The Russian attack sends shock waves to the world, and global powers like the US, UK, France, Germany, and many other European countries are taking it to forums like the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to gather global support to condemn Russia over its aggression in Ukraine. Scholars are debating whether it is a first step towards the Russian resurgence or a new cold war that will transform the unipolar world into a multi-polar entity. East and West have a divided outlook on the conflict.
In Pakistan, as soon as the unfortunate event of aggression took place, policymakers were feeling the heat to respond quickly and take a position. Keeping in view the political and economic impact of the war, two contrasting schools of thought emerged.
The first one is pro-Russian; there was an adrenaline rush among the supporters of this camp to jump into the Russian ship and prove Pakistan’s relevance to the world, especially to the West. They argue that since Pakistan has recently adopted a multidimensional foreign policy to maintain good relations with every major power or emerging power, it is pragmatic to take a policy line that does not undermine its opening ties with Russia.
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They highlight that Pakistan is an independent sovereign country that finally wants to break the shackles of American slavery and it is only possible if Pakistan officially joins the Russian camp. Proponents of this group also suggest that the US itself has committed multiple aggressive acts against sovereign countries and is an unreliable friend. They also argue that as NATO has an agreement that it will not expand its sphere in Eastern Europe and it has violated the agreement multiple times and Ukraine joining NATO was a direct attack on Russia from NATO, therefore Russia has every right to exercise its influence on the neighboring states.
There is another school of thought that claims that Pakistan and the US have enjoyed sustained periods of close, mutually beneficial engagement and even now the US is the largest trading partner of Pakistan, while economic and political cooperation with Russia is almost negligible.
They also maintained that when Pakistan abstained from voting at the UN, it is provoking the West, the US, and Europe with its new policy line. They also highlight the role of the Financial Action Taskforce (FATF), International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Union (EU), and Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) of the EU in running the economic machinery of the state. To many, this stance made clear sense, after all how Pakistan can support a larger country invading a smaller country.
What type of precedent this attack will set for other larger countries with hostile designs and hegemonic ambitions with small neighboring countries? Would countries like India not be encouraged to adopt such measures in pursuit of South Asian hegemon and regional power in the wake of the multipolar world order? Another strong argument given by the proponents of this group is that Russia invaded a sovereign country, such aggression is a violation of international law.
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Therefore, for many Pakistan should not fall short of the principled position that Pakistan has previously adopted in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. The golden determinant, envisioned by the founder of Pakistan and enshrined in the foreign policy of Pakistan is that Pakistan will always stand for respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation-states.
The leadership and foreign office of Pakistan have consistently reiterated the policy of neutrality but the society by and large has sharp contrasting viewpoints that are quite natural and a normal process in a diverse nation’s struggle to take a definite direction and achieve stability in the formative phase, yet public forums should abstain from promoting Russian narrative as ultimately it’s an act of aggression against a sovereign country.
Nonetheless, the conflict will have far-reaching effects on the economy of Pakistan. The multilateral sanctions and export restrictions are significantly impacting global energy and food prices. With its existing energy and food insecurity, Pakistan will have adverse effects from this crisis. Islamabad needs to exercise great caution and balance if it wants to develop a broad-based comprehensive relationship with Russia. Pakistan is interested in expanding cooperation in the energy, defense, and space sectors and on the gas pipeline project with Russia viz a viz maintaining its bilateral relationship with the US.
Pakistan must maintain a non-aligned posture in its foreign policy and prioritize its national interest.
Nor camp politics has benefited Pakistan in history and neither this is going to serve its national interest during contemporary times when the world is going through a major power shift therefore, Pakistan must remain neutral and maintain an equilibrium between West and East. Pakistan needs to take out a leaf from the books of the foreign policy of China and India.
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They both successfully maintained a non-aligned posture during the crisis. China will not recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk republics, because it can lead to the Taiwanese seeking referendum and declaring themselves as an independent country. India also didn’t take any sides in the ongoing crisis, but it took huge advantage by importing crude oil at cheaper rates, meeting the needs of its own population.
The foreign minister of India, Dr. S. Jaishankar has categorically expressed that the state of India takes sides with peace, and its own national interest is fully capable of managing its relations with the world powers.
The core challenge for Pakistan is to improve its relations with Russia, maintain its close ties with China, and not distance itself from the US and the West. Pakistan must understand that oratory, false statements of the former prime minister, shamming of western envoys, rhetoric questions on western prejudice, slamming the UN, and criticism of Western duplicity will push it into diplomatic isolation at this critical juncture.
Pakistan should not join any camp, it is the ideal time to revive its relationship with western powers through a clear, vocal, and principled stance; the principle that is enshrined in the foreign policy of Pakistan, which is in accordance with the UN charter. It should categorically condemn the attack on the grounds that it supports Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
It will not make Pakistan a slave of the US as chanted by some politicians in the country instead, it will alleviate Pakistan’s diplomatic position in the world and bring it back to a balanced position from which its recent action has tilted it away. Pakistan should stress the need to de-escalating the conflict and resolve it peacefully. As the crisis is deepening, Pakistan should weigh its core interests while taking its decisions.
Sobia Khursheed is Assistant Director-NUST Institute of Policy Studies (NIPS) and a former visiting lecturer at the National Defence University Islamabad. She was also associated with various developmental organizations, working to achieve sustainable development in underprivileged areas of Pakistan. Her areas of expertise are International Relations, women empowerment, foreign policy of Pakistan, Geopolitics, and South Asia.