foreign policy pakistan

Written by M. Shaheer Khattak 12:28 pm Articles, Current Affairs, International Relations, Pakistan, Published Content

The Unbalanced Foreign Policy of Pakistan

Lacking a judicious and effective foreign policy, Pakistan has always struggled against an unprecedented combination of challenges related to external relations. M. Shaheer Khattak walks us through Pakistan’s foreign relations with Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, India, Afghanistan, and the United States.
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M. Shaheer Khattak is pursuing his bachelor's in international relations from National Defence University. He completed his intermediate from Cadet College Kohat, where he was also the student editor of the college magazine. He loves to read about history, politics, and international relations. He intends to become an expert on Middle Eastern affairs.


Foreign policy for a country is a tool or instrument used to streamline its goals and deal with other states, non-state actors, IGOs, and international organizations. The success of a country in the global playground depends solely on how effective and robust its foreign policy is. In the case of Pakistan, its foreign policy is fragile, and this instrument is synonymous with a blunt knife that can cut where needed but is not clean and not the most efficient.

This can be attributed to a lack of good leadership because of the constant political instability since 1947, which included the death of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah just after a year of independence. Before Quaid-e-Azam left, he gave us an outline to follow and pursue. How we have and to what extent we have achieved what he wanted is too complex of a question to answer.

Jinnah’s Vision

We will look at what the outline given by Quaid-e-Azam was and then also take into account Article 40 of the Constitution of Pakistan. The following was the vision the nation’s founder, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had for Pakistan’s foreign policy at its inception.

“Our objective should be peace within and peace without. We want to live peacefully and maintain cordial and friendly relations with our immediate neighbors and with the world at large.”

Article 40 of the constitution of Pakistan states the following,

  1. “The State shall endeavor to preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic unity.”
  2. Promote international peace and security, foster goodwill and friendly relations among nations, and encourage peaceful settlement of international disputes.”

Article 40 points out having good relations and unity in the Muslim world. Pakistan has done well regarding this specific point in the article. Pakistan is the only nuclear power in the Islamic world and enjoys warm relations with the Gulf monarchies. Pakistan supports the Palestinian cause and has still not accepted Israel.

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Since its inception, Pakistan has raised the case of the Kashmiri people and has supported their cause at international forums. Pakistan supported its neighbor Afghanistan when the Soviets invaded in 1979. Pakistan took in the highest number of Afghan refugees and, with the help of the CIA, started training the Afghan freedom fighters for the Jihad against the Soviets.

This is the sweet sugar coating that we see on the outside. But as you start to peel off the layers, things get very complicated. Pakistan might have raised its voice for the Kashmiris and the Palestinians, but it has not condemned China over its treatment of Uighur Muslims in its Xingjian province. When the rest of the world criticized China over the treatment of Uyghurs by boycotting the Winter Olympics, PM Imran Khan attended the event’s opening ceremonies.

Saudi Arabia or Iran?

Pakistan has always had to face a dilemma when balancing between the Iranians and the Saudis. It is evident that Pakistan has always preferred the Saudis because of the sectarian similarity and the oil money that is too hard to ignore. Pakistan has had the tendency to always put all its eggs in one basket.

During the Afghan jihad, Saudi Arabia invested a lot in Pakistan by supporting jihad and building religious seminaries. This promoted the Salafist ideology in Pakistani society, heavily influenced by the Wahabi school of thought, followed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This turned out to be a bad investment, for which Pakistan still pays to this day.

It was not all bad, as the Saudis were the ones who supported the nuclear program in Pakistan in the early days. It prompted India to get cozy with Iran and thus invested in the Chabahar port. Pakistan, however, cannot be blamed for everything regarding its relations with Iran. After the Islamic revolution, which resulted in the overthrow of Reza Shah Pehlevi, whom the Americans backed, the Iranian revolutionaries took the American embassy staff hostage.

Pakistan had to choose because it was acting as the frontline state against the Soviet invasion on behalf of America, so it could not be seen warming up to Iran. Pakistan has cultural and religious ties with Iran, and both share similar views regarding the situation in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The Iran Pakistan Gas Pipeline can be a start for the two countries moving forward. 

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India and Kashmir

The foreign policy of Pakistan has always been apparent in the case of India and Kashmir. India and Pakistan joined the two opposing blocs, USSR and America, during the Cold War. For both states, it has always been a zero-sum game. Things would get better for some time, but domestic politics would get in the way where the political leaders would play the anti-Pakistan and anti-India cards on both sides to gain popular support.

Recently, since the arrival of BJP led government in India, things have taken a downturn. The Indian government has revoked articles 370 and 35A, which granted special status to Kashmir. Then the Pulwama episode was also a bitter addition to the already fragile relations that led to the dogfight between the two air forces in which an IAF aircraft was shot down in Pakistan.

Both India and Pakistan have switched the sides that they took during Cold War. America wants someone in South Asia to balance out the Chinese threat, and the best candidate for that is India, as Pakistan would never go against China because of the solid ties that both countries share.

Pak-China Friendship

China has always been Pakistan’s strongest suit. Both the countries have shared fantastic relations since the beginning, except for one border clash in which Pakistan signed over approximately 5,300 km2 of territory to China. This was the start of a good friendship that persists to this day. China supports Pakistan’s position on Kashmir in the United Nations, which is a testament to their good relations.

The initiation of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) project, has given a lifeline to the dwindling Pakistani economy. This project includes a highway infrastructure that will play an essential role in the national integration of Pakistan and become the backbone of the country’s economic sector.

The Gwadar port of Pakistan takes away all the limelight, which is the deepest seaport in the world. The problem with all this that the critics are pointing out is that it is not free and is pushing Pakistan into a further rabbit hole of debt, and maybe in the future, Pakistan might become a victim of the Chinese “dept-trap”. Some have even gone on to draw similarities to the East India Company.


Pakistan’s foreign policy towards Afghanistan has been complicated. Afghanistan was the only country that opposed Pakistan’s entry into the United Nations. Since then, Pakistan has supported the Afghans in their war against the Soviets. After that, Pakistan helped the Taliban take control after the dust settled post-USSR disintegration. After 9/11, the governments in Kabul were not always friendly toward Pakistan, and India took advantage of that.

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The United States

Pakistan’s policy towards America has seen its rough waves and good times. Relations were good during the Cold War when India decided to adopt a neutral stance and Pakistan played the role of regional ally for the United States. Pakistan acted as a frontline state against the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. This was the high point and then came the low end when the Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan.

Pakistan tested its nuclear bombs in response to the Indian threat, and the sanctions followed. Then 9/11 happened, and America needed Pakistan again. Pakistan went back and became a major non-NATO ally. Then the allegations came that Pakistan was playing a double game with the Americans by secretly supporting the extremists. The final nail in the coffin was hit when Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden was killed in a covert operation in Pakistan. It was a blunder, and Pakistan tried its best to cover it.

The US thanked Pakistan for its support, but things were never the same again. Pakistan made huge sacrifices against the War on Terror, and still, it had to fight to improve its image internationally as not being a terrorist state for a long time. Pakistan has been trying to maintain a neutral foreign policy, but the recent episodes indicate otherwise.

The blatant “absolutely not” might have been a brave and bold move, but the visit to Russia afterward did not play into the whole neutral facade. Pakistan only switched sides just like India did. This was also seen as a political move to gain popular support amongst the masses by saying no to the West and capitalizing on the anti-west rhetoric, but maybe it was forgotten just how much the Pakistani economy depended on the West.


Currently, Pakistan’s stance during the Ukrainian crisis has put a deep wedge in the relations between the two countries. Once again, Pakistan has adopted a foreign policy move that is too sharp for its sound. What our leaders lack is good diplomacy. They mostly see things as black and white, which is a flawed approach because everything is gray when it comes to international relations.

We need farsighted leaders who can see things happening in the next 50 years, who would not take bold steps only to win the next election. Pakistan needs visionary leaders to shape its foreign policy

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