ISLAMABAD, Sept 8: Pakistan on Thursday hinted at bringing a ‘paradigm shift’ in its foreign policy in view of the fast-changing situation on regional and international fronts, particularly after the new US strategy on Afghanistan and South Asia.
Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, while speaking at a news conference, said the change was necessitated by recent developments “which are perhaps the biggest since the World War II”.
While he said Islamabad was not seeking confrontation with the US, he made it clear that relations with Washington would now be driven by Pakistan’s national interests.
Asif spoke against the backdrop of Pakistan’s ongoing push to recalibrate its approach to respond to the latest challenges thrust upon the government by President Donald Trump’s new roadmap for Afghanistan and South Asia.
The new strategy, while seeking troops surge to break the stalemate in Afghanistan, has envisaged tough measures against Pakistan to change its alleged approach towards certain militant outfits, including the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network.
The government summoned the envoys posted in key world capitals to seek their input in the aftermath of the Trump’s strategy.
Trump’s exit strategy from Afghanistan
Diplomats stationed in the US, Russia, the UK, Afghanistan, India, Iran and Saudi Arabia among others presented their recommendations to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who attended the concluding session of the conference.
After three days of deliberations at the Foreign Office, the envoys advised the government to avoid any ‘knee-jerk’ reactions and prefer diplomacy to confrontation for sorting out differences with the US.
Although details were not made public, official sources said senior diplomats suggested that the government tread a careful path in determining the direction of the country’s foreign policy in the wake of the Trump’s new plan.
The crux of their input was: Pakistan must seek engagement with the US and avoid taking any steps that might pit the country against the super power.
However, they agreed that the time had come for Pakistan to put its foot down to protect its national interests and to not give in to undue pressure being exerted by the Trump administration.
At the press conference, the foreign minister said the envoys reviewed the foreign policy in view of the changing scenario.
“We are undergoing a seismic shift. This is perhaps the biggest change after the World War II,” he said, adding that in view of the new alignments, Pakistan would have to review the situation ‘pragmatically’ and adjust its policies accordingly.
When asked whether the ‘paradigm shift’ means Pakistan would now deal with the US differently, Asif clarified that Islamabad was not seeking any confrontation with the US.
“We want to remain engaged with the US. The Pakistan-US relations have survived many ups and downs in the past and will survive this time too,” he insisted.
However, he made it clear that relations with the US would now be driven by ‘Pakistan’s national interests’.
Clearly drawing the line, the foreign minister said Pakistan would not allow the US and other countries to make it a ‘scapegoat’ for their own failures in Afghanistan.
One of the key aspects of the new Pakistani approach “is to reach out to regional players” for a political solution to the Afghan imbroglio.
“Pakistan strongly believes that Afghanistan is the foremost problem of regional countries – including China, Russia and Iran,” said the foreign minister, adding that emphasis should be on seeking a regional solution to the Afghan problem.
And in order to garner support for such an initiative, the foreign minister on Thursday left for Beijing where he would hold crucial meetings. From there, he will travel to neighbouring Iran, and is also expected to visit Russia and Turkey.
The envoys, said Asif, also discussed how to change the world’s perception of Pakistan and its counterterrorism campaign. Despite its enormous sacrifices as well as the gains, the world views Pakistan’s success through a different lens, he conceded.
“We have discussed this aspect in detail and agreed to work towards bridging this perception gap,” he said, while hinting at the launch of a diplomatic initiative to sensitise the world about its successes in the war on terror.
The foreign minister went on to say “whether or not the world recognises that Pakistan is winning the war on terror, 200 million people of the country bear witness that the country, by and large, is peaceful.”
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He insisted: “Pakistan is the only country that is on the verge of defeating the menace of terrorism. Our national and educational institutions and places of worship are much safer now, as the security situation has significantly improved.”
Asif also played down the hype over the BRICS joint communiqué in which leaders of the emerging economies – including China and Russia – expressed concerns over the threat posed by groups allegedly based in Pakistan.
There was nothing new in the BRICS declaration, he said and referred to the Heart of Asia Conference in December 2016 where a similar declaration was issued which was also endorsed by Pakistan.