Pakistan Foreign Policy

Challenges and Opportunities of Pakistan Foreign Policy after the tenure of Imran Khan


Foreign policy often forms the core of bilateral ties between states. The decision of leadership is discussed with different approaches to foreign policy. This paper attempts to highlight Pakistan’s foreign policy during Imran Khan’s tenure and the challenges and opportunities after Imran khan’s tenure. It is argued that the balancing practice of Islamabad in this triad is further complicated in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Mainly this paper evolves in the context of Pak-US relations and the emerging tussle over its foreign policy. Moreover, it justified the most criticized visit of Imran khan to Moscow. And also argue the new challenges and opportunities of Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Keywords: Pakistan, Foreign Policy, US, Imran Khan, Relations, Challenges


The pursuit of national interests is the primary element of the foreign policy of any state, and so it has been with Pakistan. For the past seventy-four years, Pakistan’s national interest has been an attempt for security and economic development. Consequently, security and economic concerns have governed the foreign policy of Pakistan. The country’s founder, Quaid-e-Azam, defined foreign policy like this:

“Our foreign policy is one of friendliness and goodwill towards all the nations of the world. We do not cherish aggressive designs against any country or nation. We believe in the principle of honesty and fair play in national and international dealings, and are prepared to make our utmost contribution to the promotion of peace and prosperity among the nations of the world.”

Since its founding, Pakistan pursued a policy that couldn’t join any ‘camp politics for the first half-decade. However, the initial problems faced Pakistan with several security and economic issues, and the country’s foreign policy remained unsteady.

After joining the ‘camp politics’ from the inception point of Pakistan’s foreign policy, they chose the western bloc, which undermines certain foreign policy goals, like: ‘independent’ foreign policy. Pakistan was dependent when it joined the western bloc. On the other side, India could not rely on others they were trying to improve their domestic industry and enhance their military capability. At the same time, Pakistan relies on US aid, which faces different repercussions.

Although some leaders like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto tried to make independent foreign policy to some extent, he was successful in his ultimate goal; the remarkable example of his independent Policy was acquiring a nuclear capability under high pressure from the west. Bhutto aimed to maintain strategic balance in Asia; at that time, Pakistan taught the lesson from breaking Pakistan in 1971 that the country could rely on itself for its security. He said, “we will eat grass, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own” along with that, Pakistan also signed (CETO) and (CENTO) agreements but had close ties with China during the cold war and did not prevent the independent line of foreign policy. Eventually, Bhutto was removed from the front line; the United States had regime change foreign policy toward those countries which could not preserve their interest. Like in 1953, the PM of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, removed and restored Shah Mohammed Raza Pehlevi to take control of Iranian oil. After Bhutto replaced a military dictator in Pakistan, the USA didn’t like a dictatorship. Still, they wanted dictators in Pakistan’s political context because they safeguarded the US interests. We may say that the removal of Imran Khan is also a victim of the regime change policy. President Bush quoted in his doctrine, which is known as the “Bush Doctrine,” that “either you are with us or against us.

Pakistan Foreign Policy in Imran Khan’s tenure

US and Pakistan Foreign Policy tussles: Analysis

Historically the US wanted a puppet regime in Pakistan, whereas they used Pakistan as a ‘ground for war’ and got strategic interest from this land. When Imran Khan was elected as the PM of Pakistan, he started decision-making in the interest of Pakistan and attempted to make independent foreign policy; He tried to distinguish himself from the other leaders of Pakistan; in the prism of Pakistan’s foreign policy, he openly criticized General Musharraf’s compliance with the United State, war on terror which brought immense suffering commonly Pakistani, specifically the people of ex-FATA regions. When the Taliban came into power again in Afghanistan US, want to use Pakistan’s land for Airbases against the Taliban. Still, Imran Khan refused his demand and took a decision on their own ‘operational code,’ a set of rules and perceptions that have previously been established within their mind and used to assess the new situation and develop a policy response to them, ‘Absolutely not. Pakistan wants to have a bilateral relationship and come closer to achieving its long-sought “strategic depth” concerning its western neighbour, with a Pakistan-friendly government in Kabul.

Foreign policy analyst Robert Axelrod quoted that the “interrelationship between the individual leader and their environment can be best explained through the development of the cognitive map that combines perception, prejudice, and understanding of “historical lesson’ and applies these to the task of decision making; we may justify Imran Khan decision in the light of this statement regarding Afghanistan, and adjoined area ex-FATA.

Pakistan foreign policy analysis: Justification of Imran Khan’s visit to Moscow

Pakistan and Russia’s close diplomatic ties, friendly and cooperative relations, and bilateral relations are marked by mutual respect, trust, and convergence of views on most international and regional issues. They also signed certain strategic agreements. The previous official visit of Imran Khan focused on economic cooperation and the long-delayed North-South gas pipeline, which is to be built in collaboration with Russian companies. But different foreign policy analysts criticized the Moscow visit of Imran Khan amidst Russian military deployment in eastern Ukraine and escalating regional tensions that it was not the time to visit. Pakistan needs to practice a balanced foreign policy to somehow, it’s true. But the state source of explanation compels Imran Khan in the ‘definition of the situation. The best foreign policymaker could be operating within the framework of the available information to make a decision; it was not only the rational approach of Imran Khan but also involved the institutional process approach and bureaucratic approach of foreign policy, the leader in his sub-institutions naturally attend to domestic concern in developing their position on given issues, a leader is not bonded to show his position on every international issue, in the perspective of realism that international environment is ‘self-help’ system conditioned by anarchy, there are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent is national interests.

Pakistan’s Foreign policy analysis toward India

Imran Khan marked certain positive developments towards India, such as opening the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor for Sikh pilgrimage but failed to make a significant breakthrough in rekindling relations with India as top-level peace talks and track two diplomacy remain non-existent. It may be failed due to the bilateral institutional memory, which shows in the organizational process model of foreign policy. When Pakistan tried to reapproach India, we got slapped by India. Imran Khan also projected the case of Kashmir at UNGA in an unprecedented and impressive way. His speech internationalized the longstanding dispute and made the world leaders recognize the urgency to settle it lest it’s too late.

Foreign policy analysis: Muslim World

Imran Khan’s policy was one of the good dimensions of the psychological approach to cognition of his foreign policy. He selects and processes the information from the Muslim world and introduces the important problem to the top policymakers regarding Islamophobia. First time ever, Muslims were viewed as true leaders of the Islamic World and a responsible state with a vision to address multi-lateral issues. Like his efforts to globalize the issue of Islamophobia have attracted international attention, and the western world is rejecting the equating of Muslims with terrorists. And summoned the OIC conference in Pakistan was a huge success.

Foreign Policy Challenges for Pakistan

Domestic Crisis

The first and most difficult task would be resolving the prevailing domestic political and economic situation. Frequent political changes and lack of continuity in policies are significant challenges for the new government to face the daunting task of managing the current financial crisis in Pakistan, which greatly impacts Pakistan’s foreign policy. For the International Financial institute, the shadow of Imran Khan is still luring Pakistan politics. Therefore, they suggested harsh conditions in which a country falls into the ‘debt trap’ if it moves toward a trap policy, then it’s challenging to remain independent foreign policy. The condition to eliminate subsidies is worth calling so that eliminating subsidies will start a dangerous cycle of events. It will enter a new era of inflation and will impact people’s living standards. It will boost national poverty and food insecurity.

Multipolar World: US dictations

In the strategic competition between the US, China, and Russia, with the emerging multipolar world order between these powers, gaining global supremacy is a challenging task for Pakistan’s foreign policy tilt to maintain a balance foreign policy. Specifically, with the US in the current situation, it’s evident that America deals with the world on its interest base foreign policy. For instance, if the US demand to use Pakistan- land for Airbases against Afghanistan, it creates double side challenges for new governments and will come with strong public resistance. In contrast, Imran Khan also made a domestic environment behind the narrative of ‘regime change’ and US conspiracy.

Pak-India Tension: Kashmir Issue

Diplomatic relations and mitigating tension between Pakistan and India is also a testing project. As I aforementioned that Pakistan failed due to organizational memory. Whenever Pakistan tried to approach India through diplomatic dialogue, they slapped Pakistan in every attempt to approach. Historically these two states diplomatic relations remained a ‘confrontational foreign policy,’ but it will only pursue a cooperative foreign policy, which does not exist.

The Kashmir issue is the bone of contention in India-Pak relations and should try dialogue on international bases. Due to this issue, Pakistan is highly in deficit and invested a huge amount in warfare capability and different tactics. Undoubtedly, the welfare state nature has been transformed into a security-based paradigm in the Kashmir issue.

Pak-Afghan Relations

Bilateral relation with Afghanistan is undoubtedly challenging for Pakistan because of considerable pressure from the west. Along with that, the TTP (Tahreek e Taliban) seems to have been emboldened by the Taliban’s takeover and looks more potent than before. Which can give them a tough time to Pakistan. Almost the Taliban leadership released senior TTP leaders and many fighters imprisoned by the former Afghan government, which definitely poses a threat to Pakistan.

Saudi-Iran Rivalry: Pakistan as a mediator

Maintaining balanced relations with both Riyadh and Tehran is also a test case for Shahbaz Sharif’s government. However, the Sharif family is kept more tilted toward Saudi. On the other hand, the Bhutto family is near Iran, so the current regime is a mix of this to political fiction, which may contribute. Still, historically it’s a bit tough due to the differences between Shia Suni ideologies Aqaid.’ It will surge the sectarian confrontation of these countries. Pakistan should play a pivotal role in mitigating state-to-state sectarianism. Also, dominancy is a key factor in Middle East politics. Saudi can’t see Iran as a supreme state in the Middle East and vice versa.

Foreign Policy Opportunities for Pakistan

Growing, partnership with China

Pakistan’s greatest foreign policy opportunity is its growing strategic partnership with a rising power like China. The substantive manifestation of the CPEC project is not only for a strategic position but also one of the frameworks for regional connectivity and socio-economic development in Pakistan. It will bring a paradigm shift to Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Strategic Importance of Pakistan

Utilization of the strategic importance of Pakistan is a great opportunity to avail and make wise foreign policy decisions regarding the centrality corridor for trade. General Musharraf said, “Pakistan provides a natural link between the SCO states (China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) to connect the Eurasian heartland with the Arabian Sea and South Asia. We offer the critical overland routes and connectivity for mutually beneficial trade and energy transactions intra-regionally and inter-regionally.”

In the article, The Geopolitical Importance of Pakistan,’ Dr. Heinrich Kreft quoted that “Pakistan’s geopolitical importance is underestimated, though it is an important factor in the stability of South and Central Asia. Neither a resolution to the Kashmir conflict nor lasting peace in Afghanistan will be possible without Pakistan playing a major role. And international terrorism can only be effectively fought through close cooperation with Islamabad. At the same time, not only is Pakistan the only Muslim nuclear power, but it is also facing the threat of state collapse due to Islamisation, hence the view pronounced by The Economist, and shared by others, that Pakistan is “The world’s most dangerous place.”

Relations with Muslim World

Pakistan is the most powerful country in the Muslim world with traditionally close ties with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries especially, Pakistan can play a more pro-active role in resolving intra-Muslim differences and promote greater cooperation bilaterally and through the OIC, and also make responsive attitude regarding ‘Islamophobia’ and other international concern issues of Muslims.

Regional Interest with Iran and Turkey

Iran and Turkey are also countries that share a regional interest with Pakistan. Pakistan should maintain and grow a bit more bilateral relations with these countries. It helps Pakistan in diplomatic ties and plays a vital role as a mediating state in intra-Muslims issues. Turkey can play a role with Pakistan in the regional tension between Saudi and Iran.

Pakistan as a Peacekeeper State

Pakistan is a nuclear state. It makes the responsibility to ensure peace in the region that the country works on peaceful bilateral diplomacy and continues ahead with the strategy of deterrence tactics for peaceful means.


To conclude, my point of view regarding Pakistan’s foreign policy is that the foreign policy road of Pakistan is completely ups and down. It is also a complicated but vital relationship with global power as I, mostly aforementioned about independent foreign policy which reminds only so-called. In the ‘war on Terror,’ the US shocked the self-respect of Pakistan, a key factor of FP. The saying of the US, Pakistan fought against its own civilian in the FATA region. The Drone attacks perpetuated by the US never for the establishment of peace in the region. The people’s opinion has been a major factor in foreign policy, and the Pakistan public viewed all the US policies with mistrust. However, the challenges and opportunities Pakistan’s foreign policy will gain after preserving its self-respect and sovereign status realistically will make Pakistan’s foreign policy independent. Furthermore, the economic system is also a big hurdle in ‘independent’ foreign policy because the system is entirely under the monitory of International Financial Institutions, which almost weak sovereignty of Pakistan.


Alden, Chris Aran, Amnon: Foreign Policy Analysis: New approaches second edition.

Modern diplomacy:

Maliha Lodhi DAWN article: Foreign Policy challenges ahead

Ministry of Foreign affairs government of Pakistan:, challenges%20of%20the%2021st%20century.


United State Institute of Peace (USIP):

Khan, Salman Muhammad: The Saudi Factor in Pakistan-Iran Relations. Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs, Vol. 4, No. 4, Winter 2014, pp. 31-57.

A strategic shift in the foreign policy of Pakistan under CPEC:

How Pakistan joined the SCO: 800132520.html.

Kreft Heinrich: The Geopolitical Importance of Pakistan


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Writer studies at the Department of Politics & International Relations, International Islamic University Islamabad.

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