PER­SPEC­TIVE The New Re­al­i­ties

Pak­istan must ex­plore its op­tions in a world that is fast-chang­ing un­der new re­al­i­ties and ad­just its poli­cies to meet the de­mands of sus­tained growth.

Southasia - - MALÉ - By Iqbal F Quadir

Any tur­moil or con­fu­sion con­tains its own seeds for dam­age or gains not only for the par­ties in­volved but the neigh­bours, the by-standers and, by whiplash ef­fect, for even those far away and not di­rectly in­volved. It can be chaotic and messy as have been the cases of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria or long drawn out like the 1950-52 Korean War Cease­fire, the Ira­nian nu­clear cri­sis and the vac­il­lat­ing US ap­proach to the For­mosan set­tle­ment with China or any crises in for­ma­tion. Ex­am­ples could be East­ern Europe, the Mid­dle East, the South China Sea or fall­out from cre­ation of the Indo- Pa­cific Com­mand by the USA. In all these cases, the greater the in­ten­sity of tur­moil or mag­ni­tude of con­fu­sion, the greater would likely be the dam­age or gains in­di­vid­u­ally or col­lec­tively af­fect­ing coun­tries. Pak­istan, to ben­e­fit from or to safe­guard its in­ter­ests in a fast-chang­ing world, both near and far, must de­velop new think­ing in its ex­ter­nal pol­icy with match­ing changes do­mes­ti­cally.

Cur­rently, the words and ac­tions of three coun­tries, USA, China and Rus­sia, gen­er­ally cre­ate world­wide or re­gional rip­ples in de­scend­ing or­der of in­ten­sity. How­ever, China amongst them has al­ways ad­vo­cated a pref­er­ence for con­tin­ued diplo­macy as the means to find­ing a so­lu­tion to any prob­lem while the USA, too con­scious of its mil­i­tary prow­ess, has gen­er­ally threat­ened the op­pos­ing par­ties with a mil­i­tary op­tion from the very start. Mean­while, Rus­sia for the pre­sent is try­ing to res­ur­rect for it­self a place of em­i­nence like the ex-Soviet Union in man­ag­ing the world.

In in­ter­na­tional af­fairs gen­er­ally, econ­omy leads to pol­i­tics and pol­i­tics to war while the strength of a coun­try can be de­scribed as a tri­an­gle where the econ­omy pro­vides the base and diplo­macy and de­fence the two arms for ac­tion. The eco­nomic strength of a coun­try de­ter­mines the power avail­able for the two arms and their size and reach. In chang­ing times, the bag­gage from his­tory, e.g. NATO and the South China Sea is­lands, too plays its part in mo­ti­vat­ing a na­tion’s ac­tions. Ac­cord­ingly, three im­por­tant events in the last quar­ter cen­tury have led to shak­ing up the whole world or­der. First, NATO’s move east­ward to iso­late Rus­sia from its west and south, sec­ond, the phe­nom­e­nal eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of China and its eco­nomic supremacy re­sult­ing in the USA shift­ing its forces from the At­lantic Ocean to the Pa­cific and cre­at­ing a com­bined Indo-Pa­cific Com­mand for its forces in the two oceans and third, North Korea be­com­ing the third coun­try in the world ca­pa­ble of launch­ing a nu­clear at­tack on the United States main­land.

The NATO move into East­ern Europe early this cen­tury, de­spite ver­bal as­sur­ances to the con­trary, caused Pres­i­dent Putin to act fast first to peace­fully re­solve Rus­sia’s bor­der dis­pute with China which re­leased about a third of its de­fence bud­get for other pur­poses and a large num­ber of land and air el­e­ments to aug­ment de­fence against NATO which was re­port­edly now plan­ning to base 40,000 NATO troops in Poland. In ad­di­tion, to safe­guard its en­try into the Mediter­ranean Ocean over­land through Syria, Rus­sia got ac­tively in­volved there to pre­vent USA-led NATO’s di­rect and in­di­rect in­ter­ven­tion de­signed to bring down the Asad regime as well as to break up Syria. Its suc­cess there and its in­creas­ing eco­nomic and mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion with Saudi Ara­bia and Turkey have put Rus­sia in di­rect con­flict with Amer­ica for in­flu­ence in the Mid­dle East. US supremacy there was be­ing fur­ther un­der­mined by in­creas­ing Chi­nese eco­nomic in­roads into the re­gion in terms of trade and in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing in oil­fields and in fu­ture re­con­struc­tion of dev­as­tated Syr­ian cities. Iraq could per­haps ben­e­fit sim­i­larly. Fur­ther­more the first-ever Chi­nese mil­i­tary base abroad has come up in Dji­bouti in the Gulf of Aden, re­flect­ing its new pol­icy of mil­i­tar­ily de­fend­ing its vi­tal in­ter­ests abroad.

It was a sign of the chang­ing times that al­most all lit­toral states of the Pa­cific and In­dian Oceans now have China as their largest trad­ing part­ner, pro­vid­ing the lat­ter soft power in the re­gion. This trade in­cludes huge quan­ti­ties of oil and gas ship­ments that were open to all types of mar­itime in­ter­fer­ence through­out the In­dian and Pa­cific Oceans and even more acutely in the Malacca Straits and the

South China Sea. The openly threat­en­ing at­ti­tude of some coun­tries, which in­cluded USA, In­dia, Aus­tralia, Ja­pan and Viet­nam, to­gether with strength­en­ing of their naval forces, has forced China to build its own naval forces to a level that could pro­vide the nec­es­sary pro­tec­tion to this mar­itime trade. The force could in­clude three air­craft car­ri­ers by 2023. How­ever the cre­ation of the new US In­doPa­cific Com­mand, though it pro­vides greater flex­i­bil­ity in rapid de­ploy­ment of re­quired US and Al­lied forces into ar­eas con­cerned, it also re­flects US doubts about the avail­abil­ity of Al­lied forces at crit­i­cal times be­cause those coun­tries have eco­nomic in­ter­ests with China or for other rea­sons.

Not long ago in the Mal­dives Pres­i­den­tial cri­sis, In­dia had been un­able to rapidly build up a force large enough to bring about a change of govern­ment there while the USA did not wish to be di­rectly in­volved. Ac­cord­ing to one re­port, China which sup­ported the rul­ing Pres­i­dent had eleven ships pre­sent in the re­gion at that time. As for the South China Sea, ac­cord­ing to the new com­man­der of the US Indo-Pa­cific Com­mand, China’s ef­forts at is­land build­ing have been so suc­cess­ful that it “is now ca­pa­ble of con­trol­ling the South China Sea in all sce­nar­ios short of war with the US.”

Mean­while, the USA has com­menced with eco­nomic poli­cies that hurt in­ter­ests not only of China but the US’s own al­lies and its own in­ter­ests too. This has in­vited re­tal­i­a­tion that would make im­ported and US prod­ucts costlier for the Amer­i­can pub­lic and for ex­ports. In the case of high-tech IT, China im­ports about US $ 225 bil­lion worth of IT goods an­nu­ally from the USA, Ja­pan, South Korea and For­mosa, all con­nected with the US in­dus­try. What would hap­pen to those in­dus­tries if their prod­ucts were banned for ex­ports to China? Fur­ther­more Pres­i­dent Trump’s vi­sion of re­fur­bish­ing the old and worn-out in­fra­struc­ture in the USA could re­main a vi­sion only and dif­fi­cult to achieve, par­tic­u­larly as his rich friends who ben­e­fit­ted most from re­cent tax re­forms have so far failed to come for­ward with any in­vest­ments, etc.

In ad­di­tion, as the US govern­ment in­come has gone down due to re­duced taxes and es­ca­lated costs of do­mes­tic projects, the cost of run­ning and main­tain­ing the now su­per costly new weapons sys­tems and si­mul­ta­ne­ously re­main­ing su­pe­rior to the com­bined Sino-Rus­sian mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties in all the six de­fence fields; Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Space and Cy­ber. This could be­come un­sus­tain­able for the USA in about a decade or two at the most. Amer­ica could to an ex­tent at­tract for­eign funds by rais­ing in­ter­est rates. How­ever, in the most re­cent case, these for­eign funds in­cluded al­most US$ 29 bil­lion FDIs from, amongst oth­ers, In­dia and some south east Asian coun­tries that would af­fect their eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment ad­versely. Fur­ther­more, to pre­vent vis­i­ble in­creas­ing Sino-Rus­sian co­op­er­a­tion and thereby re­tain­ing US con­trol of world af­fairs, Pres­i­dent Trump, by of­fer­ing a re­vival of G-7 (of which Rus­sia was a mem­ber) de­spite the USA’s se­vere eco­nomic and fi­nan­cial sanc­tions on Rus­sia, was try­ing to make it feel Euro­pean again rather than Eurasian that Moscow was now be­gin­ning to act. Re­port­edly, Rus­sian lead­er­ship was di­vided 50:50 on which way to go but Pres­i­dent Putin has not re­acted so far and in­stead an­nounced in­creas­ing co­op­er­a­tion with China.

At the In­ter-Korean Sum­mit Meet­ing on April 27, 2018 at Pan­munjeom, Pres­i­dent Moon Je-in of South Korea and Chair­man Kim Jong-un of North Korea solemnly de­clared that there would be no more war on the Korean Penin­sula. They also shared a firm com­mit­ment to bring a swift end to the long-stand­ing di­vi­sion and make joint ef­forts to elim­i­nate the dan­ger of war, hold tri-lat­eral (NK, SK and USA) and quadri-lat­eral ( 3+plus China) meet­ings with a view to declar­ing an end to the war. In the three-page dec­la­ra­tion, both lead­ers also con­firmed the com­mon goal of re­al­iz­ing, through com­plete ver­i­fi­able de-nu­cle­ariza­tion, a nu­clear-free Korean penin­sula..This dec­la­ra­tion very much laid the for­mat of the USA-North Korean ne­go­ti­a­tions as ev­i­dent from the out­come of the Sin­ga­pore par­leys be­tween Pres­i­dent Trump and Chair­man Kim Jong-un and ear­lier took care of the op­po­si­tion within the two gov­ern­ments i.e. three North Korean gen­er­als re­moved and the US Vice Pres­i­dent and Mr. Bolt si­lenced.

Three con­sid­er­a­tions must have af­fected the change in the long-stand­ing US of­fi­cial de­mand of com­plete and ver­i­fi­able nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment. First, the speed and strength of mu­tual un­der­stand­ing be­tween North and South Korea which, if im­peded, could lead to a di­rect fi­nal set­tle­ment be­tween the two as per the Pan­munjeom Dec­la­ra­tion. Sec­ond, and im­por­tantly, that ac­cord­ing to a study by Stan­ford Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Siegfried Hecker who had vis­ited var­i­ous North Korean nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties four times, the com­plex­ity and depth of North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram could take the de-nu­cre­al­iza­tion process up to fif­teen years to com­plete. Third, by im­pli­ca­tion of the Dec­la­ra­tion there would be no more mil­i­tary ex­er­cises against one an­other, leave alone com­bined with a for­eign power and by stat­ing de-nu­cre­al­iza­tion of the Korean penin­sula, it im­plied all nu­clear ca­pa­ble US forces would have to be with­drawn too. There would there­fore have to be step-by-step progress by both sides which would take its own time to work out. How­ever, it is im­por­tant to ob­serve that North Korea ap­peared to have won the com­plete back­ing of China and Rus­sia.

Im­ran Khan as Pak­istan’s Prime Min­is­ter would bring con­sid­er­able hope as the most vi­tal is­sue fac­ing the coun­try at the mo­ment is get­ting out of the Debt Trap, some­thing the last two elected gov­ern­ments placed the coun­try in. For this dire sit­u­a­tion, the es­tab­lish­ment for a change bears no re­spon­si­bil­ity. There is a need to ad­just Pak­istan’s re­la­tions with the USA and adopt a friend­lier ap­proach to­wards Saudi Ara­bia, China and Rus­sia. Im­ran has al­ready talked of a fru­gal life style. Per­haps all non-self-sus­tain­ing state-run in­sti­tu­tions like PIA and the Steel Mill need to be di­vested and fu­ture sim­i­lar white ele­phants, par­tic­u­larly un­der CPEC, avoided.

In fact, had the Kash­gar-Gwadar Trade Cor­ri­dor been given due pri­or­ity since it was con­ceived in 2006, Pak­istan by now would not only have earned mil­lions of dol­lars an­nu­ally but ben­e­fit­ted from trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy. Re­gret­tably, even now CPEC re­mains a pie in the sky with no ac­tiv­ity in sight ex­cept words. Fur­ther­more, by help­ing to bring peace in Afghanistan with no left-over for­eign po­lit­i­cal or mil­i­tary pres­ence, just as the wise north and south Koreas have done or Afghan-based ter­ror­ism or In­dian ac­tiv­i­ties against Pak­istan, Pak­istan’s de­fence ex­pen­di­ture would be re­duced con­sid­er­ably. How­ever, the pre­sent Afghan govern­ment must also con­trib­ute pos­i­tively by ac­cept­ing the re­al­ity of hav­ing only a mi­nor­ity fol­low­ing in the coun­try. Rid­ing an Amer­i­can horse would take the peace process nowhere ex­cept con­tin­ued blood­shed in Afghanistan and some spillover in Pak­istan.

An­other vi­tal prob­lem for Pak­istan is the ex­plod­ing pop­u­la­tion. If it is not re­versed, it could lead to much vi­o­lence, due to lack of fresh wa­ter which has al­ready reached a cri­sis level, con­tin­ued high level of un­em­ploy­ment, poverty, il­lit­er­acy and other so­cial prob­lems. With de­plet­ing river wa­ter lev­els, ad­di­tional dams would be of no help and new meth­ods of “cre­at­ing” fresh wa­ter would have to be found. The third vi­tal prob­lem for all Pak­ista­nis and all in­sti­tu­tions is to avoid hypocrisy and to prac­tice Is­lam and the na­tional con­sti­tu­tion in their true spirit. With­out a moral re­vival and a good ju­di­cial sys­tem, the coun­try can never ex­pect to re­ceive the mer­cies and bless­ings of Al­lah. Per­haps Im­ran Khan is ac­tu­ally what the coun­try needs.

The writer is an Is­lam­abad-based in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist with ac­tive in­ter­est in re­gional is­sues.

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