Thursday June 20, 2024

The way forward

By Javid Husain
August 13, 2020

In the prevalent disorderly and unstable international environment, power is the ultimate arbiter of issues, specially those of strategic importance.

While power has always remained the most important factor in deciding the destinies of nations, it has assumed increased significance during the past two decades amidst signs of the breakdown of the world order established by the US-led West in the aftermath of World War II.

The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 in a blatant violation of the UN Charter and the US doctrine of unilateral pre-emptive military intervention under President Bush led the way towards the marginalization of international law and the diminished importance of the UN and other multilateral bodies in dealing with strategically important international issues.

President Trump’s open disdain of multilateralism and arbitrariness in dealing with external affairs as reflected by the rejection of the Iran nuclear deal have hastened the process and encouraged other major world powers to follow suit.

Several other factors have also contributed to the gradual unravelling of the post-World War II global order which was geared primarily to protect and promote the interests of the US-led West. Perhaps, the most important out of them is China’s phenomenal economic growth over the past four decades followed by its rapid military build-up, which has allowed it to challenge the US post-cold war supremacy, especially in its immediate neighborhood. The resultant tensions and cracks in the US-led world order, visible in the South China Sea, Iran and other areas, are likely to increase as China, emboldened by its rapidly growing economic and military power, seeks the accommodation of its interests in the face of the stiff US opposition.

In anticipation of these challenges, the US has strengthened its strategic partnerships with Japan, South Korea, India and Australia and mobilized its diplomatic, security, economic and technological resources to counter the expansion of China’s power and influence in different regions of the world.

Pakistan is thus faced with an anarchic and unstable global security environment marked by the domination of power politics over international law, diminished authority of the UN on the strategic issues of war and peace, civilizational fault-lines, primacy of economic power, importance of science and technology in determining the power of states and its growth, increased international focus on terrorism, climate change and weapons of mass destruction, the rise of new powers demanding the accommodation of their interests in the international system, and shifting alliances.

It is this world in disorder with an unpredictable and inhospitable international environment, in which Pakistan must operate to safeguard its security and attain the goal of prosperity so that its people may realize their full potential.

The enduring threat posed by India to Pakistan’s security and economic well-being because of its hegemonic ambitions, the growing sway of Hindutva in the Indian body-politic, and outstanding disputes, especially the Kashmir dispute, aggravate Pakistan’s regional security environment. The gravity of this threat increases further because of India’s rapidly growing strategic partnership with the US as part of the latter’s strategy to contain the expansion of the Chinese power and influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region.

In the face of the prevailing power-driven, knowledge-based and anarchic international system, Pakistan must learn to stand on its own feet and build up its national power to safeguard its national security, promote its economic progress, ensure its political and economic autonomy, and preserve its separate cultural identity which was the raison d’ etre for its establishment as an independent country.

Our leaders and policymakers need to adopt a comprehensive definition of national power covering political stability, economic and technological strength, scientific advancement, military power and cultural vitality. Excessive attention to the military element of national power to the neglect of its political, economic, scientific, technological and cultural dimensions can prove to be counterproductive as happened in the case of the Soviet Union which collapsed under the weight of its heavy military super-structure on weak economic foundations and fragile political institutions.

It would be advisable for us instead to take a leaf from the Chinese experience since the onset of its program of economic reforms and opening to the outside world in December 1978 under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. China assigned the highest priority to the goal of rapid economic growth subordinating everything else to this supreme national goal.

As a result, China maintained average growth rate of about 10 percent for 33 years, between 1978 and 2011, enabling it to double its GDP after every seven years. Despite some slowing down of the Chines economy more recently, it surpassed the American economy in purchasing power parity terms in 2014 and is likely to overtake it in nominal dollar terms within the next ten years. China’s rapid economic growth has also enabled it to embark upon a program of rapid military build-up posing a formidable challenge to the US.

By contrast, Pakistan’s GDP growth rate was only 1.9 percent in 2018-19 and its economy contracted by 0.4 percent in 2019-20. Even India, our main adversary, has been performing much better than us in the economic field during the past two decades enabling it to pull far ahead of Pakistan.

Currently, Pakistan’s GDP per head is $1220 as against $2490 for India, and the gap is widening in favour of India. In 2018, the comparable figures were $1661 and $1970 respectively for Pakistan and India. Our economic weakness, besides keeping us at a low level of development and causing economic hardships domestically, limits our foreign policy options and our ability to sustain our military power.

We would be well advised, therefore, to assign the highest priority to the goal of rapid economic growth while maintaining a credible security deterrent and enhancing internal political stability by strengthening democratic system and norms.

Externally, we should pursue a pro-active but low-risk and non-adventurist foreign policy while strengthening our strategic partnership with China and other like-minded countries to bolster our security. Friendly relations with Iran and Afghanistan are a must for us.

Such a grand strategy in the long run carries the promise of enabling Pakistan to promote its national interests and realize its cherished foreign policy goals provided it remains steadfast in pursuing it, bides its time, and exploits the right opportunities as they emerge.

The writer is a retired ambassador and president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.