Marvi Memon

As I stare at a graph tabulating Asia’s growth rates from 1700 to 2050, the return of Asian economic power is all evident. If all goes well for our continent, we could be looking at dominating the world by being at 52 percent of the world’s GDP. At this stage, the only question as a Pakistani politician that comes to my mind is where will Pakistan be? The answer lies with us. We could either be steering the demographic dividends or be watching the demographic disasters taking place in front of our very eyes. After all, the Asian share of the population will rise from 21 percent to 45 percent of world GDPs; whereas, the Western share will decline from 50 percent to 29 percent.

At a time when Pakistan is indulged in a self-destructive corruption patronage cycle, we have to step back and give direction. Inaction is suicidal. The foreign policy direction has to be proactive not reactive. In the last four years, we have had a foreign policy made by the establishment and executed half-heartedly by its principals, and we have seen neither satisfied in the process. We have seen the two squabbling publicly over a direction which isn’t even a direction, but a self-serving cyclical tool. We have had screams by Parliament of discontentment on the same, but to-date no initiative by it to take charge of this important task.

There are international relations analysts, who predict that Asia could soon be divided into two camps. One set of grouping of continental nations physically contiguous to and strategically centred on China: North Korea, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. The other grouping consisting of liberal democracies aligned with the US and physically separated by the ocean or mountains from China: Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, Singapore, Thailand and India.

Pakistan frankly doesn’t deserve to be solely associated with any camp for its demographic dividend to be realised. It is time Pakistan took a step back from the continental and maritime polarisation leading to a new kind of cold war. Pakistan is geographically blessed with being at the gateway of a lot of strategic theatres. It has simply to realise how best it can reap the dividends of being on the epicentre of all these theatres. It needs to consciously work towards the “epicentre reap model”.

For now, Pakistan has reaped terrorism and played backyard to the games of its neighbours, who are trying to use Pakistani territory for their own aggressive designs. It is time for the tables to turn and for Pakistan to neither look east nor west, but to “look all” as an “Asian potential tiger”. In essence, what this means is that Pakistan needs to position itself at the centre of the compass and engage bilaterally with all directions to bring Asia closer to the realisation of its full potential.

Pakistan needs to follow the Asian economic model of penetrating international markets, developing technology and knowledge-based economy, thereby raising productivity. It is only possible to be the gateway for the Muslim oil-rich countries and the Asian tigers when Pakistan sorts its own house. The priority, therefore, needs to be a rush for “clean up home” strategy before being the compass, which can “look all” strategy.

The foreign policy direction needs to have three prongs: The ‘core’ prong, the ‘layer’ prong and the ‘crust’ prong. The ‘core’ prong needs to be the clean up action of freeing itself from being hostage to the games of all powers. A self-purification prong which gets rid of outside interferences and moves closer to the concept of economic and territorial sovereignty. The ‘layer’ prong has to be the prong, which deals with its immediate neighbours with whom it has borders. Here the focus has to be conflict resolution through international mediation of territorial disputes as a first step. Only then can the economic component of free trade zones or potential tariff unions become meaningful. And finally, the ‘crust’ prong has to engage in meaningful trade relationships with all other powers with whom business can be done. It is all about conflict resolution and then doing business; making the business environment as attractive as possible.

Asia certainly remains divided by ideology, history and lack of experience in regional integration. It has no historic model to bank on a trusted set of arbiters or guarantors. All states have occasionally favoured self-serving mechanisms of influence versus thought of the Asian collective whole.

For Asia to realise its potential, it will need to cut the inequalities within each country, which are currently the biggest impediment for social cohesion. It will need to rationalise the intense competition for finite natural resources. It will need to deal head on with the rising income disparities across its countries before they lead to the destabilisation of the region. It will need to collectively deal with the climate change challenges before its populations get wiped out or food insecure by one brush of a natural calamity. It will need to improve the poor governance structures and institutionalise to full capacity in as short a period as possible.

Whilst Pakistan cannot be part of the engine of the Asian century by being part of Asia’s seven economies, it certainly needs to reduce its drag factor on the engine. Through a focus on core, layer and crust this is a realistic possibility. The vision document, which will provide Pakistan this foreign policy direction, needs a parliamentary sign off so that there is ownership beyond a single term of a political government. This is the very document we are busy building, as per our leadership’s directions. And this is the very document, which will integrate Pakistan into being a truly Asian power with a compass “look all’ focus.

n    The writer is a former Member of the National Assembly of Pakistan.



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