A considerate foreign policy

January 15,2018

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The US president’s latest ‘lies and deceit’ tweet has quite expectedly become the foremost topic of discussion among Pakistanis. As is apparent from the highly undiplomatic wording of the message, Trump tried, as harshly as possible, to slam Pakistan within the space limit of a single tweet.

The tweet generated a chorus of criticism and outburst in Pakistan. Many leaders were in fact quite sharp in their response to the tweet. “We have already told the US that we will not do more, so Trump’s ‘no more’ does not hold any importance,” said Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif in an interview. A little after this the US ambassador was summoned by the Foreign Office to lodge a protest. The developments which followed clearly showed a heightening of the stand-off between the US and Pakistan. The Pak-US relations which have been the mainstay of anti-terrorism efforts are stumbling down to reach their lowest ebb. Until sanity prevails and cooperation takes lead, further setbacks and frustrations cannot be ruled out.

These developments along with many others such as skirmishes at the Indo-Pak border, India’s alleged role in supporting anti-Pakistan elements in Afghanistan, Afghanistan’s worsening security situation, crippling economic sanctions on Iran and not to mention the country’s domestic governance crisis, carry drastic implications for the security and safety of the region. However, as an immediate consequence, holding on to a geo-economical approach and exploiting vast economic potential that the country’s geography and market have to offer is becoming increasingly challenging for Pakistan.

Currently, Pakistan is an important partner in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) since the exclusive China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a part of it. However, as China and Pakistan’s friendship is transitioning into a renewed phase of interdependence and interconnectivity, for Pakistan, this transition is expected to bring several difficulties owing to geostrategic tensions, political upheavals and miscalculations. Moreover, India’s unwelcoming attitude towards CPEC is already well-known. All these reasons invariably cast, in their own terms, a debilitating impact on the continuing momentum and paradigms of regional economic development.

On an international level, the emerging market trade – from Asia and Africa to Latin America – is rising to an unprecedented level and countries are getting more connected. Quite understandably, and with astute pragmatism, they are taking advantage of their geographical proximity. This expansion of regional markets in areas of services and consumptions in Asia, Africa and Latin America are rapidly shaping the contours of international political economy.

But regional connectivity in Pakistan’s neighbourhood is threatened by traditional and non-traditional security threats, mutual mistrust, memories of a hostile past and a lack of political will. At the domestic level, the situation of Pakistan’s economy is feeble. From the country’s declining share in global manufacturing exports to its low levels of saving and investment and a lack of human capital development, all present a grim picture of the economy. Since a country’s foreign relations are a manifestation of its domestic strength and capabilities, our deteriorating economic situation has severely hampered geo-economic activities.

Pakistan’s desire to normalise its relations with Afghanistan has led to it seeking an increased role for China so as to add a stabilising factor. Recently China, Pakistan and Afghanistan’s foreign ministers concluded a trilateral dialogue to discuss issues which included countering terrorism to develop the region. China and Pakistan also discussed the possibility and prospects of making Afghanistan a part of CPEC. Though the inclusion of Afghanistan in CPEC would be a good step but it will come at a cost. Afghanistan is a conflict-prone country and managing geo-economic dimensions of the relation would be a complicated task.

But surely the US is not the sole anchor of global economy. If the whole of EU is considered a single state then based on many economic parameters, it supplants the US. China is also closely narrowing the gap between economies but increased regionalisation of the global economy does not mean that Pakistan has the luxury to sever its economic ties with America. Pakistan’s economy needs a rejuvenation that requires reforms and restructuring which cannot be possible without the assistance of US’s financial system and technology. Moreover, in a world of distributed globalisation it is advisable to Pakistan to seek positive interdependence and exploit whatever comparative advantages it has vis-à-vis the US.

Indeed, Pakistan remains one of the pivotal states of the world but that’s only because of the significance attached to its geostrategic location. Until Pakistan succeeds in boosting a considerable level of economic competitiveness, overwhelming reliance on geostrategic dimensions will merely culminate in a self-defeating exercise. Therefore, amidst all this it is essential that Pakistan avoids applying militaristic strategies, especially ones that require counteracting. Contemporary geo-economics does not just prefer any state, it is favourable towards states that are more integrated and connected. Pakistan can rightly leverage its position only if it is more connected. Only through the power of connectivity and interdependence can we ensure peace, security and prosperity of our people.

It’s too easy for Pakistanis to get influenced by the changing headlines of our country’s external affairs. But instead of wasting energy on emotional outbursts, Pakistanis should rather focus on a more respectful way of aggressively pushing their leaders towards reforming political and economic institutions so as to make them more representative, responsive and effective.

Pakistan must pursue a foreign policy which more than anything else protects and projects its national economic objectives. A model for such a foreign policy is already there, the one envisioned by the country’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah, for him, Pakistan’s, “Foreign policy is one of friendliness and goodwill towards all the nations of the world.” It is so principled and purposeful that the country’s leadership, civil and military alike, must stick to it while undertaking the daunting task of formulating a foreign and defence policymaking framework.

The writer is a freelance contributor.


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