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EDITORIAL: While national interests of a state are permanent and immutable the ways and means to preserve, protect and promote them keep changing. For Pakistan, for example, such an occasion is at hand to refurbish its foreign policy in order to harmonize it with emerging regional and global opportunities and challenges. One may call it a paradigm shift or dawn of popular governance, there are discernable signs that clearly suggest that the country’s foreign policy should be put on public radar for discussion and debate.

It is needed because although today’s Pakistan occupies the same space on the world map, its surroundings are undergoing a tremendous metamorphosis. Its relationships with erstwhile superpowers do provoke occasional debate, what is, however, of greater interest to the state and people of Pakistan are its relationship with India and a fast-changing state of relations of Muslim countries in the Middle East with Israel. And of this there are some tangible signs within Pakistan as well.

While talking about the country’s “isolation” in the international arena, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari underscored the need for revisiting relationship with India, by laying greater focus on economic diplomacy. Perhaps, he reminded, by keeping up bilateral engagement Pakistan would have succeeded in forcing prime minister Narendra Modi to recheck its atrocious treatment of people of the Held Kashmir and take stock of growing Islamophobia in India.

Of course, as is the way with such daring and unexpected positions, the Foreign Office didn’t take long to clarify that there is no change in Pakistan’s foreign policy with India, and while Pakistan desires constructive engagement, India’s “unabated hostility … impeded the prospects of peace”.

A similar in some respects was the reaction when PPP Senator Saleem Mandviwalla expressed his view that following the Abraham Accords while people criticise Israel “we have to look after our own interests”. As soon as he made these remarks, there was a barrage of condemnatory statements with former minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Shirin Mazari censured him, saying “the Washington-engineered regime change policy is being operationalised fast”.

Senator Mandviwalla could not take it as that and said he never supported recognition of Israel. Something similar had happened last month when a group of Pakistan-origin expatriates arrived in Israel to President Isaac Herzog’s “amazing experience”.

But all of this just is like the first drops of rain as a bumpy monsoon is on its way to Pakistan. Some of Pakistan’s close allies and co-members of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) are on track to enhance economic and political ties with India; they are also queuing up to normalize their relations with Israel. Agreed, it was the Quaid-e-Azam’s command never to recognise the Zionist state of Israel.

But the history you read is not the history you live. To President General Ziaul Haq, Pakistan and Israel shared a profound commonality: both are ideological states. However, with India, Pakistan’s bilateral relationship has been downhill ever since Modi became prime minister in 2014. India was and remains hostile, generation after generation.

The horrors of Partition remain the un-washable part of Pakistanis’ memory. There have been wars and unforgivable mistreatment of Muslims in India and Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJ&K). But the only possible option of peace between the two countries is not to look behind and turn the page on the bitter past and move forward as the people in both the countries are now confronted with existential threats. Let them come to the table and start with economic diplomacy. Meanwhile, both sides should reactivate behind the stage unofficial channels and task them to prepare the public mind for coexistence and mutually beneficial bilateralism.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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