Thursday June 20, 2024

What’s next for Pakistan?

By Ebad Ahmed
April 08, 2023

Finland’s inclusion in Nato as its 31st member is another indication that European politics is undergoing a radical change in the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war.

As Finland officially joins the alliance and ends its decades-long policy of ‘military non-alignment’, another Nordic country Sweden still awaits approval.

Barring Belarus, pro-West Europe has taken an anti-Moscow position since the start of the war. The strategic defence realignment is based on the shared premise cemented in the power corridors of Washington DC and respective European capitals: Russian advances like the 2014 Crimea annexation and the 2022 Ukraine attack have a pattern, and the war can potentially be coming at their door soon.

Meanwhile, Nato has urged its member countries to allocate two per cent of their GDP in defence spending. According to Nato’s most recent estimates, 10 countries are either close to or above the two per cent guideline. Thirteen have spent around 1.5 per cent or less on defence. After having assessed the great threat level, Poland – which shares borders with Russia and Ukraine – will likely increase its defence spending from 2.5 per cent to 4.0 per cent of its GDP.

But this is where the biggest caveat comes. There are concerns within European militaries that these armies are currently not strong enough to either counter any military challenge or fulfil Nato commitments because of structural limitations. Officials are now sharing these fears with people. Denmark’s General Henrik Lyhne recently gave an interview to state media and shared, “the situation is extremely critical, especially because we lack soldiers like never before. I have been in the armed forces for 40 years, and it has never looked so bad. This basically means we are unable to deliver safety and security like we should be able to.”

Europe is in a defence conundrum. In the wake of the Russian threat on its border, it notices the urgency of investing in the defence sector to counter possible assault. But the military prowess is depleted, and it needs time, skills and assistance to reach the desired mark.

In this time of crisis, Pakistan can potentially play a pivotal role in assisting Europe to bolster its defence capabilities. Export of the expertise of combat-hardened military is potentially the biggest in-demand resource for European defence. Of course, this option is not risk-free. But it is something worth considering.

The EU is a major market for Pakistani exports. In 2019, the country’s exports totalled 7.49 billion euros. This represents almost 30 per cent of Pakistan’s exports globally since it received the GSP plus status. The EU is also the third-largest source of Pakistan’s imports – mainly machinery and appliances, transport equipment and chemical and pharmaceuticals. In 2018, it accounted for around nine per cent of the total imports – after China (29 per cent) and the UAE (14 per cent).

Pakistan and the EU have always maintained good working relations. Their cooperation has never been limited to financial aid or provision of a market for textile and commercial goods. In 2021 after the Taliban takeover, Pakistan played an important role in safely evacuating European diplomats and military officers; the EU has also appreciated Pakistan’s efforts.

A report in the French newspaper ‘Le Monde’ published last year claims that Pakistan has been supplying Ukraine with short-range artillery and other military hardware. Islamabad may not have officially chosen to follow the binary narrative of ‘either with us or against us’, but the statement by the former COAS that “Russia’s aggression against a smaller country cannot be condoned” given during a defence seminar in April 2022 clearly shows the state’s tilt.

The Russia-Ukraine war has escalated at a time when Pakistan is inching towards a severe economic meltdown. Depleting foreign reserves, high inflation and fractured negotiations with the IMF is a reality not hidden from anyone. At the World Economic Forum in January 2023, the finance minister of Saudi Arabia disclosed that the Kingdom had changed its policy of ‘no-strings’ aid. Now it will be rich to hope that any ‘Umrah visits’ in the future can come to Pakistan’s rescue.

This makes it all the more important for Pakistan to create channels for revenue. In this regard, the provision of defence equipment and training remains the country’s highest bet. The risk of antagonizing Moscow is there. But so are the economic opportunities and geo-strategic significance that we lost after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The ball is in our court. It is hoped we play it well by exercising the choices that may have associated risks but that come with greater gains.

The writer is a journalist.