Foreign Office keeps on holding conferences of its envoys posted abroad to obtain their views about the bilateral affairs and also to analyse their input. In this connection, Foreign Office hosted a two-day conference in which Pakistan’s envoys based at Japan, Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, UAE, Turkey, Spain, Italy and Germany made presentations about the affairs they are handling. The conference was particularly devoted to economic diplomacy as the PTI government eagerly expects Pakistani envoys to contribute more in economic matters.
The conference was accordingly organised jointly with Ministry of Commerce and Board of Investment. To widen the circle of participation representatives from Pakistan Business Council, FPCCI, Farmers Associations, Alithea Capital, JW-SEZ Group, Gul Ahmed Textile, OICCI, Gree and NRSP were also invited. The gathering discussed ways and means to scale up trade and investment to Pakistan exhibiting the intentions of the PTI government to fruitfully utilise services of Pakistani representatives abroad. The conference broke important ground as it was exclusively geared to economic matters and envoys based in countries having strong commercial ties were present there.
The significant feature of the conference was that it was decisively towards economic issues and gave the impression of avoiding security based foreign policy. It was an attempt to play down the traditional mode of making and implementing foreign policy on mere security considerations and trying to base it more on economic and financial axis. It hinted at encouraging Pakistani diplomats to rely more on economic aspects through purely economic angle and stop associating it with national security as much as possible.
PTI government is trying to dissociate economic considerations from strategic matters as has been the norm since many decades. Pakistan has been playing the geopolitical card and has come into the grip of debt diplomacy that is surely self-defeating in the longer run. Pakistan has gradually lost its privileged status in the global agenda of the western powers and is now being badly penalised by the same powers it tried to woo over all these years. Pakistan is no more the most preferred non-Nato ally as the US-led alliance has stopped supporting it militarily and has also drastically curtailed civil monetary assistance.
The adverse effects of security-based foreign policy goals have been reflected in the difficulties now experienced in obtaining an IMF bailout. IMF is now asking for monetary measures that may seriously hurt the popularity of the incumbent government and may also drastically slow down the economic growth. It may further add to inflation that has seriously cut-down the ability-to-pay of an average Pakistani. To add to the mounting problems is the hanging sword of FATF that has already placed Pakistan on the grey list and may potentially put in on blacklist if serious economic measures are not under taken.
It has taken a long time before policy makers in Islamabad realised the futility of maintaining bilateral and multilateral international relationship under the purview of security requirements. The narrowing path of acceptability in international bodies has compelled Pakistani policy makers to change-over to economic diplomacy and to carry-out fundamental changes in its outlook. Islamabad is conscious to reposition its foreign policy targets and emphasise more on trade and commerce.
Pakistan requires its envoys placing more emphasis on matters dealing with trade and investment and this portfolio should be kept as a priority. Most countries of the world pursue economic diplomacy vehemently and scale back security issues while doing so. The burgeoning trade between China and India is an example of this approach whereby both countries have put their territorial disagreements on the back-burner for the sake of increasing mutual trade.
Pakistan has a string of diplomatic missions based in many countries that are well-equipped to engage in economic diplomacy. Most of the missions abroad have representatives of ministry of commerce working specifically for commercial affairs. Unfortunately, Islamabad does not accord priority to commercial relations and ignores vital points of economic diplomacy. Foreign Office entertains a profound realisation that economic affairs currently drive internal and external policies of the country but usually feel constrained to follow security-laced policies. The objectives, therefore, of bilateral and multilateral policy emerge out of security considerations ultimately ruining economic perspectives.
Foreign office can change things if it begins to attach importance to economic matters and start training its diplomatic manpower to acquire proficiency in them. There are many international avenues open to Pakistani diplomats to pursue economic studies and utilise their skills accordingly. Bureaucratic practices in Pakistan may not be amenable to working with outside personnel posted in the missions abroad but there is no hindrance for the foreign office to train its own personnel about these matters. Emphasising on economic diplomacy does not in any way mean that security considerations should be completely ignored but it should be acknowledged that by making them the basis while formulating policy is fast becoming untenable.
Muhammad Rafiq is associated with trade and industry