fruitful discussion.

    Report prepared by Kalyani Unkule, Research Assistant, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.