Pakistan’s new government, headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, has inherited strained relations with two key countries, India and the United States.
Observers are questioning how the country’s new leadership will seek to reshape its foreign policy regionally and globally as it continues to battle the Pakistan Taliban, attempt engagement with India and address its aid and military relationship with the US.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who has been attending the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, talked about the challenges and options facing a new government, which is led by a political party that’s never governed and a new prime minister who’s never held political office.
On allegations of aiding the Taliban, FM Qureshi said that previous Pakistani governments had been “helping their own country”.
“They were helping overcome a situation which was not of their own creation. Who were these people? Who supported them? Who trained them? We forget history and at times we overlook that friends change. People that you support, some of the people, were called extremists. Weren’t they invited to the US? Weren’t they entertained in the White House? So, friends change. Circumstances change. We were just defending and protecting ourselves.”
Though FM Quereshi expressed that the US, as a global power, expects “special treatment”, Pakistan does hope “to be friends” with the US, while exercising its option to cultivate relations with China and others.
“We want the US to be friends with Pakistan. We recognise that the US is an important global power, and they will continue to be a military, technological and economic power in the foreseeable future. They are looking at different options; they are looking at new friends in the region. We do have friends who have been consistent and very valuable. China is one of them. The others who recognise how important, how strategically located Pakistan is and to understand Pakistan’s importance. So, we are not alone and everyone has options,” he said.
On Pakistan-India relations, Qureshi referred back to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first public address on July 26th, in which he said, “You take one step towards peace, we will take two,” and pointed to the prime ministers subsequent requests for constructive, peaceful dialogue with India as part of the new government’s approach.
“What we did… We thought we made sense. Two neighbours with outstanding issues, atomic powers. How do you fix things? War is no option. There is no military solution. The only solution is a dialogue.”
Qureshi acknowledged that another priority of the new government will be to address internal corruption and foreign debt and to the use of Pakistan’s resources for “human development, the most valuable asset of Pakistan, the people of the country, we haven’t invested enough in education, in health.”
Despite PM Imran’s overtures to India to engage in dialogue, India cancelled the first planned talks between the two countries since 2015 that was meant to have taken place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this week. The cancellation of talks came hours after three policemen were killed by rebels in Kashmir.
Citing the “brutal killings of our security personnel by Pakistan-based entities” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign ministry added that the release of a series of 20 postage stamps depicting a young Kashmiri rebel commander killed by Indian troops in July 2016 was “glorifying a terrorist and terrorism.”
Pakistan also saw its relations with the US threatened one month after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s election victory on July 26, when the US Pentagon announced that it would be cancelling $300m in military and security aid to Pakistan, part of the $1.1bn suspended in January over allegations that the country was not acting against armed groups such as the Afghan Taliban.