Dr. Rabia Akhtar outlines Pakistan’s foreign policy priorities 

Lahore, November 30, 2022 (PPI-OT):Dr. Rabia Akhtar (Director, Center for Security, Strategy, and Policy Research (CSSPR) delivered an online lecture on November 14, 2022, to the students of the 141st National Defence Course conducted by the NATO Defence College, Rome, Italy. The lecture, her fourth at the institution, focused on Pakistan’s strategic overview.

She said Pakistan wants to reposition itself as a country that is willing and ready to become a melting pot for regional and global economic interests. She discussed Pakistan’s new approach to national security as articulated in the newly-released National Security Policy, arguing that the health of its economy lies at the heart of Pakistan’s citizen-centric security paradigm.

She said Pakistan’s bid to enhance economic security is contingent upon regional stability, and therefore, ruckus and mayhem in Afghanistan and Central Asia will be deleterious. She therefore stressed the need for the international community to engage with Pakistan with a view to bolstering economic relations with it.

Speaking about the importance of Pakistan’s relations with China, Dr. Akhtar said strong Sino-Pak relations will be a good news for regional connectivity and integration, allowing Pakistan to become one of the economic zippers of the region.

Apropos of this, she urged watchers and policymakers to not see Pakistan as a country playing zero-sum games, adding that the country wants to strike a balance in its ties with the U.S. and China. Further, she talked about Pakistan wanting to establish stronger relations with countries like Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and others so as to translate historical affinities into strategic success.

Moreover, she said Pakistan is committed to reinvigorating its ties with Russia and the Central Asian Republics (CARs), with a view to meeting the very many energy-related challenges it faces today.

Dr. Akhtar said Pakistan’s foreign policy priorities must revolve around mapping strategic risks and opportunities and that they must not vacillate due to changes at the helm. She delved into Pakistan’s policies towards India and Afghanistan, arguing that they are focused on protecting the country from threats on the eastern and western flanks.

She did, however, say that India’s destructive path necessitates more policy dynamism from Pakistan, and that the presence of a religiously motivated leadership in India has strategic ramifications for Pakistan. This, according to her, is one of the reasons why Pakistan cannot remain unfazed by developments in either Sino-U.S. relations or Indo-U.S. relations.

All this, she stressed, will require robust diplomacy, lobbying, and narrative-building on the part of Pakistan, something that, in and of itself, cannot be done without having a clear set of priorities on the table.

With reference to Afghanistan, she said Pakistan must communicate its red lines to the Afghan Taliban and seek to find a regional way forward in dealing with the said group. She ended her talk by saying the political awareness among the burgeoning young population in the country augurs well for democracy. The lecture was followed by an extensive question-and-answer session.

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