Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Has Failed, Resulting in Regional Isolation

Pakistan’s regional isolation can’t be in its long-term national self-interest

Mona02A sovereign state’s foreign policy changes with the times, according to its domestic needs and changes in global politics around it. Nations have interests and there are no permanent enemies and friendships in international politics. A neighboring state can be a boon or a bane, depending on one’s ability to recognize long-term interests of sustainable peace along the borders

Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan recently has been one such example of a state caught and unable to define its foreign policy and national interest beyond Cold War paradigms. India-centric foreign policy thinking has stalled Pakistan’s foreign policy evolution and tainted its worldview. Pakistan has strained and difficult relations with all its neighbors, with the important exception of China.

After the Kargil War in 1999, the hostilities between India and Pakistan shifted the country’s attention to its western border, to contain the very real risk of nuclear escalation between the two states. Pakistan did this while continuing its proxy war in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s foreign policymakers and military elite thought that acquiring the upper hand in Afghanistan and containing the warring tribesmen next door would be a much easier task.

The involvement of the international community post-9/11 in Afghanistan and the international commitment to quell the Taliban-led insurgency has, however, left Pakistan regionally and internationally isolated, despite its involvement as a key U.S. ally in the War on Terror.

Pakistan has failed to use its shared cultural, linguistic, economic, and ethnic realities with Afghanistan, while India has moved in with huge economic promise for the development of the Afghan state. Despite having a Pashtun president in power in Afghanistan and Pakistani establishment claims of having forged closer ties with the Pashtun population of Afghanistan, ties between Kabul and Islamabad have not moved forward given the historic burden of Pakistan’s deep involvement in Afghanistan. Pakistan seems to trust only the regressive and fundamental forces of the Taliban.

Regionally Iran, India, and Afghanistan have recently signed a historic deal to develop the strategic port of Chabahar in Iran and agreed on a three-nation pact to build a transport-and-trade corridor through Afghanistan that will not only help strengthen regional connectivity by boosting economic growth in the region, but also reduce the time and cost of doing business with both Central Asia and Europe.

Pakistan’s suspicion of India threatens to entrench conflict and competition at the expense of cooperation and stability with all its neighbors. The knee-jerk reaction of the Pakistan foreign policy establishment to the Chabahar agreement was to close down the Torkham border with Afghanistan and enforce restrictive visa requirements for both sides of the Durand Line, leaving ordinary people as the victims on both sides.

Many speculate that the tightening security at Torkham border is a political move rather than one to curb militant activities, as the Pakistani government claims. After all, if the likes of Mullah Mansoor are found with Pakistani passports traveling in and out of the country with more ease than a genuine Pakistani passport holder, what message does that send to Afghanistan?

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s obsession with India has strained its western border, negatively affecting its own Pashtun population on its side of Durand Line, mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federal Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Movement across the Afghan-Pakistani border generates revenue for both countries, who also exchange goods and services worth some 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion) annually across their border. Despite the illegal trade and smuggling, the two countries benefit a great deal from free cross-border movement.

Pakistani policymakers interpret shifting of hostilities on the western border as being in the broader national interest of Pakistan—tragedies like the December 2014 Army public school attack, where 140 children were mercilessly killed, or the more recent massacre at Bacha Khan University are regarded effectively as collateral damage in the name of protecting core national interests and for Pakistan’s Punjab-based elite.

Pakistan’s policies have above all pushed it into regional and international isolation. As India’s power in Afghanistan expands—especially its soft power—Pakistan is losing its position of economic and strategic privilege. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India came to power, he has visited Afghanistan twice on very important occasions. On his very first visit, he inaugurated the new Afghan parliament building that was built with the support of Indian government. On his second visit, on June 4, he inaugurated the $290 million Salma Dam, one of the country’s biggest hydroelectric power projects, also funded by India. Pakistan, on the other hand, has been dealing with the embarrassment of denying its support for the Haqqani Network and the Taliban-led insurgency after the group’s former chief, Mullah Mansoor, was killed in a U.S. drone attack on its soil.

Pakistan’s powerful military elite needs to bury the bogeymen of the Cold War and begin to understand the complexity of relations between Islamabad and Kabul. To date, Pakistan has absolutely failed to keep robust relations with its all neighbors—it has failed to sustain good relations with Afghanistan, India and Iran. This indicates the failure of Pakistani foreign policy more broadly in the region, which has resulted in Islamabad remaining isolated. This cannot be in Pakistan’s long-term national interest.

The Durand Line as a border is much less relevant to the people than to the state. Poverty, poor infrastructure, healthcare, and other important state functions tend to be precarious on both sides and the weak presence of the state particularly has left the local people to provide for their own needs on both sides of this porous border. Pakistan’s approach toward its national security and its India-centric security policy needs to be cast aside while realizing that hostile relations with Afghanistan are not something they can afford to sustain in the light of the country’s growing regional isolation. Selling the idea of China and CPEC might work for the pacification of its eastern border, but this approach will fail to the west, where Afghanistan presents a unique set of dynamics.

Writers: Aziz Amin Ahmadzai and Mona Naseer

Aziz Amin Ahmadzai writes on political, security and social issues in South, West, and Central Asia. He is based in Kabul and tweets @azizamin786.

Mona Naseer is from FATA, a political and social commentator on Pak-Afghan region. She tweets @mo2005



  1. It is not about the cold war mentality as far as my opinion and observation is concerned. The cold war was just an excuse for the Islamabad’s policy of strategic depth. In fact, Indian centrism has given birth to that frivolous imperialistic designs dubbed as strategic depth. It has conspicuously highlighted in every foreign policy adventure of Pakistan, which doesn’t need elaboration.

    The author aptly highlighted the recent adventure at Torkham. The soft power of Pakistan in Afghanistan has now reached to its ebb. It would further diminish, if the policy-circles of Islamabad are crowded with Punjabi dominated military establishment.

    If Pakistan is treating Afghanistan as their colony then it would have consequences more for Pakistan. Because the international image of Pakistan has already been tarnished due to its dual policies on international form particularly to terrorism. The only viable solution for Pakistan is to reach out Kabul politically, and to renounce its support for the insurgency in Afghanistan.

    BTW, it’s very nice to see Pashtun intelligentsia on common platforms. May Allah give rewards to the organizer and creator of this platform.

  2. when Pakistan is giving shelter to millions of afghans who not only cost Pakistan’s economy but also create massive security issues, afghans still praise the little aid they get from India which is nothing as compared to decades of shelter to those afghan nationals. plus author stated that Pakistan has declared APS attack as collateral damage which is also not true. not just that she also tried to ignite ethnic war by especially mentioning Punjabi elite, Punjabis are majority in Pakistan so if a cabinet has respective ratio of Punjabi members then it doesn’t means it’s Punjabi elite. plus Pakistan’s relations with Iran were even better when while world was against Iran, even India voted against Iran on its nuclear issue while only Pakistan was there to sign pipeline contract even after sanctions on Iran. India is just there in Iran for its own national interest as being biggest consumer of oil, plus for a way to central Asian states, a passage that she could seek from Pakistan too if it chose the policy of peace than to destabilize Pakistan by all hidden means and from sneaking through western borders which now is weakening our relations with western neighbors. author also pointed out that mullah mansour was free in Pakistan but still forget the fact the mansour was afraid of Pakistan’s agencies so was trying to hide and settle in Iran. they say that they don’t know about fazlullah to target him but i think i should also remind the author that one of top TTP leader was captured by Americans, he was with afghan secret forces officials, transporting him to safe place. they say Pakistan has bad relations with afghans, but still fails to remember that it started with India’s misuse of afghan lands against Pakistan in the cover of its development projects in Afghanistan, and Pakistan, many times formally informed afghan government about these intrusions and gravity of the issue but afghan government turned blind on this issue and now say that Pakistan has destroyed relations. what the fuck is all this? they started it and now can’t bear it? even both recent cross border firing events were started by ANA and still they blame Pakistan? they failed to raise issue diplomatically so started fire and now say that it’s Pakistan’s diplomatic failure? what a rubbish

  3. Paahtuntimes na Indian timez num vrta kedaee…v r rejctng dstortdd views ov ds …..timez…lolxx

  4. When the super power is trying to isolate you with the help of two of your key neighbors, what else can pakistan do except what it is doing right now? Afghan and Indian serving agents are being caught in pakistan, both are trying to destabilize pakistan on all fronts, economically socially and politically. With US backing india in all respects, pakistan has only one choice, and that is to strengthen its relations with SCO countries which it is doing. Unlike india, bangladesh and now afghanistan, pakistan cannot open its borders to the western wild culture, socially devastating modernism and blood-sucking corporate sector which are so keenly working in the aforesaid countries. Being a muslim country with a strong army, india with its ally afghanistan is trying to isolate Paksitan and the US fully supports this. Because US wants to corner china via india. I think, its not the fault of pakistani policy makers, i believe, pakistan is doing immensely well in head-on taking economic giants like US and India and rogue country like Afghanistan. US created taliban, they were mujahedin, it used them against the then Soviet Union. After 9/11 the same taliban were termed terrorists and pakistan was made a scapegoat to bear the brunt of all that is going to happen during the afghan war and after the miserable withdrawal of USA from afghanistan. This is a really narrow approach to debilitate the efforts of Pakistani policy makers and strategists. I think Pakistans survival as a sovereign country after so much odds, politically in the shape of terror organization like MQM funded by indian Raw, strategically after fighting fifth generation war at home and in afghanistan with US and Indian proxy groups, and economically keeping itself from becoming a failed state is one of the greatest victory of modern times by any country.

    • Being a Muslim country with a strong army’ .

      You must be joking. Pakistan is a Muslim country, true. Strong army? Ha, ha! When did it win a war? 1965,1971 or 1999? Every time it started a war it was beaten to pulp by ‘weak’ Indian army. The only thing that Pak Army excels is in overthrowing democratically elected Governments and hogging 30% of the Pakistani budget. Better wake up, bro.

    • You have to check your history, bro. Taliban was not created by the USA. USA created the afghan Mujahadin and used them against the Soviets. The trained them and armed them (the US stinger missiles were the game changers). Pakistan could have refused to aid US but you were greedy because of the billions of dollars from the US. The US left after the Soviets and you were asked to dismantle the Mujahadeen. But you did not. Reason, you thought you could use them against India (against the weak Indian army which you could not best and you will never best even in your wildest dreams). Then the taliban were born with your active connivance and they went out of control and they spawned the Pakistani taliban which your ‘powerful’ army so far could not defeat. Hey man, this is 21st century and internet world.

  5. Shah Hussain Afridi

    It may be a reality but I think neighbors are in pressure and want a share in CPEC that’s why creating problems for it. They realize the importance of CPEC and soon they will apologize and beg for a little share , the dream of a developed south and central asian with out CPEC is meaningless.

  6. I was pleased and felt proud to read such analytic from a tender gender from F.A.T.A. It shows in abundance that the national awareness is on rising in our nation in the framework of International perspective.
    It is the tragedy of Pakistan not to have an F.P. based on its national interest.
    Foreign policy is the reflection of internal policy taking into account economic, political, social and cultural stability.
    Since its inception both policies are based on hatred; be it religious or ethnic.
    Ignoring the ground realities in the country it has lost more than half of its originality. It was a country made for a leader to lead and for an army to rule. It should have been the opposite. Some historian calls it the children of midnight or The Sky newscaster in the UK told me it is not a country but a conduit on rentier.
    The leadership was imported and so was the culture and language and a thorough attempt is being made to force on different nations to abandon their identities and accept an artificially created identity. It created basic weakness in the social fabrics of the society.
    Had it accepted the realities it would have been a bouquet of flowers with different colours and odours; providing cultural richness and strength to the fabric of the society. India derives its strength from unity in diversity. So is Afghanistan. But here lies the basic difference; the philosophy of Watan and a country.
    Afghanistan is the victim of strategic depth and to achieve its dream (INSANITY) the invisible long arm of ISI; called HQN and Afghan Taliban is being used. Our blood was cashed in dollars to build their armed forces.
    It was immediately after the proclamation of this country, that Liaquat Ali rejected the invitation of USSR and went for SEATO and CENTO .
    It was an unholy alliance by AHLE KITAB against godlessness USSR. We paid a big price for that.
    To win Riyadh we Lost Teheran who provided us strategic depth during 71 war; We lost Riyadh to India as well.
    We don’t have any policy as such but do opposite to what India does. It does not matter if we have a national loss. Our learned FM. gets the credit for blocking India to enter Nuclear club ; It was simply not in the interest of China and so is the CPEC; China accesses to warm water.
    The neighbouring countries have to act; just can’t rely on the good will of Pakistan.
    The porous border was there even when Brits coloniser was there. Pakistan went twice to war with India; it was unmanned still Afghanistan didn’t venture, rather assured Pakistan of its support.
    If Pakistan realises two factors; that the danger is not in the porous border; the real threat is Terrorism that was introduced in this area by Gen Zia and abandoned the dream of strategic depth philosophy and protecting the ideological border and makes a soft investment in Afganistan they can be strategic twins. Pakistan does not enemies but to win friends if she says goodbye to terrorism, both sides will prosper and enjoy. It does not need a high level of acuemn; if a person says all my neighbours are my enemies but in the other village at 11000 miles i have thousands of friend; is it not insanity?

  7. Very interesting and in depth analysis..

  8. The problems Pakistan faces are many namely (1) Pakistan wants to compete with India! (2) It wants to fool the World especially the USA for all the time for free bilslions($), (3) It is the hub of terrorists and the ISI directly manipulates them
    (4) It believes Afghanistan is its colony, (5) Uses religion as an instrument for ruling the uneducated masses and so on.
    Do you know the reason or what really ails Pakistan (politely)? Just one: Countries, civilized countries I mean, in the World
    have their armies and the armies report to the President or Prime Minister; in Pakistan the army owns a whole country and the
    Prime Minister reports the army.

  9. in my point of view Pakistan always makes policy which is biased to Afghanistan

  10. There are only two take away from this article: 1) Pakistan’s India Centric policy is wrong and pushed it into isolation, 2) Pakistan should not worry about whatever India does in Afghanistan. It was Afghanistan that did not accept existence of Pakistan in 1947. There was no issue of Pushtunistan until Pakistan came into being. The term “Pushtunistan,” was coined by Indians working for Radio Kabul in 1947 (Louis Dupree). Afghanistan has always adopted an Anti-Pakistan posture. Right now even if this article suggests things to Pakistan, It cannot possibly suggest anything to Afghan Government. This makes this Article nothing but a Propaganda Piece.

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