The likelihood of strategic confrontation between the USA, the dominant power and China as the rising state with the potential power to displace the former in Southeast Asia and Pacific, if not in the world in the coming three decades, as perceived by many scholars, is too strong to be ignored in the fast changing geopolitical, geo-economics and geostrategic dynamics in the world particularly when both the powers have already embarked on strategic moves to countervail each other in almost all the regions. The South Asian region being in close proximity of the South West and Central Asia will be one of the significant battle fields for the colliding powers. They have already drawn the battle lines with the USA over pampering India as the countervailing power to China in Southeast and South Asia, and China endeavoring to have meaningful partnership with Pakistan in its OBR Initiative investing in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, reviewing its bilateral relations with Afghanistan, Iran and the Gulf and deepening its presence in Central Asian and Eurasian States.
We analyze Pakistan’s options in the changing global scenario which may further crystallize in the coming decade and half in the backdrop of the rising Sino-American contest for the world leadership. Pakistan is a medium country with a strong military but a chronically week economy. It is overburdened with foreign loans. The society is not homogenous and suffers from many fissures. The small provinces have chronic complaints against the injustice meted out to them in the distribution of state resources. The elite capture of state resources is complete. Corrupt oligarchies have taken hold of ruling the country according to their whims; the number of hewers of wood and drawers of water has been on the rise. Almost 60% of the population is deprived of their constitutional right to education, healthcare, livelihood, security of life and honour. Corruption is pervasive; maladministration and misgovernance endemic. There is a continuous tug of war between the main institutions of the country for more power and space which undermines the democracy and governance in the country.
Diplomacy without military prowess and economic strength does not yield desired results. We do not have the economic stability. We have to put our house in order. This is the first pre-requisite for our success in carving out a safe and secure place for the country in the changing global scenario. We have to rally our nation in national harmony addressing the causes of fissures in the polity without allowing the misperceptions and misconceptions of the past to distract us from this lofty goal of strengthening the federal bonds. The structural and stabilizing reforms in the economy have been overdue and cannot be further delayed. We have to set right our economic priorities rationalizing our revenues and expenditures and reducing our dependence on foreign loans and foreign doles-out. We have become an IMF addicted nation. The day we surmounted our economic difficulties, we would breathe freely without the heavy knee of the IMF on our neck. The IMF has been too entrenched in our economic and financial affairs controlling our budgets, prices of the utilities, tariffs, taxes, salaries and pensions. This is too much for a self respecting nation.
The overriding need is to review the history and prototype of our bilateral relations with both the competing powers and revisit the dividends, despairs, disillusionments and setback resulting from this relationship during the past many decades. Pakistan’s relations with the USA have always been transactional, subject to ebb and flow and mostly dependent on the extent of the American interests and priorities. They have used Pakistan as a rented state and abandoned it in lurch after achieving their objectives. Pakistan was never treated at a par with India even when the latter was in the tight embrace of the Soviet Union. Today, India has been elevated to higher pedestal as a US ally and a trusted countervail to China. Pakistan will not have that privileged relationship with the US unless there is a cataclysmic event in the region rendering our cooperation in the US foreign policy calculations inevitable.
Pakistan is currently receiving some attention from the American leaders because of their dilemma in Afghanistan. As peace and normalcy returns to Afghanistan, the US will further lower Pakistan on the scales of its priority. This leaves us with the second option of moving closer to China with which we have multiple engagements ranging from political, economic, strategic, technological and cultural relations to a mutually beneficial partnership in the CPEC and significant understanding about the peace process in Afghanistan. This does not mean that we should not try to improve our relations with the USA. We may try to recalibrate our relationship with USA on basis of mutual respect and mutually beneficial engagements seeking trade and investment and understanding on the issues of international concern. However, this should not impinge on our relations with China or our commitment to CPEC in anyway.
We should be well prepared for the American pressure which will be brought to bear on our foreign policy options when the rivalry between the two powers intensifies in the coming decades. The Americans would very much like to influence our old and well trusted friendship with China. We have withstood such pressures in the past. The Chinese leaders are well conscious of Pakistan’s delicate position. They have understood our vulnerability to such pressures on many counts overlooking our aberrations in policy and practice towards their country. Today, we have a deeper political, economic and strategic relationship with China which serves our national interests very well than any other option. China is equally interested in peace and stability in Afghanistan to expand CPEC and to strengthen its economic connectivity with the Central Asian states. Friendship with Afghanistan is the gateway to our economic connectivity with Central Asia.
In the backdrop of the last week’s series of my articles on the US-China rivalry, we shall have a look at CPEC from a different angle. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has been discussed at all levels – regional and international. It is termed as the linchpin of the Chinese ambitious ‘One Belt and One Road’ Initiative; a game changer in South Asia; an ambitious economic and trade project; a harbinger of economic and commercial connectivity and a blazing message of prosperity in the region. Simultaneously, it is viewed as a fissiparous project heightening domestic envies and rivalries for a bigger piece of the cake in terms of economic projects as well as the regional and international hostilities over the roads and routes of the corridor passing through territories disputed by certain countries. It is also increasingly looked at as an extension of the new economic Great Game being played out in the neighbouring Central Asian region between the world powers and the regional countries – USA, EU, China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Iran and Turkey. All these views about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor have some merit and need to be elaborated and properly understood.
We should remember opportunities and challenges for a nation go hand in hand. The success of a nation lies in exploiting successfully its advantageous geo-strategic situation to face the challenges and cash in the opportunities coming to its way. The CPEC provides many opportunities for Pakistan and confronts it with daunting challenges as well putting to hard test its political will for good governance and proactive diplomacy. While Pakistan’s leaders have to address the aspirations and ambitions of the federating units for maximum number of projects under CPEC, they have to address the objections of the hostile neighbour in the east disputing the passage of CPEC through Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan. The challenge becomes more daunting when this hostile neighbour is unjustly encouraged by the Americans with a view to sabotaging the OBR Initiative of its rival knowing that the CPEC is the linchpin of this great initiative costing almost $1trillion.
To understand the importance of the CPEC, we should review the economic and trade opportunities stimulating this ambitious venture. The Central Asian region is rich in hydrocarbon resources and precious metals. Uzbekistan has huge proven natural gas reservoirs. It is the 20th gold, 12th bronze and uranium, and 5th cotton producing country in the world. Kazakhstan, known as “Oil Dorado” of Central Asia has proven oil reservoirs of 100 billion barrels. The Kazakhs claim that their recently discovered oil field of Kashagan has over 50 billion barrels of super oil and vies with the Saudi Ghawar oil field with 80 billion barrels. Similarly, their Tengis oil field is credited with 29 billion barrels of oil. The third Central Asian Republic known for its resources is Turkmenistan. Its proven natural gas reserves are measured in trillions of cubic feet with comparatively smaller oil reservoirs. Turkmenistan produces cotton in abundance and is ranked as the 5th largest cotton growing country in the world. Kyrgyzstan has fairly rich reservoirs of gold, dwarfs other sister states in cattle stocks, sweet river waters, electricity, fruits, forests –pine and walnut- tourist attractions etc. Though not included in the Central Asian Republics, the other country of the Caucasian region that has huge deposits of oil and natural gas is Azerbaijan.
(To be concluded).