“England has no eternal friends, England has no perpetual enemies, England has only eternal and perpetual interests.” Broadly applied, this timeless axiom of international diplomacy attributed to Lord Palmerston, British foreign sectary and later prime minister, is as true today as it was in the mid-nineteenth century when the British Empire was at its zenith. The doctrine dictates that unlike individuals, countries owe no enduring loyalties.Applications of this abiding principle can be seen in many world events. Since the end of the Second World War, the US has had a shifting pattern of friendships and alliances in response to the changing political landscape. During the cold war, it led a block of western countries in a military alliance, NATO, to confront the Soviet Union and its allies in central and eastern Europe, countries bound in the Warsaw Pact. Now, many of the countries of the Warsaw Pact are members of the European Union, allied with the west. However, perceptions of national interest can sometime be misguided, causing more harm than good. The current US president, Donald Trump, claims to be a nationalist, pledging to place American interests first in his dealings. Yet, during the last two years, his policies have alienated friends and foes alike. The free trade agreement, NAFTA, signed by the US, Canada and Mexico in 1992 and considered to benefit all three, was repudiated by the current administration, greatly upending the flow of commerce across North America. Now, a new agreement, called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, has been signed by the three countries to replace the old, but it is not clear if it is any better than NAFTA.The US is a major contributor to carbon pollution. Yet, citing damage to US competitiveness, the president has withdrawn from The Paris Climate Treaty, aimed at reducing carbon emissions and decelerating climate change to which almost two-hundred countries are signatories. Trump has taken an antagonistic attitude towards China and its leader, Xi Jinping. His administration has imposed a tariff of $250 billion dollars on Chinese products imported by the US. China as expected retaliated, imposing reciprocal tariffs on US goods, resulting in a huge loss of export of American agricultural products, hurting farmers many of whom support Trump. One of the most notable geopolitical changes have occurred in the Middle East, where alliances have shifted radically during the past decades. The solid block of Arab states unified against Israel has cracked and now most of these states, in covert collaboration with Israel, are arrayed against Iran. Although officially UAE and Israel don’t have diplomatic relations, below the surface they have maintained significant cultural and diplomatic contacts. Egypt and Jordan have long had ambassadorial level diplomatic ties with Israel. Egypt currently collaborates with Israel in enforcing the murderous blockade of Gaza Strip that has reduced the besieged population to extreme deprivation. Paradoxically, Pakistan’s no-contact policy towards Israel has remained frozen for the last seven decades, even though the two countries never had any direct conflict.The new realignments of the Arab world have deeper implications than are evident. Recently, Israel urged the Trump administration to adopt a softer approach towards Saudi Arabia, as a political storm has swirled around the alleged involvement of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the brutal murder of the Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, at the Saudi consulate at Istanbul. Defying all evidence, President Trump has refused to assign any responsibility to the crown prince for Khashoggi’s death. Pakistan presents an interesting case study. Its foreign policy over decades has been grounded in a few inflexible assumptions. It has been guided by the belief that the Muslim majority countries, ignoring their own interests and circumstances, will always side with Pakistan. The country has received significant support mostly from Saudi Arabia, not so much political, but financial. However, it is not an enviable position to be in if we are always looking for handouts, as it places the country in a perpetually acquiescent status. Pakistan’s friendship with China is long-standing and has benefitted Pakistan in various ways.No single issue perhaps has been as damaging to Pakistan as its hostile relationship with India. The absence of cultural, trade, travel and neighbourly relationships between the two countries have inflicted grievous damage on both. In the process, Pakistan for years has been forced to support a large defense establishment that is a financial drag. Now that India has achieved unquestioned superiority in industrial, military and economic spheres (India’s annual GDP is $2597.5 billion, versus Pakistan’s $305 billion. India’s GDP per capita is around $1,940, versus Pakistan’s around $1,548), it would be in the interest of Pakistan to normalize relations with India. There are welcome signs that the new PTI government is moving in that directions.For most of its life, Pakistan’s relationship with the US has been on a roller-coaster. In the fifties, it was firmly tied to the US as a member of various military pacts, which were designed to contain the Soviet Union. During Ayub Khan’s regime, foreign policy was rooted in pragmatism and was cleverly steered so that Pakistan received substantial military and financial aid, without getting entangled in international conflicts, such as the Korean or Vietnamese wars. These and other factors enabled Pakistan to project an image of a stable, prosperous nation. The good fortune did not last. Later, Pakistan’s involvement in the anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban fights in Afghanistan created many problems and left a lasting legacy of terrorism, and resentment against the US.What about the Naya Pakistan? Even before his party came to power, Imran Khan had been highly critical of US policies in the regions and relations have been exacerbated since President Trump took over. However, prudence dictates that Pakistan steer away from permanent confrontation with the US, a super power that can cause many difficulties for it. Pakistan’s new foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, is a highly skilled and experienced diplomat who had cultivated excellent relations with Hillary Clinton, secretary of state during the Obama administration, and is expected to be a judicious steward of Pakistan’s foreign policy. President Trump will be gone in a few years, but Pakistan’s interest in having good relations with the US and expanding its list of friends is long lasting.The writer is a former assistant professor, Harvard Medical School and a health scientist administrator, US National Institutes of Health, with a Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham, England.Published in Daily Times, December 22nd 2018.