Long ago, the late Prof RM Naib used to say “Diplomacy is like sword fencing. You must be able to move around, left right, forward and backward. The time you are cornered and are unable to manoeuvre, you have lost it”. Looking at Pakistan’s diplomacy, it seems, it is working hard to avoid being cornered and finds it increasingly difficult not to be. The question is, how long can it avoid being cornered? Can it gain some space to manoeuvre? Manoeuvrability depends on a state’s location, security threat perceptions and situation, relations with neighbours, relations with major powers, economic conditions and political stability. Out of all of Pakistan’s immediate relations, it only has cordial relations with China. Our relations with the US has varied throughout history. Currently, Pak-US relations are at a particularly low ebb. Its relations with West European countries are more or less a reflection of its relations with the US. Russia, which was once considered an adversary, now has overlapping perceptions on certain specific issues in Afghanistan, though Russia still continues to view India as a friend. Pakistan-Russia relations have also been positively influenced by Russian-Chinese relations. Pakistan has a longstanding special relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is underwritten by Pakistan’s need for financial aid and Saudi Arabia’s security needs. Though, these relations have kept relations between Iran and Pakistan from improving. Pakistan has always depended on foreign aid, loans and support. In fact, Pakistan became part of the US alliance system in its early days due to its need for cash and arms. Currently, it needs a fresh injection of foreign currency to keep going. It has negotiated a two billion dollar loan from China, but that is not enough to offset our urgent economic woes. This is despite the inflow of money and investment that has commenced with the initiation of work on CPEC. Pakistan’s expected Finance Minister, Asad Umar has announced intentions to seek an IMF package. However, the US finance Secretary has voiced concerns about any IMF funds being used to benefit China. Internally, despite these being the third elections in a row, political stability seems quite fragile. These elections have become quite controversial and have caused polarisation. The coming government is being built on alliances of contradictory political groups, which will make it crisis prone and without any strength to make any difficult decisions. More important in the foreign policy context, the new government with compromised legitimacy will not be in a good bargaining position. Despite Imran Khan’s promise of building bridges with India and Afghanistan, the coalition he heads is more committed to the continuation of Pakistan’s traditional policy towards India and Afghanistan. Under the arrangement currently underway, the only option left for Pakistan is continuation of policy to get concessions on a negative base. The argument would continue with additional force, to help Pakistan stay afloat otherwise the world will have a mess that it will not be able to ignore or contain. Pakistan has always depended on foreign aid, loans and support. In fact, Pakistan became part of the US alliance system in its early days due to its need for cash and arms The continuation of this approach will cause much turbulence, both internally and externally. Earlier, we have seen many times, a lot of pressure being built on Pakistan, especially on its Afghan Policy and counter terrorism measures and then stopping just short of a complete breakdown of relations. The chance of the US and the rest of the West not responding to this bargaining position, as it had always done are much greater now than ever before. Pakistan in response may be pushed even closer to China. However, can Pakistan afford this? More importantly, to what extent and level can China go to bail out Pakistan and on what conditions? How will China respond to the continuation of Pakistan’s current foreign and security policies? The arrangements that are being made through the election 2018 will further reduce Pakistan’s domestic policy space along with its international diplomatic space. With or without IMF conditions, Pakistan seriously needs tighten its belt. Who will bear this burden is another fundamental question. Reductions in Parliamentarians salaries and perks or in that of bureaucracy will not help much, even if the weak coalition is able to do that. Reduction in social sector or other developmental fields will yield much less than what that can cost politically. Reduction in defence spending can give some respite, but to take such a decision, will require a fundamental change in security policy and a much stronger and stable political set-up that is not there. If some serious soul searching and introspection is not done and some peaceful method found to retract, Pakistan is heading towards a serious crisis internally and no diplomatic space externally. This does not mean, there is no hope. People of Pakistan are more politically aware today than ever before. The writer is former faculty member University of Peshawar and he can be contacted at [email protected].com Published in Daily Times, August 6th 2018.