Pakistan’s foreign policy is too narrowly focused
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Pakistan’s foreign policy is too narrowly focused

One thing that bothers me about how Pakistan conducts its foreign policy is how narrowly it is focused on a few states. The four horsemen of Pakistan’s foreign policy are: the U.S., China, Saudi Arabia, and India. These states take an overwhelming and disproportionate level of our government’s interest, time, money, effort. Almost everything we do is run through the prism of relations with one or more of these states.

Now, it’s trivially true that some partners and/or rivals will be more important than others, depending on history, geography, the distribution of power, and so on. This much is true for all countries.

What’s unique, or at least noteworthy, about the situation in Pakistan is the near-absence of other areas and regions of the world. Think about it: when’s the last time you heard about an important state visit to/from Brazil? Or Australia? Or South Korea?

I don’t know the first thing about investment and money, but I’ve always heard the phrase “diversifying your portfolio”. Well, Pakistan’s portfolio is not very diverse at all. It puts us at a disadvantage, in that we are more vulnerable to small changes in each of the four aforementioned states.

Furthermore, we leave a lot of potential gains on the table by ignoring different parts of the world. Consider textiles. Pakistan’s textile industry constitutes about sixty percent of its exports. It is a massive, massive part of our economy. So with good reason, we have approached the U.S. (unsuccessfully) and the EU (successfully, it seems) to loosen tariffs and trade barriers on textiles.

Now, with respect to our successful lobbying with the EU, this is great news. The reason this is great news is that there are a number of countries in the EU which, presumably, would very much like our textiles. The following is a list culled from the CIA World Factbook, with countries whose “main” imports include textiles. The EU countries are shaded orange.

EU-importers

Source data: CIA World Factbook

Of course, there happens to be another region of the world that would, presumably, very much like our textiles. Here’s the list from above again, but this time with African countries shaded blue.

Textile-importers1

Source data: CIA World Factbook

Now, it’s perfectly plausible that we have, in fact, engaged in a lot of lobbying efforts for more trade with Africa, and I just haven’t heard about it. But I’ve never really heard anyone else talk about it either. My guess is our economic, political and diplomatic relationships with African countries, particularly the non Arab ones, are essentially dormant.

I’m only using textiles (and Africa, for that matter) as an illustration of a broader point. Pakistan needs to do a better job of engaging with states out there on the basis of mutual interests. Maybe it’s not trade, but rather cultural exchange programs. Or student scholarships, or sports tours, or whatever. There’s a whole lot of foreign policy beyond drones, war, terrorism, and oil, and there’s a whole lot of countries out there not named the U.S., China, Saudi Arabia, and India. I hope the new power team from LUMS in charge of our foreign ministry grapples with this issue a little bit.

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