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Why Imran Khan cannot afford to delay foreign policy initiatives any further

Shantanu Mukharji
Shantanu MukharjiSep 03, 2018 | 12:47

Why Imran Khan cannot afford to delay foreign policy initiatives any further

Serious Pakistan watchers are baffled by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s stark indifference towards his foreign policy. Although it hasn’t been even a month since he assumed the premiership of a complex country like Pakistan, a large section of the country’s polity, as well sceptics in the region, are surprised that he hasn’t embarked upon any foreign policy initiatives. 

Imran’s announcement that he would not undertake any trips to foreign countries and accord more priority to his domestic matters has left many intrigued. It has raised questions over whether he has deliberately desisted from visiting China after taking over as PM.

imrankhan-690_090218114951.jpgImran Khan has decided to remain focused on the country's internal affairs for now. (Source: Reuters)

It is important to note the visiting China has become fairly common for Pakistan’s PMs in the recent past. 

It’s equally puzzling to see that Imran is still undecided over whether he should go and address the United Nations in September as it is not only customary but is also expected to give the new Prime Minister an opportunity to meet all world leaders and project Pakistan’s view point. 

Imran Khan has lost an opportunity in not reaching out to the global community and the reasons are absolutely unknown. 

It is also pertinent to point out that Khan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who has not only been educated in the west, but is also suave, experienced and articulate, has said that nobody other than Pakistan Foreign Ministry is responsible for formulating the foreign policy of the country.

What was the provocation for this statement?

Some security analysts and experts on Pakistan reckon that this was possibly to dispel the general impression that it’s the ‘deep state’ or the armed forces who are calling the shots reducing the foreign ministry to a toothless tiger.

What is quite clear is that Khan is still trying to find a firm feet with regards to foreign policy.

Pakistan has not made public the details of the conversation Khan had with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo. It has also not cleared the air over whether Pompeo is visiting Pakistan at all.

Quite naturally there are a lot of speculations and conjectures over the issue. Things look murkier in the absence of any definite road map.

No matter how many times Khan denies the charge, it is quite clear that it is the military which has been in control from day one when it prevailed upon Khan’s plan to invite foreign dignitaries for the swearing-in ceremony. The move deprived Khan the opportunity to come close to or forge a personal rapport with regional leaders. 

In the domain of foreign policy, Afghanistan has not seen any forward movement by Islamabad to strengthen bilateral ties. There was a cautious optimism after Khan took over but its traces soon evaporated. This is surely an unhealthy sign as Afghanistan is facing massive terror attacks both from within and outside. It is believed that the attacks being launched from outside are the handiwork of non-state actors in Pakistan. 

khan-690_090218115145.jpgIgnoring the global community may not prove to be a good strategy in the long run. (Source: AP)

While Taliban is believed to be the main culprit, thousands of Islamic State leaning supporters have firmed up their operations on the Afghan soil.

Khan needs to come one step forward and either play the mediator or issue and unambiguous call to the Taliban cadres, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to put a moratorium on the ongoing terror assaults.

This will give Khan the much needed credibility as a leader working for establishment of peace. This will help Khan’s image not just in Afghanistan but the entire region. 

Khan, however, should not be expected to bring in any radical changes to improve relations with India.

Given the pressure from the military establishment, it is unlikely Khan will be able to do anything substantial on the front.

However, it would augur well for him if he comes up with some conciliatory statements once in a while. Any hardened stance will cost him the goodwill in India.

Many had hoped that Khan’s rise to power would prove a silver lining for Indo-Pak relations. However, the prospects don’t look too good now. 

Khan has no choice but to toe the Chinese line on external matters. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a priority. The Chinese are watching him closely. Given how Pakistan leaders have behaved in the past, there is little hope Khan will behave any different. 

Khan, therefore, needs to reach out to the world leaders without losing any time. He has to realise Pakistan’s external ties are just as worrisome as the internal problems.

Last updated: September 03, 2018 | 19:31
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