Islamabad : Muhammad Athar Javed, Director General Pakistan House:
Pakistan also maintains close relations with the Islamic countries of the Middle East. These ties are important for religious, strategic, political, and economic reasons. Pakistan’s foreign policy fostered stronger ties with the Middle East through expanded trade. In addition, Pakistani workers employed in the Persian Gulf states, Libya, and Iran provided remittances to Pakistan that was a major source of foreign-exchange earnings. Foreign policy is all about interest and engagements, panel will elaborate further.
General Phil Jones (retd.), former Chief of Staff NATO (UK), Chairman Army Benevolent Fund, UK- International Security Advisor:
First of all, Pakistan has achieved so much in economic, political and security fields. Foreign policy is all about influence, engagement and interests. Pakistan has a long way to go. Pakistan is becoming stronger and confident with every passing day. There is a need to avoid the trap of making assumptions and grab the significant opportunities. Dynamics are constantly changing and they require a careful review of a role that they play in Pakistan’s geostrategic radar. Like every other State, Middle East has its own interests and perspectives. Firms are more invested in gaining their interests foe which deeper engagement between Middle East and Pakistan is needed. It is also important to note that USA and China are becoming competing blocks, Pakistan has established relations with China, Russia and Iran, on the other side there are UK, USA and EU. Pakistan has three potential areas to increase engament with Middle East i.e. Fiscal, Regional military relations and finding Security solutions. Military to military engagement is easier than political to diplomatic engagements.
Syed Muhammad Ali, Director Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS):
Pakistan’s foreign policy towards Middle East should be understood in terms of history, Political, economic and security dimensions. At the time of independence in 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah clearly mentioned that Pakistan will be a significant part of global and Muslim world. Pakistan is a nation size, identity and geography that it can play an important role in world peace and prosperity. Pakistan is a rare and unique nation which is why closely linked with Middle East because our identity is heavily influenced by it. Middle East is not only Arab world but it has been cardinal principal of Pakistan’s foreign policy. Pakistan’s foreign policy towards Middle East is to not take sides if two Muslim states are in a conflict, only play a part of facilitators without any military invasion. Pakistan’s approach has been strong and vocal regarding human rights on every forum. Pakistan believe in current global transformation and to stay non-aligned. Pakistan’s foreign policy is not zero-sum and is not based on taking sides, only facilitation and conflict management if required or asked. Pakistani leaders have been involved in resolving and resorting issues previously as well. Pakistan has trained and groomed many diplomates from 41 states and there has been a regular participation from brotherly countries. In terms of security, it has to be seen in detailed and different context. Besides China, Turkey has been greatly supporting Pakistan and Pakistan’s national security. Pakistan expects other Arab states to be friendly and critical as well.
Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, Professor School of Politics and International Relations at Quaid-e- Azam University, Islamabad :
The approach of bilateralism serves the national interest of the state. Keeping in view the region of Middle East strong bilateralism serves the national interest of Pakistan. The dynamics of strategic, economic and politics will determine whether the foreign policy of a state is grounded in the form of group alliances or bilateral relations. The mature states prioritize their national interest. Middle East is of significant importance to Pakistan for reasons that are political, economic, religious and cultural in region. For example, Middle East is a big market for Pakistan. There are three major groups to keep in mind when considering strong bilateralism in the Middle East: GCC, Turkish group and lastly Iran. If focusing on pursuing the national interest Pakistan needs to establish good relations with all of these three groups. In 2014, through a unanimous decision in the Parliament, Pakistan undertook the approach of neutrality which means adopting a bilateral attitude. By embracing a neutral approach Pakistan avoided aligning with one state against another. For economic prosperity, all countries of Middle East serve the national interest of Pakistan. Thus, Pakistan must adopt a bilateral approach where the national interests of countries converge.
Mr. Umer Karim, PhD Scholar, Birmingham University (UK) and Visiting Fellow at RUSI, UK:
It is of the view that Middle East and Politics has failed over the time, so the lens through which we look at Middle East needs to be changed and corrected. During the 1970s, few unfortunate events took place which changed and created the political spheres between Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan. In 70s, Iran and Middle East were invested in opposing invasion of USSR in Afghanistan. In 1990s, there was some understanding between Iran and Middle East but the political sphere collapsed with the invasion in Iraq. Subsequently, Iranian government got closer to Iraq which is why Iran became a major clout there. Another main actor in this political sphere has been Turkey but it has been more invested in maintaining relations and getting close to Europe than Middle East. Due to Turkey’s interests at the time, Turkey was seen as a good partner against Iran. Strategic rupture took place along with Arab Spring. Turkey established footprints in the Middle East and established a status quo. Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey became potential contenders of power which has put Pakistan in a critical situation. Pakistan holds great relations with Turkey and rivals in Middle East see this engagement very judgmentally. Upon good establishment of relations with Saudi Arabia, the reaction from Iran was very sour. Each side including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan need to see that what leverages they hold in order to continue having good relations. Pakistan is not contributing significantly towards Saudi national security which is why Pakistan’s presence in Saudi Arabia does not count much. For bilateralism, Pakistan needs to strengthen its economy and security.
Mr. Issam Hamid, Managing Partner, Abercross Holdings, former Chief Investment Officer at Saudi Economic and Development Co, UK:
In Middle East, GCC and particularly Saudi Arabia is the largest economic block. Although Turkey is an important defense partner for Pakistan but does not play an imperative role as an economic partner. The Saudi Arabia of today is different from what it was five years ago. Under the leadership of Muhammad bin Salman the policies of Saudi Arabia have changed, and they are now predominantly driven by the Vision 2030. Saudi Arabia today has more ambitious outlook, where it is looking to cater the needs of the huge youth population in the country, which is more educated than the previous generations. The youth has a different outreach towards religious and cultural norms. In the present years, the oil economy is becoming unstable and poses new challenges for Saudi Arabia. The Vision 2030 is not something that is only present on the papers, but has been implemented on the ground through a system of transparency and accountability. Contemporary Saudi Arabia encourages employment for women, driving rights have been granted to them.