Pakistan’s military is playing a significant role in assisting the country’s prime minister in the conduct of foreign and security policies, and usually with the objective of scaling down confrontations.
Pakistan and India have just stepped back from the brink of an all-out war; Prime Minister Imran Khan has passed his first big foreign policy test after six months in office. Behind the scenes, however, he was helped by Pakistan’s military, who had set the scene for the country’s regional diplomacy, and the efforts go back almost two years, as indicated by Pakistan Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s speech at RUSI in 2017.
Bajwa made overtures to India well before Imran Khan’s election, and set about fixing what was seen as a ‘black hole’ in Pakistan’s foreign diplomacy, given the absence of a foreign minister for four years in the previous government. Prior to Khan coming into power in August 2018, Bajwa had also set things right with key allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). And, most significantly, Bajwa moved quickly to reassure China of Islamabad’s unwavering commitment to the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) relationship after a less than certain start by the Khan government’s commitment to Beijing. This includes the potentially contentious involvement of Saudi Arabia given tensions with Iran on the border as well as remarks by Khan’s ministers about renegotiating certain CPEC projects.