It’s been 75 years since Pakistan came into being and we are still not sure whether to choose the US-west block or the Russia-China block or to be neutral.

For background, let’s divide Pakistan’s foreign policy from 1947 to today into phases. We had many stages. In the first phases from 1947 to 1953, the start of the Cold War, when the world was primarily divided into two blocks, i.e. US-led capitalists and Soviet-led communists, Pakistan chose to be neutral. But that lasted only briefly in 1953 when we decided to align with US-west, so from 1953 to 1962, Pakistan was allied with US-west. And that did not last long, either. We started rethinking the alignment movement and decided to be neutral again. These were the three phases, and we can see how confused we were.

Later the fourth phase started in 1972 and ended in 1979 when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto took over in the post-breakup era in an environment where the Soviet Union retaliated to Pakistan’s participation in anti-communist pacts by endorsing India’s military adventure in East Pakistan, its stand on Kashmir problem and siding with Kabul on the Pukhtunistan issue. Pakistan was endangered by the India-Soviet collaboration. And Pakistan and the USA were such fast friends whose relations suffered a tremendous setback when the USA gave weightage to India in acquiring unconventional war capability in the post-1971 period. The fifth phase started in 1980 and ended in 1990. And the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan happened for Pakistan- this development was a violation of the independence and sovereignty of a neighbouring, non-aligned, and Muslim state by a superpower. As strains often marred Pakistan’s relations with the Soviet Union, it felt threatened by the idea of having to put up with a massive Soviet military presence in the neighbourhood, dreading direct military pressure or more active Soviet support to the dissident elements in Baluchistan and NWFP. And then, we see the revival of Pakistan-US relations.

The sixth phase is Pakistan’s foreign policy. During the 1990s, there was a drift in Pakistan-US relations; the US shifted its priorities in South Asia from seeking Pakistan’s cooperation to non-proliferation and repairing damage caused to its relations with India due to its Pakistan-Afghanistan policies in the 1980s. The US imposed four types of sanctions against Pakistan during this period:

  • Suspending military sales and economic assistance.
  • Imposing additional sanctions after Pakistan exploded nuclear devices.
  • Imposing more sanctions after the military takeover in Pakistan.
  • Applying limited sanctions to some Pakistani institutions and organizations.

The US also considered declaring Pakistan a terrorist state during the 1990s. Pakistan’s support of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (1996-2001) was another issue of contention between Pakistan and the US. After all that, September 11 happens and changes everything. Pakistan returned to the US camp and increased its support for the US. Pakistan opened its airspace to the US. Aircraft for military operations in Afghanistan and granted permission for US military operations in Sindh and Baluchistan. US security and intelligence personnel conducted joint operations against Al Qaeda.

If we analyze all this, we see Pakistan needed clarification or couldn’t maintain its relationship with the US. And now the recent alleged audio leak of our state minister for foreign affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar, also suggests that we should join the Russia-China block as the global environment is changing, and we have seen Pakistan buying oil from Russia in the current environment where US and West are against them and putting sanctions on Russia. In the end, I have to say we will see where this confusion will lead us.