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Pakistan’s foreign policy in unstable equilibrium

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Middle Eastern Maelstrom,
Ardavan Amir-Aslani

No Pakistani Prime Minister will ever have finished his mandate, and Imran Khan will have been no exception to the rule. Although he was arguably the most high-profile in the post since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s, the former cricketing champion was eventually ousted by a no-confidence motion passed in Parliament last April. Even if many intellectuals and analysts believe that his dismissal is unjust, even sponsored by “external influences”, his political future remains hypothetical.

However, although a populist, Imran Khan will undoubtedly remain one of the prime ministers most truly committed to defending the significant issues of the Muslim world. Thus, in his four years in office, he has only visited the West twice, devoting most of his time to questions specific to the geopolitics of the Middle East and South Asia.

“Khan’s backers, and himself, point to an American conspiracy to explain his downfall. But the former Prime Minister above all posed multiple problems for the Saudis and the Emiratis”

In truth, Imran Khan disturbed, in particular the Pakistani army, conscious of the importance of the relations between Pakistan and the West, its main export market, as well as with China on the financial and strategic level in the face of the ‘India. Khan’s supporters, and himself, point to an American conspiracy to explain his downfall. But the former Prime Minister above all posed multiple problems for the Saudis and the Emiratis. In this regard, it is hardly surprising that the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political Islam based on a democratic system opposes the absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia in every respect, supports Khan and compares his ouster to that of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt. .

Complicated relations with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates

Donors of Pakistan and regularly interfering in its political life, the two petromonarchies have never really hidden their contempt for the “country of the Pure” which has not engaged in their war in Yemen but willingly takes advantage of their portfolio diplomacy, and their distrust of an Islamic republic 220 million strong, thus a serious rival for the leadership of the Muslim world. Khan, precisely, has undoubtedly been a little too critical of the culpable silence of Riyadh and Dubai in the face of the situation in Kashmir since August 2019, or on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to the point of wanting to implement a broad coalition of the main Muslim powers of the Asian world. This illegitimacy trial was never well received, and we remember the blackmail exercised by Riyadh on Imran Khan when he wanted to go to the “anti-Saudi” summit in Kuala Lumpur in December 2019, which brought together the Iran, Turkey, Qatar and Malaysia to discuss the challenges of the Muslim world.

“The two petromonarchies have never really concealed their distrust of an Islamic republic, a serious rival for the leadership of the Muslim world. Finally, it is the deliberate rapprochement with Iran that the two petromonarchies have not forgiven Imran Khan”

Finally, it is the deliberate rapprochement with Iran that the two petromonarchies have not forgiven Imran Khan. Both geographically and culturally, however, it seems more logical for Islamabad to rely on the Islamic Republic which, although under sanctions, remains the other real power in the region, depository of vast hydrocarbon reserves. Tehran is also better suited to deal with issues related to Afghanistan and the terrorism of the Pakistani Taliban, than two states of Wahhabi or similar allegiance which have long supported, both financially and ideologically, the Salafist movements across the Muslim world. It is a proven fact that from the 1960s, Islam steeped in Sufism in Pakistan was clearly corrupted by the Saudi financial windfall intended for the most rigorous madrasas, and with a spirit far removed from the initial culture of the country.

The return to the status quo of Arab-Pakistani relations

For the Arab petromonarchies of the Persian Gulf, the departure of Imran Khan in favor of Shehbaz Sharif, leader of the Muslim League and brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is excellent news which will restore the status quo in which until now Arab-Pakistani relations. The Sharif family is indeed very close to the Saudis, and the new Prime Minister has never failed to criticize his predecessor’s desire for diplomatic independence, as well as the tensions with Riyadh. Coherent, he will therefore reserve his first official visit abroad to the Saudi kingdom. Regaining the friendship of Saudi Arabia seems all the more necessary as the new head of government has before him many economic and financial challenges which are grafted onto the eternal political instability of the country. Pakistan has a debt of more than 100 billion dollars and pays nearly 14 billion a year in repayment of loans contracted with international monetary institutions.

“Regaining the friendship of Saudi Arabia seems all the more necessary as the new head of government has before him many economic and financial challenges which are grafted on the eternal political instability of the country”

But balance remains the key to Pakistan’s foreign policy, and its best insurance against its own domestic challenges. The work done under Imran Khan cannot be undone. Pakistan is a nuclear power which has the potential to impose itself in Asia, provided it chooses its friends well and gets closer to those who are culturally close to it. Finding other donors therefore remains possible, even essential, to safeguard the country’s national interests.

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