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February 18, 2018

Reorienting priorities


February 18, 2018

Notwithstanding the fact that Pakistan has suffered the most in the war against terror and contributed immensely to keep terrorism in check to a great extent – an effort widely acknowledged across the world – the US and its staunch allies continue to look askance at the country.

They have persisted with their mantra of ‘do more’, and with the advent of the Trump administration, the focus has shifted to coercive measures such as freezing over $1 billion worth military assistance meant for Pakistan. Of late, the US and UK have also threatened to include Pakistan’s name in the list of countries deemed non-compliant with terrorist financing regulations of the Financial Action Task Force, if it failed to tackle the threat from terrorist groups.

The civilian and military leadership of Pakistan have refused to bow before these coercive antics and have clearly told the US and the world that it has already done enough; now it is the turn of the US and its allies to do more. It has also been clearly conveyed to the US that Pakistan was not fighting the war against terrorism for US money and only wanted earnest recognition of the efforts it had made to tackle terrorism. At the same time, Pakistan has underlined the need for continued engagement, asking the US to help Pakistan in eliminating the remaining terrorist elements. The position taken by Pakistan in the wake of these threats is beyond reproach.

But the dilemma is that no matter what Pakistan does, the US and its allies are not going to give credence to its claims, because they have designs to stay in Afghanistan for an indefinite period and consign the region to instability. It is the wolf-and-lamb-story. I have persistently maintained that Pakistan will have to brace for a permanent US presence in Afghanistan. Exit from Afghanistan does not fit into their scheme of global politics. This perception is also increasingly endearing to some circles within Pakistan.

The question is: why does the US want to remain in Afghanistan and foment instability in the region? This can be best explained in the context of their global designs and strategies. The emergence of China as an economic and military powerhouse is perceived as a grave threat to America’s global interests and its standing as the only superpower. Economists believe that by 2050, China will be the number one economic power of the world if its economy continues to grow at the same speed. It would also become a formidable military power. With economic and strategic interests inextricably linked with Washington’s global interests, China’s growth is unacceptable to both the US and its Western allies

This factor is the determinant of the ‘Contain China Policy’. US strategists believe that China can be prevented from becoming the number one economic and military power if it is confined to operating from the South China Sea. They believe that China could even be denied that access by blocking the Malacca Strait, a narrow waterway connecting Asian countries to the Indian Ocean and beyond. The presence of the US Navy in the South China Sea and the arrival of the British naval ships in the region of late, besides bolstering Indian naval strength, are strong portents to corroborate these designs.

They view the OBOR initiative as the potential determinant of China’s economic and military strength; particularly CPEC, which would provide China the shortest and safest access to the Gulf States from where it obtains oil to run its industrial machinery. The route would also help it to transport products to other continents in the shortest possible time. Besides China, the US and its allies also want to make sure that Russia does not become a credible threat to US interests.

In this scenario, the best bet for the US and its allies is to thwart the successful implementation of CPEC, which would connect the South Asian region to the Central Asian States through Afghanistan. Therefore, they are determined to keep Afghanistan volatile and scuttle any chances of an Afghan-led reconciliation – though they pretend to be in favour of it to hoodwink the world. They have chosen India to keep the region unstable, a role that India has unfortunately accepted, unmindful of the fact that in the longer run it could find itself stuck in the very quicksand it is trying to create.

India’s attempts to foment insurgency in Balochistan and sponsor acts of terrorism in Pakistan through its agents, is part of the grand plan. Due to its geographical location, Pakistan has a pivotal role to play with regard to the success of CPEC and OBOR. This is why it is being pressurised and deliberate attempts are in the offing to promote instability within Pakistan and Afghanistan. The emergence of IS in Afghanistan, allegedly with US support – an accusation also levelled by former Afghan president Hamid Karzai – is also a part of that strategy.

China and Russia are surely aware of the matter and are making strenuous efforts to strengthen the SCO, which – apart from ensuring economic linkages and partnership – also provides an effective security apparatus to neutralise the impact of US machinations and strategy in the region, without entering into formal alliances. For China the success of the SCO as well as CPEC is absolutely important to realise the complete potential of its prosperity. One-fourth of the world’s population lives in the countries that are members of the SCO, and if countries that are part of CPEC join the SCO, China would be linked to half of the world’s population. This promises infinite avenues of economic prosperity. Pakistan can become the hub of this activity by translating this potential into a reality by connecting the SCO and CPEC.

In this scenario, Pakistan faces both internal and external security threats. The external threats can be mitigated with the support of the regional countries through the SCO’s platform. And internal challenges, which to some extent also have an external dimension, could be tackled through unrelenting operations against terrorist elements, securing borders to prevent movement of terrorists – even though that has to be done unilaterally.

One thing that needs to be understood is that security does not only mean being militarily strong, but also means dealing with other challenges. These include political stability, good governance, dispensation of justice without discrimination, human security, food security, health security, energy security, human resource development and redress of the social fault lines that promote extremism and sectarianism.

It is a moment for introspection for those running the country’s affairs and state institutions to realign their priorities and help achieve these foregoing objectives.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: [email protected]

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