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Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Challenges



The new government in Pakistan will have to take some hard decisions on difficult issues pertaining to foreign policy, even though the choices will be very limited. Numerous complexities will emerge not only in its dealings with its immediate neighbours like Afghanistan and China, but also external players in the sub-continent, predominantly the US.

As far as Afghanistan is concerned, the most difficult challenge for the new Pakistani leadership will be how to manage the situation post-2014, and how best to guard its interests. Within a year, two things are expected to happen: fresh elections for the Afghan President and the withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan. In a situation where Karzai is not very popular either with the non-Pashtuns or with the Taliban, Nawaz Sharif will have an onerous task to ensure that the next president is acceptable to Pakistan, and will help in safeguarding Pakistan’s interests. The second part of the challenge will be the roadblocks to the reconciliation process and how Nawaz Sharif will influence the final outcome – whether he will continue to give support to the Taliban, which will not be acceptable to the Americans or to Karzai, or whether he will try to accommodate the non-Pashtuns and non-Taliban Pashtuns to arrive at a durable solution. The core interest of Pakistan will be the same, to ensure that a pro-Pakistan dispensation is in place once the Americans leave. Whether or not to support the Taliban will be a difficult choice.

The Afghan conundrum and Pakistan’s response to it will shape the attitude of the US towards Pakistan, giving rise to challenges. If there is no change in policy with regard to the Taliban, and the Sharif government also continues to support the Taliban and remains guided by the army or ISI, then it is going to earn the ire of the US. This may be circumvented to an extent, if the US and Pakistan reach an understanding about giving the Taliban a role in government. The issue of drone attacks will acquire salience. Only if the Pakistan government is able to control militants from the FATA area and prevent them from attacking Afghanistan, can the Americans be expected to stop launching the drone attacks. If not, the drone attacks are likely to continue. This would create problems within Pakistan, given the immense opposition to drone attacks within the country. In the run up to the elections, it became apparent that both the PML (N) and the PTI considered drone attacks as being undesirable. Relations between Pakistan and the US are likely to remain tense. This will have a bearing on continued economic and military aid from the US which is important elements in the two countries relationship. The Afghanistan situation, the condition on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and the ability of the Sharif government to control the militants will determine the overall nature of Pakistan-US relations. Nawaz Sharif realising the importance of the American relationship will try to remove misgivings, even though there will be limitations to it.

China has been a traditional source of military hardware for Pakistan and has invested in areas like telecommunications, ports and infrastructure. Efforts are on to explore trade and investment opportunities. China has taken operational control of the Gwadar port and continues cooperation in the nuclear field. At the same time, the Chinese have strong reservations about militancy in Pakistan and militancy emanating from Pakistan which has been creating problems in its Xinjiang province. Yet, this problem is unlikely to jeopardise relations between the two countries. They are also concerned about the situation in Afghanistan. Despite the all weather friendship, Pakistan cannot rely on China to bail it out economically. In some areas, China has not been as forthcoming as expected by Pakistan. Pakistan has been in need of economic aid, but it has become apparent that China is not catering to this need of Pakistan, given its obvious reluctance to cough up aid and budgetary assistance. However, the strategic aspect of the relationship will remain strong because of China’s own interests. While there is consensus within Pakistan about its relationship with China, this is not so about its relationship with the US. There is no doubt about the close cooperation between Pakistan and China and the future trajectory of that relationship, given China’s support for Pakistan diplomatically. Problems over extremism flowing from Pakistan, and unmet expectations for aid would remain minor irritants in that relationship.

Basically, one should not expect any drastic change in the foreign policy orientation of Pakistan, because Pakistan’s geopolitical interests will not allow the new government to bring about radical change. Unless ofcourse: (1) it controls the domestic militants with a heavy hand, and (2) the new government decides to support a representative elected government in Afghanistan (supports the President and the cabinet of the President which would be representative of the members of the former Northern Alliance as well as the Pashtuns), and does not rely only on the Taliban.

Civilian oversight on security policies can perhaps be expected to be stronger than before, given Nawaz Sharif’s political stature and the broad-based mandate from the people. Yet, to imagine that the army will not have much of a role will be unrealistic, as policies will have to be carried forward by the army. Hence, the civilian government and the army will have to work in tandem.

If there is scope for change, perhaps it is only with India, as Nawaz Sharif could give an assurance that he will not allow terrorism emanating from Pakistan’s soil, and will take some action against the Mumbai culprits. Also, as a businessman, Sharif attaches more importance to improving trade relations with India. Given the knowledge that US and China cannot be reliable partners to bailout Pakistan in an economic crisis, there is greater scope for change in attitude towards India. In the light of this, trade and investment cooperation can be expected to increase.

Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.inhere .

Sumita Kumar

Sumita Kumar is Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.


In-depth research, presentation, preparation of reports on South Asian security for various agencies and organisations (for instance, report on "Major International Players and India's Neighbours: Pakistan," as part of a National Security Council Secratariat (NSCS), Government of India, project on India and the World in 2020: Security Perceptions July 2001) and organising colloquia on a range of security related issues. Briefings and lectures on Pakistan's foreign policy, domestic politics and South Asian security concerns. Was Staff Representative on the Executive Council of the IDSA from September 2004 till October 2006.

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Swaraj to Embark on China and Mongolia Visits

China had earlier said that the visit of the External Affairs Minister will further enhance political trust between the two countries. 



NEW DELHI: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is leaving for China today on a 4-day visit. She will participate in a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

She will hold talks with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi tomorrow. This will be Swaraj’s first meeting with Wang after he was elevated last month to be the state councillor.

China had earlier said that the upcoming visit of the External Affairs Minister will further enhance political trust between the two countries.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying had said that the visit would also elevate the China-India strategic cooperation partnership.

Sushma Swaraj will be also on a two-day visit to Mongolia from 25th of this month. This will be the first visit of Swaraj to Mongolia.  The last visit of Indian External Affairs Minister to Mongolia was 42 years ago.

During her visit, Swaraj will co-chair the 6th round of India-Mongolia Joint Consultative Committee meeting, IMJCC, with Foreign Minister Tsogtbaatar, covering a range of issues including, inter alia, political, strategic, economic, educational and cultural ties. The last meeting of IMJCC was held in New Delhi in 2016.

During her visit, the Minister will also deliver the keynote address at the Kushok Bakula Birth Centenary Celebrations in Ulaanbaatar commemorating the birth anniversary of Late Venerable Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, a highly revered Buddhist leader and monk from Ladakh, India and a former Ambassador of India to Mongolia.

Bakula Rinpoche as the longest-serving Indian Ambassador to Mongolia made a seminal contribution to the promotion of India-Mongolia ties.

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Oli’s India visit: Resetting Bilateral Relations for Mutual Benefit

The principal purpose of the visit was to remove the mistrust that had emerged in the bilateral relations.



After a brief interlude of turbulent bilateral relations starting September 2015, a U-turn appears to have been effected in India-Nepal relations after the December 2017 elections in Nepal. Prime Minister Modi congratulated the top three political leaders of Nepal over the telephone on December 21 for holding the elections successfully.

Exactly a month later, he congratulated the UML chairman and then PM-in-waiting KP Sharma Oli over the UML-led left alliance attaining a majority in Parliament and offered India’s unconditional support for and commitment to work with the new government in Kathmandu.

As part of confidence-building measures, on February 1, Modi sent External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as special envoy to discuss bilateral relations with the left alliance leaders, and especially with Oli. Media reports indicated that the Swaraj visit took place upon a special request from Oli to Modi. During that visit, Swaraj conveyed Modi’s message and also invited Oli to undertake an official visit to New Delhi after assuming office.

Visit Outcomes:

The U-turn culminated in Prime Minister Oli’s three-day official visit to New Delhi starting April 6. The visit is widely rated as most successful and historical. In contrast to Oli’s previous visit in February 2016, as well as to the visits made by Prachanda and Deuba in September 2016 and August 2017, respectively, the current visit of Oli has been characterised as remarkably different.

First, Oli was received at the airport by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who is second in rank in the Modi cabinet.

Second, not only was Oli’s first foreign visit to India but even his first official meeting as PM took place with Indian business leaders on which occasion he invited Indian investors to Nepal.

Third, the two leaders held a one-on-one meeting for over one hour at Modi’s residence before the delegation level meeting. Such one-on-one meetings rarely happen during visits of high level delegations to India.

Fourth, other than the 12-point regular joint statement, three special statements on agriculture, rail linkages up to Kathmandu, and inland waterways were issued during the visit.

Fifth, for the first time in the last three years, the joint statement did not mention internal issues of Nepal such as amendments to the new constitution, the inclusion of minorities, Madhesi, etc.

Last, but not the least, both leaders found synchronization between their favourite development frameworks – ‘Sabka Sath Sabka Bikas’ and ‘Samriddha Nepal Sukhi Nepali’.

Purpose of the Visit:

The principal purpose of the visit was to remove the mistrust that had emerged in bilateral relations in the wake of Nepal’s adoption of the new constitution and India’s reservations about some of its provisions.

The relationship had reached a new low when Nepal unilaterally recalled its ambassador and cancelled its President’s India visit in May 2016.

A thaw emerged only after the completion of the Parliamentary elections in December 2017.

While addressing Nepal’s Parliament before his three-day India visit, Oli said that “the visit is aimed at deepening the relations that have subsisted between Nepal and India since ages.”

From the Nepali point of view, the other purposes of the visit could have been to seek India’s support for economic development, move forward on the implementation of past agreements and ensure a mutually cooperative relationship.

Nepal also wanted to re-frame its bilateral relationship with India in the context of recent domestic and regional developments.

Mutual Feeling to Mend Relations:

For its part, India too undertook unilateral steps towards course-correction. This, despite all those internal issues in Nepal that had created the rift in bilateral relations remaining unaddressed.

There could be many reasons for India’s course correction.

First, since India values democracy, Modi personally felt that the public mandate in favour of the UML-led left alliance needs to be respected and that India should support institution building in Nepal under a popular government.

Second, this realization in New Delhi may have also been occasioned by changes at the bureaucratic level — those officials who dealt with Nepal affairs ever since the constitutional promulgation process had left their desks in the foreign office and agencies from March 2017 onwards. It is possible that new officials posted in key positions and tasked with following Nepal perhaps started looking at the bilateral relationship from a different perspective.

Third, domestically, Modi came under tremendous pressure to improve relations with neighbouring countries and especially with Nepal with which India shares a multi-layered relationship. The Indian media was particularly critical of Modi’s Nepal policy in the post-constitution period.

Fourth, the more than 70% voter turnout and the active participation of Madhesis and Janajatis in Nepal’s three-level elections – local, provincial and federal – under the new constitution forced India to revisit its earlier position, shed reservations on the constitution and modify policy towards Nepal.

Even as India reached out to the new government in Kathmandu, the Oli government had its own reasons to respond positively to the Indian overtures.

First, it needed massive developmental assistance to fulfil its poll promises like roads, rural electrification, drinking water, irrigation, jobs, hospitals, industrial zones, railways and airports.

Despite China’s increasing economic cooperation with Nepal, India continues to remain Nepal’s largest trading and business partner.

Further, India is the only transit country for Nepal’s third country trade despite having signed a transit agreement with China in March 2016.

Second, the Oli government also realized the requirement for massive funds to implement federalism through the creation of the necessary administrative infrastructure in the provincial capitals.

Since China opposed federalism in Nepal, the Oli government was not sure about receiving Chinese financial support for that purpose.

Therefore, it decided to explore the prospects for India’s support in this regard. And third, politically, Oli might have felt that rapprochement with India could prevent the formation of a non-UML government in Kathmandu given the slow progress in the unification of the two left parties and intra-party factionalism in the UML. If such a situation were to unfold, Oli could seek the support of the Terai-based parties to remain in power.

Trilateral Cooperation:

Therefore, despite winning the elections on a nationalist plank by projecting India as an interfering neighbour, Oli chose New Delhi as his first port of call. He was well aware of India’s obsession about every new Nepali PM undertaking the first official visit to India. He could undertake the visit with confidence without being apprehensive of its fall-out on Nepal’s relationship with China because the latter, in a statement issued in March 2018, appreciated Nepal’s effort towards adopting an independent foreign policy and “developing friendly and positive relations with its neighbours.”

Earlier, China had also advised Nepal to maintain good relations with India. Chinese analysts argue that such a rapprochement between New Delhi and Kathmandu could create the ground for trilateral cooperation and successful implementation of BRI projects in the Himalayas.


No doubt, the purposes of the visit have been achieved and a new phase of relationship has begun with India acknowledging Nepal as an ‘equal partner’. While the visit has set a new tone in the relationship, it has also brought fresh challenges to the fore in terms of each country addressing the other’s concerns.

Certainly, the challenges are more for India than they are for Nepal. There is a trust deficit in Nepal because of the Indian reputation for delaying implementation of various projects. This has sent a wrong message to Nepal that the delays are deliberate.

After Oli’s latest visit, which has created new expectations in Nepal, India needs to seriously address this problem of delivery-lag.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.inhere.

Nihar Nayak

A Research Fellow with IDSA, New Delhi, Dr Nayak has a PhD in International Politics from JNU. He was Visiting Fellow to the Peace Research Institute Oslo in June 2006 and in July 2007. Dr Nayak has both national and international publications including the book Strategic Himalayas: Republican Nepal and External Powers.

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Commonwealth to Take Action on Cybersecurity by 2020

The declaration is the world’s largest and most geographically diverse inter-governmental commitment on cybersecurity cooperation.



LONDON (England): The Commonwealth countries have unanimously agreed to take action on cybersecurity by 2020.

In a landmark declaration at the end of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London, the leaders of 53 countries agreed to work closely to evaluate and strengthen their cybersecurity frameworks and response mechanisms.

A release issued, termed the declaration as the world’s largest and most geographically diverse inter-governmental commitment on cybersecurity cooperation.

It followed an announcement by the UK government pledging up to 15 million pounds to help the Commonwealth nations strengthen their cybersecurity capabilities. It also aims to tackle criminal groups and hostile state actors who pose a global threat to security.

The leaders also expressed their strong support for the multilateral trading system and adopted a six-point connectivity agenda to boost trade and investment links across the Commonwealth.

They also agreed on a bold, coordinated push to protect oceans from the effects of climate change, pollution and over-fishing.

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