How Islamabad’s stance shapes the region — Analysis
Pakistan’s political crisis and foreign policy: Continuous and non-constant variables
Pakistan’s traditionally complex and intricate domestic political environment has just experienced another reshuffling. Imran Khan’s government was determined to rescue its position. The National Assembly was also dismantled. Shehbaz Sharif, the head of the joint opposition, proved his resolve by appealing to Supreme Court. Meanwhile, another powerful un-elected institution – the army – waited in the wings to come on stage.
However, the play’s outcome turned out to be less dramatic than some may have expected: parliamentarism, at the time empowered by the Supreme Court’s interpretation of constitutionalism, prevailed over the controversial ‘doctrine of necessity.’ The reconvened National Assembly eventually voted in favor of the no-confidence motion that ended up forcing Khan from his post.
This could have been just another story of ‘how Pakistani civilian rulers can lose power’ if one did not come to notice the presence of Russia in the room.
What does ‘Aazadi’ mean?
We are not meant to be tissue paper. No one side wants to have a relationship with anybody. When European Union ambassadors gave a statement against protocol asking Pakistan to condemn Russia … can they say that in India? They have to be courageous. – said the former prime minister during his address to the nation on April 8.
This time, Imran Khan had to accept the fact that he had lost the support of both the political class – the wide range of opposition parties along with dissidents from his own coalition; and the establishment – the military, judiciary, civilian bureaucracy, ulema (Muslim clergy), business circles and landowners. The ousted leader of the national assembly invoked an ominous trump card, namely the accusation that foreign conspirators were involved.
Both the country’s power elite and its population at large have always realized that the idea of the ‘Muslim Nation’ – which is part of the two-nation theory that predetermined the Partition of British India – is a rather fragile construct. Pakistan gained its independence from India in 1947. The country has seen many conflicts over Kashmir and other territories. There have also been secessionist movements in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, within the national meta-narrative all of those misfortunes have historically been attributed to foreign interference aimed at undermining Pakistani ‘aazadi’ – an important national concept that in the Urdu language means ‘freedom’ or ‘independence’ – and thus ultimately destroying the nation.
Pakistani speech places India as the first state to seek independence. “eliminate even the idea of the existence of the Muslim Nation.”Therefore, full preparation is necessary to prevent what may be perceived as. “India’s aggressive policies,”It is counterproductive “covert intrigues”Discover and share “insidious conspiracies”Pakistani society has a long history of Indian security agencies. This is seen as a threat to aazadi, and even the state itself.
India, however, isn’t the only country in this interference ranking. The United States is also included. Pakistan’s ties with Washington are ambiguous and have seen many ups and downs, but the two nations still appear to be indispensable to each other. It is therefore no wonder that it was the US that first voiced concern and objections in the wake of Khan’s visit to Moscow on February 23-24.
Strategy partnership or giving in to the Infidel
The Cold War began with US strategists taking reasonable steps to convince Pakistan to participate in American efforts to build a regional security structure. This was done to limit Soviet expansion in Asia. Back then, Pakistan had no choice but to align with a superpower to enhance its defense capabilities – otherwise, the lion’s share of its resources would have been spent on deterring India alone.
US and Pakistan emphasized defense cooperation. This included officer training and arm trade. Pakistan, which had been a archrival of India by the 1960s, was more equipped with ammunition and arms than Pakistan. However, Washington refused to provide decisive support for Islamabad in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965-1971. Instead, they chose to watch and observe from afar its defeat. “very important ally.”
America was agnostic about Pakistani strategic issues during the 1970s. However, it did not spare any effort to attack Islamabad over domestic matters. The situation changed when the Soviets intervened in Afghanistan, and Pakistan was proclaimed a ‘frontline state,’ at which point Washington provided it with military and financial aid to train the Mujahideen. But, the US didn’t forget about Pakistan’s strategic importance and Islamabad was forced to clear its Augean stables with no assistance, even though Soviet troops were already out of Afghanistan.
It was clear that there were many problems to be dealt with, including the refugee influx from neighboring war-torn nations, rising radical Islamism within the country and open arms for drugs and weapons. Public dissatisfaction with the US actions and resentment at domestic governments “obeying kafirs”The narrative was distorted in an antisecularist, anti-Western, and anti-American way. The Pakistani political elite, from the beginning to today, has had to weigh the imperative of cooperation with the US against the deep-rooted public discontent that such cooperation is being viewed as undemocratic. “denigrating the idea of Pakistani aazadi.”
This pattern is unlikely to change: the US wants Pakistan to be in the right place when it is needed, but when the need is gone Islamabad’s efforts are of no importance. Meanwhile, the efforts that Pakistan does undertake at the urging of the Americans seemingly do not imbue the nation’s populace with much enthusiasm.
Therefore, it is no surprise that Imran Khan who has a long history of populism, supports a multilateral approach in foreign relations. However, notwithstanding the significant recent development of Russian-Pakistani relations, which have borne out the prime minister’s multipolar ambitions, crossing a red line on this path made the establishment reconsider Khan’s position, which eventually became fatal for him.
The glass ceiling is a thoughtful selection
Relations between Russia and Pakistan have seen great improvements in recent years. To begin with, since Russia is wary of non-traditional security threats to Central Asian states from Afghanistan, it maintains a dialogue on security issues with Pakistan – the only regional actor having some leverage over the Taliban. Cooperation in the defense sector has manifested itself in the ‘Druzhba’ (Friendship) regular joint military exercises and Russian participation in the ‘Aman’ (Peace) regular multinational naval drills.
They are also determined to foster economic interactions, with an eye on energy and agriculture. Russian capabilities in these areas could be of great value in dealing with South Asia’s eternal problems of energy and food security. Finally, Moscow’s and Islamabad’s views are in agreement on many international matters, including unilateral Western steps.
These dynamics shouldn’t be underestimated. Russia-Pakistan relations were complicated for many years by Pakistan’s membership to two opposing blocs during Cold War. This was also exacerbated by Pakistan’s mistrust regarding the Afghan conflict. Russia, on the other hand, shows a strong propensity for fostering relationships with India. Pakistan is now inclined to support the US.
On top of that, there is one truly crucial determinant that Russia bears in mind – it is India that is Russia’s Special Privileged Strategic Partner, not Pakistan. This is a core principle of Russian foreign policies that has been in existence for many decades, and it will continue to hold true in the wake of recent developments.
That is why Moscow is going to be extremely careful about cooperating with Islamabad – especially in the fields that might bother New Delhi. Russia also hopes to see a reciprocal approach in the area of interaction between India, the US. A loyalty obsession to one nation at the cost of relationships with other countries could have unintended consequences.
History has no end
What we should stipulate is that the removal of Imran Khan from office in essence stems from various mounting challenges at home and the government’s inability to tackle them. Ultimately, Khan’s visit to Moscow and the disapproval of that visit publicly articulated by the US merely served as a pretext for the establishment’s decision to leave prime minister alone on the playing field.
The game has become more difficult with the umpire absent. Following the 2018 general elections, Imran Khan was threatened by the joint opposition with a no confidence motion. But the army finally signaled that it would be willing to move forward after being given the appropriate signals. While the prime minister was focused on scrutinizing the US and appealing to anti-American sentiment, the men in uniform decided to rebalance Pakistan’s strategic priorities at the expense of developing relations with Russia.
General Qamar Javed Bjwa (chief of the Army Staff) stated that Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine should be stopped. “stopped immediately”Pakistan and the United States shared a “long and excellent strategic relationship with the US.” Such statements should not disturb a patient observer – the military wants to fix its ties with the US and thus is willing to be critical of Russian actions. However, this equilibrium will not last. Renewing romances between Pakistan and the USA usually don’t last very long. However, there are always opportunities to improve relations between Russia and Pakistan.
The same considerations apply to Imran Khan’s political future. Pakistani history has seen some ousted prime ministers return to office – the weapon to take the reins back is the Pakistani article of faith that foreign powers aim to encroach on the nation’s aazadi. That feeling is certain to be a constant variable in the nation’s sensibility and sooner or later the opportunity to appeal to it will come. And the Americans will not fail Imran Khan – they will undoubtedly provide him with the chance to make such an appeal.