Bilawal Bhutto advocated trade with India-US

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ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Thursday advocated the case for trade and engagement with other countries, especially India and the United States, and noted that Pakistan was isolated on the world stage due to past policies.

In his first major foreign policy speech since taking office at the end of April, he touched upon the country’s major relationships and questioned the conduct of foreign policy in the past.

Speaking at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, a government-funded think tank, the minister said the coalition government had inherited an “internationally isolated and internationally disengaged” country.

He identified India and the United States as countries with which Pakistan’s relations were problematic.

In his speech on Thursday, the foreign minister put greater emphasis on engaging India, saying it was time for pivoting to economic diplomacy and focusing on engagement.

The foreign minister contended that if Pakistan had achieved economic engagement with India in the past, it would have been in a better position to influence Delhi’s policy and prevented both countries from taking extreme positions.

As for China, the foreign minister said the government was committed to economic engagement. However, he cautioned against falling victim to a great power contest, apparently referring to the US-China competition.

His argument was that despite a “long history of war and conflict” and the Indian government’s actions in occupied Kashmir and its anti-Muslim agenda, it was not in Pakistan’s interest to remain disengaged.

Referring to the Kashmir dispute and the marginalisation of Muslims in India, he said these issues remained the “cornerstone” of Pakistan’s narrative and the government was taking them up “in the most serious and most aggressive manner”.

At the same time, he questioned if disengagement with India served the country’s interests. “Do we achieve our objectives, whatever they may be; be it Kashmir, be it the rising Islamophobia, be it the Hindutva sort of supremacist nature of the government in India. Does it serve our objective?”

“We have practically cut off all engagement” with India, he said.

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