Undoubtedly, Pakistan once again is passing through a very critical phase of its history, surrounded as it is by formidable external challenges compounded by internal instability. Daily violations of LOC by India are a constant reminder of its military occupation of Kashmir in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and the threat posed by it to Pakistan’s security. On the western front, we are faced with a destabilized Afghanistan in the throes of a civil war, aggravated by foreign military occupation. The armed conflict in Afghanistan has serious implications for Pakistan’s security. Over and above the threat of a two-front scenario looms the issue of terrorism which not only endangers our internal security but also has the potential to isolate us internationally as was demonstrated by the fiasco at the recent meetings of the Financial Action Task Force held in Paris.
Pakistan is faced with an anarchic and extremely competitive global security environment marked by the domination of power politics over international law, diminished authority of the UN on 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, the rise of new powers demanding the accommodation of their interests in a multipolar international system, and shifting alliances because of the emergence of new centers of power. It is this “world in disorder” with an unpredictable and inhospitable international environment in which Pakistan has to operate to safeguard its security and attain the goal of economic prosperity so that its people may realize their full potential.
From the point of view of Pakistan’s security and economic well-being, the rapid rise of China and the accelerated economic growth of India, which are radically transforming the security and economic environment not only in Asia but also globally, are perhaps the two most important developments. In 1980, China’s GDP in nominal terms was less than $ 300 billion. By 2017, it was estimated to be $ 11.9 trillion, making China the second largest economy in the world in nominal terms after the US whose GDP was estimated to be $ 19.4 trillion in the same year. By way of comparison, India had GDP of $ 2.65 trillion and Pakistan’s GDP was estimated to be merely $ 304 billion in 2017 in nominal terms.
Despite the slowing down of the Chinese economic growth in recent years in relative terms, its GDP in nominal terms is expected to reach the level of $ 24.4 trillion exceeding the US GDP of $23.4 trillion in 2027. In purchasing power parity terms, China’s GDP of $ 17.6 trillion overtook the US GDP of 17.4 trillion in the year 2014. It is true, however, that due to China’s much greater population of 1.38 billion as against 329 million for the US, it would take China much longer, perhaps several decades, to catch up with the US in terms of GDP per head. But when it does, China’s GDP would be roughly four times the size of that of the US.
China’s rapid economic growth (currently 6.8% per annum) has allowed it to increase its military expenditure at a fast pace. China’s defense budget for 2017-18 was reported to be $ 151.43 billion reflecting an increase of 7 % over the corresponding figure of $146 billion for 2016-17. This, of course, is far below the US defense budget of $ 700 billion for the year 2017-18. But the situation is likely to change to the disadvantage of the US as China rapidly increases its military budget over the coming decades and the US is forced to apply brakes because of its economic constraints. According to a forecast by the weekly Economist, China’s military spending may overtake America’s around 2035.
US has adopted a policy of containment of China in the face of the latter’s phenomenal economic growth. The essential elements of this policy are the strengthening of US alliances with Japan, South Korea and Australia, the rebalancing of its forces in favor of the Asia-Pacific region, encouraging the ASEAN countries to resist China’s territorial claims in South China Sea, and helping build up India as a major world power of the twenty-first century to counter the expansion of China’s power and influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region. Pakistan must respond to the growing strategic partnership between India and the US, which appears to be irreversible in the foreseeable future, by rapidly developing its own strategic partnership with China and building up bridges of understanding and cooperation with Russia. The challenge confronting Pakistan’s diplomacy is to bring about this strategic shift in foreign policy while maintaining normal friendly relations with the US.
There is definitely a strategic imperative of peace between Pakistan and India because of their status as de facto nuclear powers and the need for them to focus their energies and resources on the gigantic task of rapid economic growth and eradication of widespread poverty. Unfortunately, these factors alone will not be able to usher in an era of durable peace and good neighborly relations between the two countries. In all likelihood, Pakistan-India relations will continue to suffer from recurrent periods of tension and strain because of India’s hegemonic designs in South Asia and outstanding disputes, especially the Kashmir dispute. Therefore, genuine friendship between the two countries will remain elusive in the foreseeable future. The best that can be hoped for is the maintenance of peace between them and normal bilateral relations marked by a low level of tensions, confidence building measures, and cooperation in various fields on a mutually beneficial basis. For this purpose, Pakistan should maintain a firm and principled position on major Pakistan-India disputes while keeping open the door of dialogue with India and pursuing a low risk, non-provocative, and non-adventurist approach in the handling of Pakistan-India relations.
The armed conflict in Afghanistan is the source of insecurity and enormous human sufferings in that brotherly country besides being the cause of instability in Pakistan and the rest of the region. Durable peace in Afghanistan would remain elusive without national reconciliation and a political settlement among the various Afghan political groups, particularly the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban, through dialogue and an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. Pakistan and Iran together with major powers like US, China and Russia, must encourage and support such a peace process without interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. Pakistan should deny sanctuary on its territory to any Afghan group engaged in hostilities in Afghanistan. In return, the Afghan government should stop providing sanctuary to TTP and other Pakistani criminals on its soil.
The US-led West has succeeded in raising the issue of terrorism to the top of the international agenda. Pakistan, which itself has been a victim of this menace, has repeatedly reiterated its opposition to terrorism in any form or manifestation. It has also rendered enormous sacrifices in blood and treasure for its eradication. However, as our recent experience at the FATF meetings in Paris shows, the international community views our anti-terrorism policy with skepticism. Our political and military leadership should realize that ambiguities in our operational anti-terrorism policy will not be acceptable to the international community. Therefore, any discrepancy between our declared anti-terrorism policy and the realities on the ground must be removed forthwith.
Finally, political stability and economic strength are indispensable conditions for overcoming successfully the numerous external challenges confronting us. We, therefore, need to reverse the current trend towards clash among institutions of state in the interest of political stability and democratic continuity in Pakistan.
The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.