The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which is all set to form the next government in the centre, will revisit the foreign policy – including all ‘covert and overt’ agreements with the United States, a close aide of Nawaz Sharif told The Express Tribune.
The influential party member, who advises Nawaz on foreign policy, said that the focus of PML-N’s foreign policy would be on safeguarding the ‘supreme national interest.’ “It may sound clichéd but we mean it,” he said, requesting anonymity.
Asked whether the PML-N government would renegotiate the current terms of engagement, including a deal with the US to facilitate the troop pullout from Afghanistan, he said, “We will look into all such arrangements to find out whether they conform to the country’s national interest.”
However, he added that the PML-N did not seek a ‘divorce’ with the US. “Our foreign policy will make sure that it protects Pakistan’s interest without damaging its relations with other countries, including the US,” he added and recalled that Nawaz had enjoyed a good ‘rapport’ with the US administration in 1998, even after Pakistan conducted the nuclear tests.
The aide also said that the PML-N government would persuade the US administration to halt drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal regions. “We consider such attacks a violation of our territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal before the elections, Nawaz said he was confident he would find an agreement with the US on controversial issues, such as drone strikes in the tribal belt. Experts believe the US troop pullout from Afghanistan in 2014 will test Nawaz’s negotiating skills.
“How Pakistan deals with that situation will be a significant challenge which Nawaz has to confront,” said political analyst Zafarullah Khan.
Nawaz, who is considered close to Saudi Arabia, also faces a big test in ensuring a balance in Islamabad’s relations with Tehran. The Saudis are said to be against Pakistan’s plans to import natural gas from Iran. But the former ruling party dismissed the pressure and went ahead with the agreement just days before the government’s tenure expired.
Nawaz’s aide said that although the would-be premier recognises the fact that Pakistan must look at all means to meet its energy demands, he would review the Iran-Pakistan (IP) pipeline project.
“We will have to see whether the initiative was genuine or just a political gimmick by the Pakistan Peoples Party,” he argued, adding that the PML-N administration would analyse whether the IP project was economically viable and ‘whether it will damage our relations with other countries’.
On relations with India, the aide pointed out that Nawaz would pick up where he left off in 1998, when then Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Lahore.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 13th, 2013.