Mr. Anthony Stanley and Ms. Adeela Bahar Khan from British High Commission, Islamabad visited Islamabad Policy Research Institute on January 23, 2017 on their request for a meeting with President IPRI. Col. (R) Muhammad Hanif, Research Fellow and Ms. Maryam Nazir, Assistant Research Officer were also present at the meeting. The agenda of this interactive session was to discuss the Pakistan’s foreign policy outlook in the Middle East, options available vis-à-vis evolving global dynamics and order.
Mr. Anthony said that Pakistan holds immense importance in the regional and global politics for its relations with Afghanistan, India, China, Middle Eastern and Gulf countries. He also mentioned about the growing rapprochement between Russia and Pakistan in recent times. In response, President IPRI, Ambassador Sohail Amin said that Pakistan has exemplary relations with Middle Eastern countries. Mr. Anthony considered ‘politico-religious grouping’ as the main reason behind the deteriorating situation in the Middle Eastern region while quoting the examples of Yemen and Syria. Amb. Sohail Amin while presenting his view point said that the western strategies did not work in the Middle East as they were never made in accordance with the tribal nature and culture of those countries. Rather, the policies of military interventions for state rebuilding and efforts to establish western oriented institutions further shook the state structure as it happened in the case of Iraq and Libya. He said that now there exists an understanding that state structures can be restored or built without military intervention. However, former policies have done enough damage and war hit areas would take time to get normal.
While speaking on the role of Pakistan in Middle Eastern turmoil and Pakistan’s standing in the region, President IPRI said that in the specific case of Syria, Pakistan has treaded very cautiously because of the very fragile nature of conflict. Pakistan has clearly asked all the concerned parties to show maximum restraint and to resolve the matters through the dialogue process. Moreover, as Yemen crisis began, the process of decision making was indeed difficult as both Saudi Arabia and Iran are good friends of Pakistan. Seeing the intensity and nature of the crisis, a parliamentary resolution was passed after detailed discussion.
Further, it was said that Pakistan holds a special relationship with Saudi Arabia as they have described us as their closest Muslim ally. Also, there are huge public sentiments associated in Pakistan with the holy places there. Besides, there are 3.2 million Pakistani people working in Saudi Arabia, contributing immensely to the manpower and work force, sending back huge remittances. It is because of this special relation; Saudi Arabia has always helped Pakistan in crucial times. Mr. Anthony also inquired about the purpose of the recent visit of COAS General Javed Qamar Bajwa to Saudi Arabia. In response, it was described as a routine visit that the COAS made to Saudi Arabia.
On bilateral relations with Iran, it was said that Pakistan has a very different relationship with Iran, which are managed really well despite the presence of odds specifically, before the uplifting of sanctions. Moreover, President Rouhani’s visit to Pakistan and emerging Iranian interest in CPEC are some key highlights, adding substance to the revival of Pak-Iran relations.
Amb. Sohail Amin said that Pakistan has cordial relations with the Gulf countries. For instance, Oman had been providing us assistance in the troubled times. Moreover, Bahrain despite being at odds with Iran have very good cooperative ties with Pakistan. With Qatar, Pakistan has active cooperation in the investment and infrastructure development sectors and petrochemical industry. Pakistan maintains similar kind of relations with UAE.
On Daesh, its presence and likely impact on Pakistan and region, Amb. Sohail Amin said that there are no footprints of Daesh in Pakistan however; its presence in Northern Afghanistan is surely a worrisome factor for which Pakistan was ensuring monitored and restricted movement across border.
During discussion, Amb. Sohail Amin asked Mr. Anthony about how he sees the bilateral relationship between US-UK developing under Trump’s Presidency, specifically in terms of European defence. Mr. Anthony said that US-UK relations are special from the perspective of shared history and aligned interests. He said that UK hopes to have good relations with the US under the Trump’s administration. He said that the Prime Minister of the UK Theresa May would be meeting Trump soon. On Trump’s stance regarding NATO, he said it would be early to make a statement on its status as we have to wait and see what translates down into a formal policy in the coming months.
While discussing Trump’s policies for South Asia, it was said that there was still time for President Trump to develop an understanding of the real situation so as to ensure the prevalence of rational policies. On the US tilt towards India, withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Indian ambitions of diplomatic isolation of Pakistan, Amb. Sohail Amin said that President Trump is expected to pursue national policies in South Asia. It was stressed that Afghanistan must work on border management. The Afghan government should endeavor to bring various ethnic groups on table for talks in order to resolve internal issues while refuting Indian pressure.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the speakers and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.