Pakistan is celebrating her 74th Independence Day today as she stands at a crossroads in her history. One may say that this ‘crossroad’ narrative is rather repetitive; however, the rapidly shifting regional dynamics present a glorious opportunity to take strategic and economic advantage of the situation. The rapid Taliban offensive in Afghanistan – where they have seized 18 out of the 34 provincial capitals at the time of writing – has put Kabul on the back foot. The American and NATO withdrawal and Afghan Armed Forces’ debacle has, by extension, crushed India’s hope to get a foothold in Afghanistan. Elsewhere, the Kashmiri people continue to defy New Delhi’s unprecedented oppression in the illegally occupied valley after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A a little over two years ago. In the southwest, Iran is struggling under the sanctions related to Tehran’s nuclear program and the disastrous economic impact of COVID-19. Meanwhile, Islamabad has been a reliable – and probably necessary – ally for China as Beijing continues to expand CPEC and BRI, its flagship projects, which are bound to usher in the era of inevitable Chinese domination.
This scenario presents an unprecedented opening for Pakistan. Islamabad would do well to facilitate the peace process as Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan echoed in his Independence Day message. He said that Pakistan will continue to extend its full support to the Kashmiris as they look up to the international community to fulfill their promises of self-determination. Khan added that Islamabad will continue to support a negotiated political settlement for durable peace and stability in Afghanistan. Khan’s statement is consistent with Islamabad’s facilitation of Doha Talks that resulted in the American withdrawal. Pakistan should continue to maintain its neutral stance over Afghanistan and do its best to maintain cordial diplomatic relations with whoever ends up in Kabul, without repeating the mistakes of 1994.
Then comes the Kashmir conundrum. Admittedly, New Delhi’s state-backed oppression has reached new heights since Jammu & Kashmir’s illegal annexation and the prospect of an independent Kashmir seems too unrealistic a dream. However, India’s absolute disregard of the United Nation’s several resolutions on the Kashmir Issue has revealed the true face of India’s oppressive regime backed by the Bharatiya Janta Party’s Hindutva Ideology. The international community is now, at least overtly, collectively recognizing innocent Kashmiri people’s struggle in the face of New Delhi’s lawless subjugation. The UN Chief António Guterres’ spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric says the UN’s position over Kashmir has not changed. It is the perfect opportunity for Islamabad to rally the international community to ramp up the pressure to corner New Delhi into enforcing the UN resolutions over Kashmiri’s right to self-determination.
Tehran remains globally isolated with a stuttering economy amid the debacle of the Iran Nuclear Deal. Pakistan can facilitate the Beijing-Tehran dialogue amid legitimate interest in Chabahar Port and the possibility of expanding CPEC to Iran. The brewing tensions between China and the US and the ongoing CPEC project place Pakistan in the middle and it is high time to announce neutrality despite obvious inclination toward Beijing. This move will also improve Islamabad’s stature in the region and, at the same time, improve her relationship with Tehran that has turned sour in the recent past.
It is high time that Pakistan became the flag bearer of serious efforts to maintain peace in the region. The FATF dilemma and the economic dependence on others are crippling Islamabad’s journey to becoming a state that is trusted and respected on the global stage.