As in the case of an individual, national dignity and self-reliance also go together. A dignified position in the international community presupposes a nation relying on its own resources to meet the demands of economic well-being and security against external threats. A nation constantly with a begging bowl in its hands loses its dignity and the respect of the nations of the world. Unfortunately, Pakistan soon after its independence, instead of standing on its own feet, chose the seemingly easy path of heavy dependence on the US and other Western countries’ military and economic assistance to counter the serious threat posed to its security by India and overcome the formidable challenge of accelerating economic development. Its decision to join the US-led Western alliances in 1950s was driven by these considerations besides reflecting the Western orientation of the Pakistani civil and military elite. The decision was helpful to Pakistan in facing the economic and security challenges confronting it in the short run. But in the long run, it paid a heavy price for the foreign economic and military assistance in the form of the loss of national self-respect and dignity in the conduct of foreign policy. Besides, the nation gradually lost the “can-do mentality” because of the dependence syndrome which also narrowed Pakistan’s foreign policy options.

The long-term result of the demeaning begging-bowl diplomacy and the slavish mentality which goes with it is a nation which tries to find solutions to its problems and challenges in foreign capitals, preferably a Western capital, which is the desired destination of many of our political leaders and senior officials, both civil and military. During our 70-year history, we lost half of the country in 1971 thanks to the stark mismanagement of our internal affairs and the military aggression by India which has never missed an opportunity to take advantage of our weaknesses. The latest example is the arrest in Balochistan of the Indian spy, Kulbhushan Yadav, who was engaged in covert attempts to foment terrorism in Balochistan. It is true that through sheer persistence we have been become a de facto nuclear-weapon state with the second strike capability. But as the modern history vividly tells us nations do not win the wars of survival and progress through only military might. The defeat of the erstwhile USSR in the Cold War was not caused by the shortage of conventional or non-conventional forces and armaments. It certainly had the second strike capability. It disintegrated in the great struggle against the US-led Western bloc because of its relative economic backwardness and political weaknesses.

The long-term security of a nation in the modern world is dependent to a large extent upon its economic strength, scientific advancement, and technological prowess. We are woefully backward in all of these fields. In addition, we continue to suffer from internal political instability because of the immaturity of our politicians and repeated military interventions. The different institutions of state, especially the elected ones, are fragile and inefficient in the discharge of their constitutional and legal responsibilities. Instead of focusing on service to the nation, they, in many cases, have become predatory in character and their members are constantly on the look out to enrich themselves at the expense of the resources of the state which belong to the people of Pakistan. The nation has suffered enormously from this lethal combination of greed, corruption, and inefficiency. The problems of the nation have been aggravated further by the dependence syndrome and our tendency to look to others for help in finding solutions to our problems instead of relying on our efforts and resources. Consequently, our economic performance leaves a lot to be desired. Our GDP growth rate was just 4.7% in the past financial year as against 7.5 % for India, 6.4 % for Bangladesh, and 6.8% for China.

So the availability of foreign economic and military assistance, even after six decades, has not accelerated Pakistan’s economic and technological progress on which its long-term security depends. China, which from the very beginning relied on its own resources, has done much better than Pakistan in both economic and military fields. Since December 1978 when it embarked upon the policies of internal reforms and opening to the outside world, it has maintained high rates of economic growth. During the period from 1978 to 1998, its GDP increased five times as against the target of four-fold increase. Since then it has maintained high GDP growth rates catapulting it to the position of the second biggest economy in the world in nominal dollar terms and to the first position in purchasing power parity terms. Its GDP per head is now estimated to be $ 8438 as against $ 1571 for Pakistan.

China has achieved this phenomenal progress by conducting its internal and external affairs with prudence and dignity based on the policy of self-reliance. Pakistan, on the other hand, has generally demonstrated lack of wisdom in handling its domestic affairs, sacrificed the nation’s dignity and self-respect because of its begging-bowl diplomacy, and invited external threats to its security by indulging in military adventurism and by pursuing high-risk external policies. As a result, it has not only fallen behind others in the race for economic development. It is also viewed and treated with disdain by foreign donor countries.

The advent of the Trump presidency in the US with a strong commitment to an extremist national agenda at the expense of multilateralism, free trade, and liberal immigration policies portends turmoil and enormous uncertainty in international politics. The likely pursuit of such an agenda by President Trump would aggravate the anarchic nature of the global security environment making it even more inhospitable than in the past. In such a world in disorder marked by shifting alliances, it is imperative for Pakistan to pursue a policy of self-reliance in meeting its essential economic and military needs. Self-reliance does not mean a policy of autarky or cutting the nation’s links with the rest of the world. It basically means that Pakistan would have to learn to live within its own means. This in turn would require austerity at the national level so as to raise the national saving rate from 14.6% of GDP in 2015-16 to over 30% of GDP through appropriate economic and taxation policies. The increased availability of resources thus saved would help enhance our national investment rate and accelerate our GDP growth rate. The reform of the taxation system should be aimed at raising the tax-to-GDP ratio to 25% as against the current low level of 11% to meet the economic development and security demands of the country. Obviously the required changes in our economic and taxation policies would need radical reforms.

The proposed policy of self-reliance and rapid economic growth must be accompanied by a low-risk and non-adventurist foreign policy in the interest of peace and lowering of tensions in Pakistan’s neighbourhood so as to enable it to allocate the maximum possible resources to the urgent and massive task of economic development. A low-risk foreign policy does not mean an inactive foreign policy. Rather, the need of the hour is for a pro-active foreign policy which can identify the emerging threats to Pakistan’s security and economic well-being, and take advantage of new opportunities to safeguard its national interests. For instance, taking note of the growing US-India strategic cooperation, Pakistan must strengthen its strategic partnership with China and build up alliances with other countries to counter the growing security threat posed by India’s hegemonic ambitions. CPEC must be pursued by Pakistan vigorously for making this vital project a total success.

The long-term security of a nation in the modern world is dependent to a large extent upon its economic strength, scientific advancement, and technological prowess.