Former cricket legend and World Cup winning captain, Imran Khan is all set to take the reins after taking a sizeable lead in the 2018 General Elections. The talismanic Khan delivered a victory speech in which he succinctly shed light on his agenda for Pakistan. While many of his supporters, including myself, have subscribed to his anti-corruption and pro-meritocracy views, his understanding of the intricacies and nuances of geopolitics and counter terrorism has merited criticism. Khan was and remains labelled a hawk, a Taliban apologist, an America-hater and an appendage of the Pakistani military. This is why everyone wanted to hear his views on foreign policy during his victory speech. The 66-year old started off by talking about the need to further solidify ties with China while also expressing a desire to learn from its economic ascendancy. Perhaps placing relations with China on top of his agenda suggests that Khan will bank upon China for economic, military and diplomatic support. Undoubtedly, Beijing and Islamabad have strengthened their ties; Pakistan, by virtue of the China -Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has become a linchpin for China’s expanding clout in the region and beyond. China has firmly supported Pakistan diplomatically whenever the country has been berated and asked to “do more”. Regardless of strong strategic relations with China, Khan must take into account that China, like any other state, values its national interests, something that was conspicuous in the FATF meeting this year and the Xiamen Declaration in 2017. Khan and his party must make sure that they do not pass the buck on China. Beijing has often desisted coming out all guns blazing in support of Islamabad, something that should not come as a surprise to anyone who understands international relations. Pakistan must enhance its institutional capacity and devise sustainable industrial and labour policies to reap the dividends of CPEC. China must not be looked up to as a reformer of our domestic profile or even international image for that matter. Khan may have shown a great deal of idealism when he talked about a soft border with Afghanistan, especially given the tumultuous environment in the region and the wide gulf between the two countries. However, what the former all-rounder said was that his government would work towards reconciliation with the war-torn country. Indeed, Khan would be right in ramping up efforts to bring stakeholders in Afghanistan to the negotiating table. However, this would be a herculean task, especially because of strained ties between Pakistan and the US, and the changing militancy landscape in Afghanistan. That said, peace in Afghanistan, to a great extent, will depend upon how Khan and the US deal with each other. Khan stressed that he wants both countries to develop a mutually beneficial relationship. Luckily for Khan, new avenues of cooperation may open for the two countries to mend fences. It is noteworthy that despite fissures, Washington and Islamabad have remained committed to carrying forward their ties. Interactions at the military, diplomatic and political levels can drive both countries towards a healthy tactical relationship. A good starting point could be to take advantage of strong and direct communication between the two militaries so they can combat ISIS together. At a time when Islamabad’s ties with Tehran are on the mend, Khan’s expression of cultivating better ties with Tehran will find traction. Termed as the zipper of Eurasia, Pakistan, along with Iran and Russia, can accelerate efforts of regional connectivity; CPEC could be the vehicle that can achieve this goal Contrary to predictions, Khan called upon India to enter a dialogue with Pakistan. While terming the resolution of the Kashmir dispute integral to peace in South Asia, Khan said that if India made an effort to reach out for peace, Pakistan would reciprocate wholeheartedly. Khan’s India gambit was rather bold and seemingly untenable for now. However, it amplifies what the charismatic leader has envisaged: peace through conflict-resolution. To achieve this milestone, Khan would not only have to mobilise public opinion but will have to deal with warmongering and chest thumping from both the Pakistani and Indian side. Besides, he will have to take into account the growing Indo-US strategic partnership that is giving India more courage to whip up its anti-Pakistan rhetoric. A lot will depend on the US. If Islamabad and Washington regain each other’s trust, especially in the realms of counter-terrorism, Pakistan may no longer need to fear an alliance between the US and India. Pakistan has steered clear of the region-wide conflagration between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The country has tried to maintain a balance in its relations with Tehran and Riyadh because a tilt towards one camp may expose the country’s sectarian vulnerabilities. At a time when Islamabad’s ties with Tehran are on the mend, Khan’s expression of cultivating better ties with Tehran will find traction. Termed as the zipper of Eurasia, Pakistan, along with Iran and Russia can accelerate efforts of regional connectivity; CPEC could be the vehicle that can achieve this goal. Prospects have increased because of Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and also due to shared views of both countries regarding the situation in Afghanistan. However, unless Pakistan increases its own diplomatic weight, it cannot effectively mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Insinuations aside, Khan ticked all the boxes with regard to foreign policy in his victory speech. That said, in order for him to navigate through the aforementioned challenges, he must take advantage of whatever is on offer to muster internal strength, for that feeds into national power that is needed to realise foreign policy goals. The writer is a Research Associate at the Centre for Security, Strategy and Policy Research (CSSPR), University of Lahore. He tweets @syedalizia1992 Published in Daily Times, July 31st 2018.