Pakistan’s Foreign Policy

Presentation in Rabita Forum International Seminar held on 11th August, 2018

By Prof Dr Tanweer Khalid

Pakistan’s founding father Quaid e Adam Mohammed Ali Jinnah wished to build friendly and cooperative relations with its neighbors. Idealistic yet inspirational, the nascent state had to face the realities of the challenge to peaceful co-existence in view of the regional hegemony of the Cold War. Pakistan began to look outward for friends and allies to safeguard its Independence, strengthen its security and improve its economic situation.

Jinnah’s concept of Pakistan as a Muslim, liberal, democratic and modern nation-state predisposed him in favour of close relations with democratic countries. (1) Jinnah played special tribute to USA for inspiring nations striving nations striving for Independence from foreign rule as well as extending warm praise for French ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity.

But Pakistan was not motivated by the ideals of the Cold War and it developed friendly relations with People’s Republic of China disregarding the pressures of the military alliances of its partners led by the United States.

The foreign policy of Pakistan after partition was to be mounded in the crucible of its interaction with its neighbor India.(2)and the vision of the Quaid ,who was a man of integrity, having a modern intellect, committed to the principles of peace, faith and confidence in human capacity to resolve differences through law and logic.

His deputy, Liaqat Ali Khan believed in a progressive, democratic polity founded on Islamic principles of social welfare. So the state started without any narrow and special commitments in the international sphere.(3)

Pakistan’s Foreign Policy in the initial years revolved around security, Independence, cooperation and collaboration but all of it could only be a vision without goodwill, accommodation and statesmanship.

So the focus and concerns centered primarily on India-Pakistan relations and Kashmir, regional neighbors Iran and Afghanistan, distant friends China, security alliance CENTO and SEATO, relations with Muslim countries and partnerships of the Transatlantic region.

The departing British colonial administration headed by Lord Mountbatten did not play a helpful neutral role to ensure a peaceful partition of India and his attitude was a mixture of cynicism and unprincipled self-interest. (4)

The dawn of Independence threw Punjab and some other regions into a state of turmoil, communal massacres and unparalleled exodus of refugees.

India-Pakistan Relations and Kashmir

Officially the Indian National Congress accepted the partition of India but three days before the 3rd June plan Gandhi declared that even if the whole of India burns, we shall not conceive Pakistan. (5)

Having been born in these circumstances Pakistan developed a ‘siege mentality’ and India’s uncalled-for aggressive stance aggravated the misgivings between the two countries and deepened the threat perception. Actions of Indian government in annexation of Junagarh, Manavadar, Goa, Sikkim, Hyderabad and its defiance in the UN for such a forcible occupation, denied to Pakistan negotiations for a peaceful solution on Kashmir.

The UN took a principled position for Kashmiri people to vote in an impartial plebiscite but India unilaterally insists to this day that Kashmir is its integral part and so its internal matter. Bilateral talks at various levels have produced no results and India opposes good offices role of even friendly countries as well as international mediation.

This is paradoxical and even iconic for a country which is sworn by its leader Mahatima Gandhi, the exponent of the philosophy of non-violence. Pakistan fought two wars with India I 1965 and1971 and lost half of its territory while Indian position on Kashmir remained the same.

The breakup of Pakistan and separation of East Pakistan resulted in a change in the geo-strategic position of Pakistan because its Linkage with S.E. Asia was gone and it became more a part of the Middle East and Central Asia.


Pakistan looked for alliances for its security and economic cooperation having India as a neighbor who lost no opportunity in maligning Pakistan always hoping to occupy it as it had done with its other smaller neighbor’s. So Pakistan entered into four security alliances:

  1. Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement 1954 with the US to fight totalitarian concepts and to promote freedom and democracy.
  2. SEATO. 1954.

Pakistan was invited by US to join so that south Asian countries could provide a military backing. Pakistan was dejected from the beginning because it did not provide sufficient financial assistance of the US which was conditional being specific to communist aggression and excluded involvement in India-Pakistan dispute.

The 1965war with India and the 1971 military intervention in Pakistan were not considered to be within the purview of the treaty. Pakistan withdrew from the pact in 1972.

  1. Turkey and Iraq laid the foundation of the Baghdad Pact in 1955 for security and defense (later called Cento) which Pakistan was not very keen to join because it did not see eye to eye with Washington and London on Middle East issues.

Pakistan was historically supportive of the Palestinian cause, friendly with Iran and even sympathetic towards Egypt despite its emphasis on Arab Nationalism, it enjoyed close relations with Saudi Arabia, Jordon and Iraq.

  1. Bilateral Defense cooperation Agreement1959.

In this United States pledged to assist Pakistan in case of armed aggression in preservation of national Independence and promotion of economic development.

Pakistan regarded this alliance with the US as ‘the sheet anchor of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy’, but when it developed friendly relations with China ,United States decided to provide military aid to India and USSR abused its veto in the security council to prevent adoption of every resolution on Kashmir.

This was because USSR was outraged by Pakistan’s decisions to allow US spy aircraft to fly from Peshawar for high altitude surveillance on Soviet territory.

Pakistan’s multilateral diplomacy

Pakistan-US Relations were under a strain since 1962 onwards because Pakistan had achieved a kind of parity in its relations with the US, China and USSR. When it quit SEATO and Cento it was able to join NAM (non-aligned movement) thereby filling the gap in its international profile. Absence from NAM was a stigma on Pakistan’s Foreign Policy and had led the field open for Indian manipulations.

Though NAM’s membership has not been worthwhile as it has been rather ‘tall on rhetoric and short on substance’ (6) it has been outspoken on political issues of the third world like anti-colonialism and racial discrimination. Though the dimensions of East and West are no more, still, even in a unipolar world the issues of the third world remain.

Relations with the Islamic world

Apart from the perennial antagonistic relations with India another dimension of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy is having close ties with the Islamic world not only because of its ideology but by its constitution as well.

It has provided enthusiastic support to liberation struggle of many Muslim countries in Africa, namely Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Sudan and Somalia. It has supported Indonesia, Muslims in Bosnia, Chechnya and Kosovo.

It has remained unwavering in its support to Palestine and the Arab cause. It stands for the status of the holy city of Jerusalem against Zionist and US approach antagonizing both as well as the western media.

Pakistan has very strong and growing bonds with Turkey collaborating in economic bonds in ECO. It is successfully extending its ties with Central Asian states after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Saudi Arabia is a country perhaps closest to Pakistan’s heart having a tremendous emotional and religious attachment.

Both countries have stood by each other on most political issues. Pakistan has provided security support to S. Arabia in its defense against Israel and S. Arabia supports Pakistan on the Kashmir dispute. But after the Islamic revolution in Iran the threat perception to Saudis has changed and it was this threat perception which propelled Saudis to support Iraq in the 8year war ending in 1988.

Iranian influence is visible in Pakistan’s language and culture and there is tremendous goodwill for Iran amongst the Pakistani people. It is also a strategic necessity for Pakistan because of Indian hostilities.

There were some differences between the two countries when relations became lukewarm after the revolution. Pakistan was viewed as pro-west and its old links with the shah aroused some suspicion. Also communal leanings between Shia and Sunni population of Pakistan brought some discomfort. Presently ties between the two countries have stabilized in view of economic and strategic demands.

Libya, Egypt and Palestine have all fared well in Pakistan’s foreign policy with a few ups and downs. Gulf States have been a priority area for Pakistan and it has received substantial economic aid from UAE.

African Muslim countries have been ignored by Pakistan’s policy makers to some extent but it has been outspoken in the cause of their liberation from colonial masters. Muslim countries from S.E. Asia like Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam have goodwill for Pakistan.

Relations with China

Pakistan and China have drawn closer since Pakistan has shown the courage to resist the economic and political pressures of America breaching the ring which USA, USSR and India had built around China.

A unique feature of China’s policy towards Pakistan was to give respect to Pakistan’s sovereignty and when Pakistan went forward to improve its relations with the Soviet Union in1960,China did not hold Pakistan back. Relations between them have continued to deepen and the result of this all-weather friendship is the CPEC.

Relations with Afghanistan

Few countries are closer in culture and history as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Soviet intervention in Afghanistan provoked a deep sense of insecurity and alarm in Pakistan but it exercised prudence in deciding its policy. Not ready to pitch itself against a super power it hitched its diplomacy to the hope of a political situation to the Soviet intervention through the UN.

Pakistan’s expectations of friendly relations with Afghanistan and later its Islamic government under the Taliban was dashed because of the proxy wars of major powers engaged in the new Great Game. According to the UN Secretary General foreign military assistance continued unabated throughout 1997 in blatant violation of UN General Assembly and Security Council.

A sinister legacy of the Afghan crisis for Pakistan was spillover of extremism and weapons, influx of refugees and narcotics. Pakistan’s interest lay in an end to the Afghan civil war and formation of a unity government so that the burden on its economy by hosting Afghan refugees can be over.

US and the West had better resources to deal with the Taliban but Washington put the blame on Pakistan and covered its own error by imposing sanctions and walking away. Since then Pakistan is putting an effort for maintaining relations with Afghanistan based on mutual goodwill as a focus of its foreign policy for peace in the region.

Security Concerns

Like any other country Pakistan also keeps security as a focus of its foreign policy. Its Nuclear development programme has made steady progress since 1980’s in view of India’s aggressive postures and recurrent plans for air strikes on Kahuta which is disheartening but not surprising.

Pakistan has not signed the CTBT because India has not assuring the world that its nuclear programme is for deterrence against India and that it is willing to refrain from weaponisation and deployment of missiles provided India does the same. The nuclear dimensions of the security environment of both the countries adds to their responsibility for avoiding a conflict, remove tensions and find solutions to the causes of the conflict.

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Pakistan was dragged to be a part of the War on Terror by the United States and was asked to do more all the time while indirectly favouring India all the time. Afghanistan and India matter the most in Pakistan’s foreign policy for peace in the region and economic development.

This entails good relations with both. Peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan is a priority issue revolving around border stability, transit facilities for trade, apportionment of water in the Kabul river basin and law and order.

Pakistan’s relations with India have darkened and dangers of an armed conflict cannot be averted. There has been a stalemate on disputes and dialogues and rise of Hindutva and indifference of the Modi government on killing sprees of its vigilantes has fuel to the fire.

Liberation efforts of Kashmiris have led to their brutal suppression by the Indian forces but Pakistan continues to support the freedom struggle of the Kashmiris through an impartial plebiscite. Pakistan’s foreign policy has remained constant as the father of the nation had outlined and whatever policy adjustments were made it was because of the policies of the Great Powers in S Asia.

Our western leanings were because of strategic compulsions and economic constraints. Having a futuristic approach we must promote proactive diplomacy, exercise caution and restrain, learn from our mistakes and review our policies.

When the new government is fully installed in power and the varied perspective given by the prime minister -in-waiting is put into effect, the much needed cordiality in relations with the US, Afghanistan and India will take form which appears to be pragmatic and goal oriented but based on integrity and self-respect of the nation.

Abdul Sattar. Pakistan’s Foreign Policy 1947-2016. A concise history 4rth ed Oxford University Press. Paper backs 2017. P13


  1. S M Burke and Lawrence Ziring. Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Oxford University Press. 2nd ed. 1990
  2. Shahid M Amin. Pakistan’s Foreign Policy. A reappraisal 2nd ed. Oxford University Press. Paperbacks 2010
  3. The Times, London of 5 June 1947, quaked in G W Chaudhry, Pakistan’s Relations with India. P84
  4. Shahid M Amin. Pakistan ‘S Foreign Policy-a reappraisal. 2nd ed. Oxford Pakistan paperbacks 2010, p123

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