ISLAMABAD: On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said with the recent intensification of strategic competition between global powers, making world peace fragile and the direction of diplomacy, unpredictable, Pakistan has made a strategic pivot from geo-politics to geo-economics. “This has made economic diplomacy all the more important,” he said while speaking at the Margalla Dialogue Forum 2021 – Foreign Policy Challenges of Future in Changing Geopolitical Landscape, organized here by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). The Foreign Minister in his address spoke at length on various issues concerning Pakistan’s foreign policy and diplomacy including the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, bilateral relations with China, the United States, Russia and India as well as the importance of just resolution of Jammu and Kashmir dispute for regional peace. “Indeed, we live in times of uncertainty. The world order seems in a state of severe stress and disarray. In these times foreign policy and Geo Politics is largely linked to Geo Economics. I have consistently maintained, from here on, the economy is in many ways our strategic compass with a dominant presence as a priority of foreign policy,” he remarked. The Foreign Minister said that positioning Pakistan as a geo-economic center with unparalleled regional connectivity has to come as a mindset, top down. “We have had to reset the existing geo-political mindset and embrace the importance of Geo Economics,” he added. The Foreign Minister said that as Pakistan was the fifth most populous nation, with 220 million people, some 64 % of its population was below the age of 30 and according to estimates by Forbes and UNDP, approximately 80 million were middle class. “We need to tap into this growing human capital and our abundant natural resources,” he stressed. The Foreign Minister highlighting the benefits of a focus on geo-economics shared with the audience that as of November 2021, Pakistan’s exports to UK had grown 28% in a Covid year. “Also, since our Engage Africa Conference in December 2019 in Islamabad, trade with Africa has gone up 7%,” he mentioned. The Foreign Minister said that according to Bloomberg, this year alone $300 million have been invested in start-ups in Pakistan by the US, Singapore, and UAE. “This is a modest beginning with a huge surge expected in the tech industry in the near future,” he added. Qureshi referred to the “FM Honours list” he launched in 2019 and said it was to recognize Overseas Pakistanis for their tremendous contributions through technology and the digital landscape etc. “Make no mistake our diaspora plays a huge role in representing Pakistan’s policy interests across the globe,” he remarked. The Foreign Minister said that connecting the economy with the future of foreign policy brought him to a critical tool of modern diplomacy; the digital sphere. “Big Tech, by amassing and monopolizing data, is outgrowing capitalism as we know it, by redesigning supply chains, virtual reality and the way we think and live.” “It is data control that is influencing mindsets, controlling narratives and ultimately, crafting the perception game. Staying connected, staying ahead and staying alert in the digital space is of paramount importance to achieving foreign policy goals,” he added. The Foreign Minister said there was no doubt that Covid had accelerated the digital diplomacy trajectory. “Diplomacy is no more singularly reliant on leadership to leadership telephone calls or state visits. Technology has never before played such a definitive role in relationships,” he remarked. The Foreign Minister said that bilateral, political consultations, multilateral conferences were all happening online. “Today, perception wars are won and lost on twitter. So what better place for diplomacy than online, where you use fewer resources to achieve even greater outcomes in shorter amounts of time,” he added. The Foreign Minister said that the Foreign Office had very clearly prioritized digital alliances, entering for instance as a founding member of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia led Digital Cooperation Organization in record time. “In fact, four top professionals from Pakistan have joined the organization’s secretariat in Riyadh, in leadership positions. This is an important first step towards linking digital diplomacy with the digital economy for the future of foreign policy,” he added. The Foreign Minister said in the same spirit, just 10 days ago he collaborated with Norwegian multinational Telenor to launch an agri tech app, that was connected to over 10,000 farmers across Pakistan to optimize their production and in turn, our exports. “Such is the nature of the digital economy. These revolutionary scientific changes are already impacting war and peace, climate change, our economies, our geopolitics, and our ways of life,” he remarked. Speaking about the future of foreign policy and the role geo-economics was playing, the Foreign Minister mentioned Pakistan’s relations with China as resilient and poised to grow further. “The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), of which the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the flagship project, will leverage economic geography and connectivity of the three contiguous continents – Asia, Europe and Africa – ushering in prosperity for all global citizens,” he added. The Foreign Minister said that Pakistan valued its longstanding relations with the United States. He, however, added that looking towards the future, Pakistan did not want a transactional relationship with US. “We want multifaceted ties that are not susceptible to the vagaries of regional and international policies,” he added. The Foreign Minister said that in line with the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan for a shift from geopolitics to geo-economics, Pakistan wanted a relationship with the US that was in sync with our changed priority. “Enhanced trade and investment ties with the US and cooperation in regard to regional connectivity can work to our mutual benefit,” he added. The Foreign Minister said that with Russia, Pakistan’s diplomatic outreach had not only led to a rapprochement but opened doors for reinvigorated relations in the security and economic realms. “The Pak-Russia trajectory is contributing to stability in the region and we will continue to strengthen it,” he maintained. The Foreign Minister said, “The upshot is that a country like Pakistan sitting astride the crossroads of South, Central and West Asia cannot make binary choices. We will remain equidistant, accessible to all, reaching out to all.” “And, directly connected to all this, is the situation in Afghanistan,” he said and added the United Nations has warned that 60 % of Afghanistan’s 38 million people were facing hunger or starvation. “There is a dire humanitarian crisis looming which has consequences not only for the people of Afghanistan but indeed us as neighbours, the region and beyond,” the Foreign Minister said and added that with this in mind, on the 19th of December, Pakistan will host an extraordinary session of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to mobilize support for providing adequate food, medicine and housing to millions of Afghans in dire distress. “Indeed I believe Pakistan hosting the OIC Extraordinary Meeting of Foreign Ministers on Afghanistan is in line with the leadership role the country has demonstrated in the region,” he added. The Foreign Minister said that from facilitating peace talks to showing tremendous leadership across unprecedented rescue and evacuations, to working closely with international partners for humanitarian outreach and bringing together neighbouring countries of Afghanistan and International stakeholders for a coordinated approach, Pakistan continues to work at every level for a stable, peaceful and prosperous regional future. “We also continue to host over 4 million Afghan refugees. We have advocated and worked for the establishment of an inclusive polity in Afghanistan, respecting the rights of all ethnic and religious minorities as well as of women,” he added. The Foreign Minister said the Afghan Government has assured all its neighbours that their soil will not be allowed to be used for terrorism, adding, the same message has been given by Kabul to extra-regional powers. “The future of successful foreign policy hinges then on not repeating the strategic blunder of the early 1990s that led to a spate of civil wars, drought and terrorism, whose consequences we have been facing for the past 30 years. The world must learn from their mistakes,” he stressed. Speaking about the foreign policy challenges vis India, the Foreign Minister said that Pakistan’s quest for peace and geo-economic strength cannot be a solo performance, adding, “It takes two to tango.” Soon after taking office, he recalled that the present government made overture after overture, unilaterally, to open channels of communication, to build confidence and to engage India. “Our eastern neighbour, however, chose to close all doors on any kind of talks. What’s more, it took the most drastic militaristic steps to invade and lay siege to the disputed territory of the Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), disenfranchising its 14 million people and brutalizing them,” he added. The Foreign Minister said that New Delhi’s actions in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir have created a conundrum for Indian apologists in Kashmir and even for India’s foreign friends. “Indian atrocities are too egregious to be masked by the veneer of secularism and democratic pretentions,” he regretted. The Foreign Minister said that it was the duty of the United Nations and the international community to hold India accountable for this unconscionable state of affairs. “India must realize that without resolving the Kashmir issue we cannot free the peoples of South Asia from perennial instability. Without the necessary global condemnation and intervention, the region will continue to remain insecure and peace and prosperity, a major challenge,” he maintained. The Foreign Minister said as the developed and developing countries were all vulnerable to the devastations of the global pandemic, Pakistan has done well in beating the coronavirus by using a mix of smart lockdowns and aggressive vaccination campaigns. “The threat is not over. Omicron – the new mutant – casts its ominous shadow and we are bracing for fighting it. Each nation must play its part individually and communally to fight a virus that knows no boundaries: we are all equally vulnerable,” he added. The Foreign Minister said that same was the case with climate change, which affected all, without discrimination. “Pakistan walks the extra mile to meet climate change goals because it is a compelling national priority,” he added. He said the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank (WB) have forecast that Pakistan will incur up to $3.8 billion annually due to the rise in temperatures in the next two decades. “Last month, at the COP26 Climate Summit, Pakistan unveiled its Ecosystem Restoration Initiative (ESR), with the support of the World Bank. At the Summit, Pakistan also signed the US-led Global Methane Pledge,” he added. The Foreign Minister said that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision and roadmap for the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami and Clean Green Pakistan will go a long way in making Pakistan a model country to combat climate change and its impact. He mentioned Pakistan’s significant efforts into promoting interfaith harmony and tolerance, adding, that the Prime Minister had alerted the world continues at the highest forums about the threat posed to world peace by Islamophobia and misguided notions of racial superiority. “True to our commitment, we sponsored a resolution at 47th OIC Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Niamey in 2020. The resolution inter-alia called for a declaration of March 15th as the International Day to combat Islamophobia,” he added. The Foreign Minister asserted that diplomacy in the 21st century, in a post COVID world, needed a multi-faceted outlook and one that goes beyond the traditional. “One that is cognizant of a world where relationships are changing based on Geo Economics, access and the use of technology and people to people contact, made all the more accessible with digital growth” he added. The Foreign Minister, however, was said that the multi-dimensional outlook and approach will open new vistas for Pakistan’s footprint across the world, enabling it to assume a leadership position in addressing the challenges of a changing geo political landscape.