Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during a meeting with US President Donald Trump at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on February 25, 2020. Photo: AFP / Mandel Ngan

US President Donald Trump is on a visit to India and on Monday addressed a huge gathering in Ahmedabad. Trump’s visit to India has its implications on all of South Asia, as New Delhi is largely seen as a trustworthy friend for Washington to counter China’s rapid development in the region.

Like his predecessor Barack Obama, Trump decided not to include Pakistan in this South Asia visit. So this diplomatic event has implications not only for China but also for Pakistan.

On Monday while addressing a rally in his honor with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Trump did not talk about the ongoing protests in India about the controversial Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) or about the plight of Jammu and Kashmir, whose population is still facing human-rights abuses.

Trump, who badly needs a peace deal with the Afghan Taliban to strengthen his chances for winning another term in this year’s US presidential election, only mentioned Pakistan at all for his own political interest. He said the US had very good relations with Pakistan and hoped to reduce tensions in the region.

Though the Pakistani media are projecting as a diplomatic triumph the fact that Trump talked about Pakistan at the rally in Ahmedabad, the reality is that he did it only for optics, and this also reveals the static and visionless foreign policy of the current Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) regime.

Pakistan under the previous government of Nawaz Sharif managed a gradual shift away from dependence on Washington and Riyadh, and Sharif tried to build a relationship with the emerging bloc of China, Turkey and Russia. Not only that, but Sharif was able to maintain a smooth relationship with New Delhi and with Modi himself despite stern criticism back at home and the disapproval of the military establishment.

However, Sharif paid the price for trying to change the vague and blindfolded foreign policy of Pakistan and was sent packing through manufactured propaganda and controversial judicial decisions. Since his removal from office, neither the government under PTI nor the invisible forces have been able to maintain a progressive foreign policy.

Right now Islamabad is relying heavily on Riyadh and Washington, and New Delhi, knowing the political and economic turmoil within Pakistan, not only annexed Kashmir but has lobbied successfully on the issue against Islamabad.

Meanwhile Pakistan, despite not only eliminating terrorist organizations from its soil and launching peaceful initiatives like the Kartarpur corridor, still is not being taken seriously by the global powers.

This raises a question why India, despite usurping the right of Kashmiris to hold a plebiscite on self-determination and by using violence against its own citizens who are protesting against the controversial CAA, is still not being given a stern message by the global powers, and why Pakistan, despite fighting a successful war against terror on its soil and playing a proxy for Saudi Arabia and the US, is still not being appreciated by those same global players. 

India is a big market for the US and other Western countries, and that is a major reason its human-rights violations and growing religious fundamentalism and hypernationalism are ignored. But that is not the only reason, as Pakistan also has a large population, of 200 million, and so is not a bad consumer market either for the global powers.

The problem is that Pakistan has not tried to present itself as an alternative to India and Bangladesh in terms of providing cheap labor or a business-friendly environment to foreign investors.

India through its film industry and through cultural elements such as traditional dances and songs has presented a soft image. It has also put itself forward to investors as a skilled and cheap labor market, while its population size always gave it a natural edge to present itself as a lucrative consumer market. Meanwhile Pakistan, because of its confusing strategic interests, many of which are actually in the interests of the US and Saudi Arabia, has always presented itself as a country available to wage war for dollars and riyals, while the regressive mindset of confusing religion with culture eventually eliminated any chance of presenting a soft image through its own cultural assets.

The world only hears news about Pakistan related to wars, extremists and the successful launch of new missiles and tanks. This has created a wrong impression that Pakistan is all about nukes and Islamists, even though like any other South Asian country most of its people are friendly and known for hospitality, and there is a lot to discover about Pakistan when it comes to cultural heritage, folk arts, and entertainment.

Since the PTI regime and its backers are finding it hard to keep the economy ticking because of political turmoil, their only bet remains serving the interests of Washington and Riyadh. However, this is not a long-term solution, as merely focusing on fighting proxy wars for these players and neglecting much-needed balance in foreign policy will only further weaken its position in the global community.

This one-dimensional foreign policy that revolves around Washington and Riyadh not only is responsible for its diplomatic failures but keeps on shaping rotten social and political narratives. To cling to an obsession with defense-based foreign policy where military might and huge expenditures on purchasing weapons are portrayed as the sole guarantors of the country’s survival, Pakistani minds are molded according to propaganda that deprives most of them of critical thinking, the ability to think beyond a certain spectrum.

This may have served the interests of the establishment and its allies, but it is only weakening the case for Pakistan itself. Prime Minister Imran Khan instead of presenting a positive image of Pakistan repeats one-dimensional emotional speeches at every international forum while meeting the heads of other countries, as he only aims to undermine his political opponents or to portray himself as a saint.

This is not the way countries or foreign policies are run. One needs to think above personal grudges and as a statesman to present a soft and good image of the country. While the establishment actually does the talking behind the scenes with the global powers, the question remains: When will it realize that is incapable of driving a balanced and progressive foreign policy?

Islamabad not only needs to look beyond its traditional foreign policy of depending on Riyadh and Washington but also to maintain balanced and business-oriented relations with China, Turkey and Russia. It also needs to focus its attention on finding opportunities for its skilled and unskilled markets in Germany, as after the UK’s departure from the European Union, Berlin is going to lead Europe.

As far as the US and its allies are concerned, they will always use their influence over institutions like the International Monetary Fund and Financial Action Task Force to keep Pakistan dependent on them. Trump’s visit to India and his bailing out the Modi regime despite its fascist approach should be an eye-opener for Islamabad.

It is time for Islamabad to re-examine its foreign policy and to get free from the shackles of Washington and Riyadh.