Is Naya Pakistan Connecting to its Anti-Colonial Past?

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TIC Analysis l

Is Naya Pakistan Connecting to its Anti-Colonial Past?

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank announced on Thursday they would back the Group of 20 nations’ decision to give one-year debt relief to world’s poorest nations as they struggle to financially cope with the coronavirus pandemic. IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva told the media that while many countries have stocked up on foreign currency reserves following financial shocks in recent decades, they could run short this year by at least “hundreds of billions of dollars,” potentially jeopardizing their abilities to cover the costs of imported goods and foreign debts. This has led to many influential figures to call for debt relief including US Congress women Ilham Omar. However the most famous figure to speak up for debt relief was Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan whose appeals preceded the IMF and World Bank combined.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had called for a ‘Global Initiative on Debt Relief’ for developing countries amid coronavirus crisis in order to ‘promote coordinated health and economic response.’ This initiative was feted by the UN where at a regular virtual press briefing in New York, the Spokesman of the UN Secretary General, Stephane Dujarric said Imran Khan’s initiative is in the same spirit as the Secretary-General’s own position. While it can be stated that this initiative may not be benign in its intentions as Pakistan is among those nations in debt yet the Prime Minister emphasis on developing world suggests a policy position that the Islamic Republic once followed in its earlier years.

Pakistan in recent times has been known to have a foreign policy that largely revolved around Afghanistan and Occupied Kashmir. Pan Islamic causes such as Palestine & Nagorno-Karabakh conflict were also advocated, but not with much vigor, due to nearness to Pakistan’s Muslim ideology. Indeed at the start of the 21st century, the defining slogan of Pakistani foreign policy was “Pakistan First” under the then ruler President Pervez Musharraf. Like its Trumpian counterpart, it signified a less proactive role in global affairs and a more isolationist leaning with more pragmatism as the first overt dealings with Israel (an entity that Pakistan still does not recognize) portray. The foreign policy of the decade that followed Musharraf’s exit was a more incoherent affair with institutions clashing with and plotting against each other which were signified through the Memogate scandal and the Murree secret meeting with Sajjan Jindal. However this ended with the ascendancy of the PTI government under Imran Khan whose foreign policy is seen as a cornerstone alongside its accountability drive, social security programs and economic reforms.

Pakistan’s foreign policy has been seen as being coherent for the first time in a decade since Imran Khan took over. Not only has it been able to emerge as a more forceful advocate of the Kashmiri people but also has been able to play a pivotal role in brokering a peace deal between the US and Afghan Taliban. A strong and defiant Pakistan has emerged that first shattered Indian allusions of conventional superiority in the post Balakot period and is now openly courting Indian minorities like Sikhs through initiatives such as Kartarpur corridor while combating Indian legislative annexation of the internationally recognized disputed Kashmir region. Pakistan has also emerged as a peacemaker in the Muslim World for its mediation efforts between Saudi Arabia and Iran (though it did hit a snag when trying to circumvent between Turkey and Saudi).

Imran Khan’s speech in the United Nations has been hailed as a pinnacle of his career. It mainly revolved around the Kashmir issue and Islamophobia but there were references to what can be called “Developing World causes” such as tax havens and corruption. Describing these tax havens as an impediment to development of many impoverished countries because they helped legalise “plunder”, Imran Khan called for an end to them. While the war against corruption has been Imran Khan’s main policy in domestic points, its coming to the global forum could be taken as advocacy of the cause of the developing world.

In its initial decades, Pakistan was a firm support of decolonization especially for Muslim countries. Pakistan’s founders, including its founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah, supported anti-colonial movements: “Our heart and soul go out in sympathy with those who are struggling for their freedom…If subjugation and exploitation are carried on, there will be no peace and there will be no end to wars.” Pakistan’s efforts for the independence movements of Indonesia, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Eritrea were significant and initially led to close ties between these countries and Pakistan. This strain carried on in later governments as well. Pakistani President Ayub Khan openly met communist guerilla Che Guerra while being a member of both SEATO and CENTO (joined as a measure to protect against India). During this time, Pakistan also steadfastly refused to join the conflict in Vietnam which was decried by US Senator Ernest Gruening.

However Pakistan’s anti-colonial stance began to weaken after the devastating 1971 war that sundered it apart. After this the country began to follow a more self-centered approach to the international arena. This was apparent to its fostering of proxies against Afghanistan that had been supporting ethnic terrorism inside Pakistan and pursuit of nuclear weapons. Musharraf’s “Pakistan First” itself was a product of adverse conditions that the nation found itself after the 9/11 attacks.

However as events have shown nothing remains static in the realm of international relations. What was once the decolonized world has reverted to the developing world. Pakistan’s self-imposed exile from the leadership of the developing world seems to be coming to an end. It seems under the leadership of Imran Khan the country seems to be returning to its anti-colonial past by advocating the cause of the developing world.

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