International RelationsPakistan Studies

Changes in Pakistan’s Foreign Policy

A static foreign policy would put the existence and survival of a state at risk. Like other nation-states, there have been changes in Pakistan’s foreign policy in order to secure its national interests in the face of changes in the world political system. There are different factors shaping Pakistan’s foreign policy. 

This article analyzes the changes in Pakistan’s foreign policy introduced at different times and occasions. 

Certain Policies at different times


Impact on Pakistan

1. Establishment of Relations with the United States

Pakistan was invited by both the USSR and the USA for the establishment of diplomatic relations. Pakistan rejected the invitation of the USSR and went to the USA. In days to follow, Pakistan also became an ally of the USA with reference to containment communist Russia. In this regard, Pakistan signed military alliance Treaties like the South Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) and Central Asian Treaty Organization (CENTO) in 1954 and 1955 respectively.

After its independence, Pakistan faced security and economic problems. However, the US-USSR rivalry provided an opportunity to side with any of the two superpowers and secure assistance.

The geographical position of Pakistan was important for the USA to contain the spread of communism from the USSR and China. Hence, Pakistan decided to become an ally of the USA  to gain military aid and assistance.


The USA provided military aid and trained Pakistani troops as part of military agreements signed between both states. This actually helped strengthen the security of Pakistan and create a balance of power in the region.

Pakistan could not maintain a neutral foreign policy as did India. The military alliances with the USA alienated the communist powers from Pakistan. These alliances also provided India a justification to sign pacts of military cooperation with the USSR which later on proved catastrophic for Pakistan.

2. Establishment of Relations with China and Russia

At the beginning of the 1960s, Pakistan despite being an ally of the USA (member of SEATO & CENTO) looked for new friends. It established close ties with China and USSR. 

Establishing relations with the People’s Republic of China in the early sixties was one of the strategic changes in Pakistan’s foreign policy. 

Pakistan being a member of USA-led alliances against the USSR expected allies to take Pakistan into confidence in any matter related to India. Contrary to this expectation, the USA and its western allies rushed to support India militarily.

Pakistan felt that the weapons provided to India by the USA would be used. This caused a loss of trust in its western allies.

Now Pakistan could not rely only on the USA. It needed to look for new friends and allies to counter any support to India.


The promotion of friendly relations paved way for the settlement of border issues in 1963 between Pakistan and China.

Trade agreements were signed with both China and USSR and Pakistan received economic support from both states.

China supported Pakistan’s stand on  Kashmir. There was a shift in the Soviet position on Kashmir from outright support for India to a more neutral stance.

Pakistan’s relations with the United States correspondingly deteriorated because the United States had provided India with military aid.

3. Withdrawal from SEATO & CENTO

Pakistan decided to withdraw from SEATO and CENTO in the 1970s and made a re-entry into the Non-Aligned Movement.

The military Alliances did not help Pakistan in the 1965 and 1971 wars with India. Moreover, the alliances caused enmity with USSR which helped India to break Pakistan in 1971.

During this whole episode, the SEATO and CENTO countries acted as mere spectators.

Pakistan had been instrumental in containing USSR from spreading into the world but these services from Pakistan were not respected by the USA and its allies.

  • Improved relations with USSR. USSR pledged to support Pakistan in defense and economic development. In 1978 Pakistan’s Steel Mills were completed with the help of the USSR.
  • Socialist reforms in Pakistan
  • Re-entry into Non-Aligned Movement
  • Relations with USR soured once again.


4. Efforts to unite Muslim World

Pakistan became a champion of Islamic Solidarity in the 1970s. The second Summit of OIC was held in Lahore, Pakistan. Prominent Muslim statesmen attended the summit. Pakistan recognized Bangladesh.

With no support from its western allies 1971 war with India, Pakistan felt a dire need for the Muslim world to work together Unity among the Muslim world.

5. Withdrawal from Common Wealth

Pakistan also decided to withdraw from Commonwealth in the 1970s.


The Commonwealth Countries were supposed to make efforts to bring a halt to war among member countries and support territorial integrity but in 1971 Commonwealth countries kept silent when Pakistan was attacked by India with help of the USSR to break it into two. Pakistan left the organization in protest.

Relations with Commonwealth countries soured.

6. Supporting the US Proxy war in Afghanistan

In 1979 Pakistan and the USA once again developed closer relations. Pakistan became a front-line ally in America’s proxy war against USSR.

In December 1979, the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan – thereby installing a puppet government. 

The USA and its allies condemned Soviet entry into Afghanistan as an attack on a sovereign state. Moreover, they vowed to support the Afghans in their fight against this new occupation.

Aimed at containing Soviet expansion and

The USA and its allies considered the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan a threat to its interests in the region and world. Hence they aimed to contain the further expansion of the USSR and force it to leave Afghanistan. 

Pakistan also felt threatened with the arrival of the Soviet Union in its neighbor, Afghanistan. Pakistan had not forgotten the role of the USSR in its war with India in 1971 either.  

Thus, the common economic, political, and Security threats once again brought the USA and Pakistan closer together.

A massive amount of aid and military training was given to Pakistan by the US. Between 1982 and 1990, more than $4 billion in assistance was given to Pakistan by the USA, half of which was military.

There were negative impacts on Pakistan in the form of Kalashnikov culture, drug trafficking, sectarianism, a burden on Pakistan’s economy, and an increase in crimes as millions of refugees were flooding from across the border. 

7. The Nuclear Test in 1998

Pakistan Successfully tested its Nuclear Bomb in 1998 which further worsened already deteriorated relations between the USA and Pakistan.  The USA, Japan, and the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Pakistan.

When India tested its nuclear arsenals in May 1998, the balance of power got disturbed in South Asia. Moreover, by its aggressive attitude, India acted as if it was to invade Pakistan.  Its statesmen openly threatened to occupy Pakistan-held Kashmir (Azad Kashmir).

For Pakistan, it was a very critical phase in its national history. It was caught under the dilemma of whether listen to the international community or respond to India by testing its own nuclear bomb.

Finally, Pakistan opted for the second option to go nuclear. For Pakistan, it was more important to reestablish the balance of power in the region than compromising its sovereignty for few dollars. 

The nuclear test put Pakistan under new sanctions imposed by major world powers and the UN.

The United States, Japan, and other European states imposed economic sanctions on Pakistan for its nuclear tests. For instance, Pakistan could not import much-needed technology from these countries. 

Imposition of sanctions negatively impacted the economy of Pakistan. The inflation and unemployment rate plummeted as economic conditions worsened.  Pakistan was near to bankruptcy in 1999 until the event of 9/11 took place.

8. Support to US war against terror

One of the strategic changes in Pakistan’s foreign policy in early 2000 was an overnight change in its Afghan policy and support of the US-led war on terror.

The USA asked Pakistan to either support the war against terror or be ready for consequences. It was more like a threat.

However, Pakistan tried its best to convince the Taliban government in Afghanistan to hand Osama over to the USA but it failed to convince them.

After failing in its attempts to convince the Taliban government to hand over Osama Bin Laden to the USA, Pakistan finally decided to support the US war against the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

Impact on Pakistan

As a result of the decision to support the war against terror, Pakistan and the US came into a new agreement.

According to the new agreement, the USA lifted all economic and military sanctions on Pakistan and provided massive military and economic support. 

Pakistan paid a huge price for being a front line in the war against terror.

The menace of terrorism subsequently spread in the tribal areas and then in all parts of the country.

There were attacks on the army, police, and public places. As a result, thousands of security personnel and civilians have been killed in these terrorist attacks.

To quell terrorism, military operations leading to internal displacement were launched.  The war caused huge economic loss due to increased spending on the fight against terror.

Housing millions of refugees also has been a huge burden. Similarly, criminal and terrorist activities carried out by people from refugee settlements.


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