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Diplomatic dilemmas

  • Khan might go with what Pakistani leaders have normally gone with

Almost a month into the new government taking oath there already are quite a few talking points. While many of these have come domestically, here we will be looking externally and what the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf led government seems to be up to on the diplomatic front.

Possibly the very first demand that was thrown Prime Minister Imran Khan’s way was for his support for the Saudi led Islamic military coalition in exchange for significant financial relief. It will put him in a tricky spot given the fact that Finance Minister Asad Umar isn’t sold on an International Monetary Fund bailout making loans from Saudi all the more significant.

From the looks of things Khan might go with what Pakistani leaders have normally gone with and that is vowing to safeguard the Saudi territory – owing to its Islamic significance – which in Riyadh means wholehearted military support, while to the rest of the world it can be sold as Islamabad’s neutrality on external Saudi adventures. The problem here being, even by shoring up Saudi defenses, Islamabad allows Riyadh more space to maneuver externally, inadvertently making Pakistan party to Saudi Arabia’s crimes.

Then came Pakistan’s role in the withdrawal of the anti-Islam cartoon competition in the Netherlands. While Islamabad would naturally tout it as a diplomatic victory for itself, given it was practically the sole Muslim state making noise to such an extent, it should’ve made its position against violent threats clear. As a Muslim state it makes diplomatic sense for Pakistan to oppose the cartoon competition, but it should’ve done a better job distancing itself from calls for death – or mass murders in Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s case.

Two days before Wang Yi’s visit, Pompeo met the civil military leadership in Islamabad over the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s role in it

Considering that Geert Wilders announced the cancellation of the competition owing to death threats, by peddling the withdrawal its own triumph inadvertently means Pakistan endorsing the calls for violence. Of course given that Pakistan’s own blasphemy laws sanction death the government would have to have had treaded a fine line, but it definitely could’ve maintained that citizens had no right chanting death to anyone and that it is the sole prerogative of the state, or rhetoric along those lines.

Indeed given the fact that the abovementioned Saudi demands will inadvertently result in bloodshed of Muslims in Yemen – among others – and the fact that China currently has over a million Muslims in ‘reeducation’ camps where they are being taught to ‘unlearn’ Islam means that Pakistan’s prioritising of a cartoon competition was more a brownie hunt than any desire to address Muslim plight.

Among the infinite reasons why Pakistan can’t call China out for its blatant anti-Muslim persecution – like Saudi Arabia – is owing to financial necessities, along of which hover around the very existence of Pakistan’s economy. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit over the weekend might’ve even brought even more financial relief with the prospect of the Free Trade Agreement and China Pakistan Economic Corridor deals being revised. It’s hard to throw ‘end your anti-Islam policies now!’ in the mix when you’re struggling to ask for better terms on a bilateral agreement, and need billions in loan so that you don’t have to go for a 13th IMF bailout.

The IMF has made its terms for Pakistan stricter, including demanding more transparency for CPEC projects after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “There’s no rationale for IMF tax dollars, and associated with that American dollars that are part of the IMF funding, for those to go to bail out Chinese bondholders or China itself.” Therefore, the new government finds itself smack in the middle of the US-China fiscal warfare.

Two days before Wang Yi’s visit, Pompeo met the civil military leadership in Islamabad over the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s role in it. The accusations of Pakistan providing safe havens to jihadists echoed in the meetings, with Islamabad’s sole focus being the depiction of civil military unity among the ranks given that there has been a clear wedge in the past, which Washington has regularly expressed frustration over.

Considering the Donald Trump regime’s singling out of Pakistan as the problem in the region, and expression of constant angst, it makes perfect sense for Islamabad to prefer loans from elsewhere and minimise its financial reliance on the US. But what is also important is to ensure that the terms that Pakistan agrees with China and Saudi Arabia are the least lopsided possible.

K K Shahid

The writer is a member of staff

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