Obsession with the geostrategic has been deeply rooted in the ethos of the Pakistani state since its very inception. The survival instincts of a fragile new state probably necessitated it. But the geostrategic theories of the colonial ideologues also had an impact on the thinking of the ruling elites.
British India, as a vital part of the British empire had taken an active part in the Great Games of the region in the 19th and 20th centuries. Civil and military bureaucracy that dominated Pakistani power politics from day one due to inherent weaknesses of the ruling Muslim League was deeply aware of the country’s potential for a role in the big power rivalry. The climate of the unfolding Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s was very conducive for the promotion of theory and practice of a militarist state system. It naturally led to the emergence of a permanent client state dependent on foreign aid in return for providing military services. The connection between the imposition of military rule in the country with its integration in the US led anti-communist military pacts of SEATO and CENTO is obvious. Even after the demise of the aforementioned military pacts Pakistan, due to inherent characteristics of its state system, could not resist the temptation of becoming a so-called front-line-state in the West’s fight against communism and after 9/11 in the “War Against Terror”.
But in the changing international conditions in the 21st century the security state system is facing a crisis, as socio-economic development is becoming the main arena of regional competition. China and India, two big immediate neighbours of Pakistan have impressively leaped forward on the road to economic development. China is already a recognised economic super power and is continuously striding ahead. India has been able to build a strong industrial base and is on the fast lane of technological development in modern sectors such as IT, bio-technology and space exploration. Pakistan is clearly a case of retarded socio-economic development compared to China and India. Pakistan’s capacity for launching war of attrition through non-state actors in the region that it developed during the Cold War is absolutely a liability in the changing political climate. With growing population and very slow economic growth Pakistan can’t hope to compete in regional economic development. There is a realization in the business elites and parts of political elites that Pakistan can become an economic backyard of the region if it could not correct its policy’s balance between geo strategic and geo economic. Representing mainly the Punjabi business elites, the PML-N led by Nawaz Sharif, seems to have grasped the situation despite its other limitations. But due to the chronic civil-military imbalance in the state system it is finding it extremely difficult to muster the required level of political strength and political stability required for policy shift and reformation.
It will be useful to have a look at the three ongoing major regional economic cooperation projects that can be very important for the economic future of Pakistan. On Thursday May 11, leaders of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan jointly launched a $1.2 billion quadrilateral project Central Asia-South Asia (Casa-1000). Under the project a total of 1,300 MW electricity will be produced by Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan out of which Afghanistan will get 300 MW and another 1000 MW will be supplied to Pakistan. Transmission line for the aforementioned power supply will originate in Datka, Kyrgyzstan, and pass through Tajikistan’s substations of Sughda, Dushanbe, Regar and Sangtuda before entering Afghanistan on its way to Pakistan. It will ultimately connected to a converter station at Nowshera in Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Casa 1000 is not the only power project connecting power sectors in Central Asia and South Asia. Last year (December 15, 2015) construction work started on a far bigger project of $10 billions Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) Gas Pipeline Project. The 1680 kilometer long pipeline will have the capacity of supplying 3.2 billion cubic feet gas every day fro Turkmenistan to the three countries in the east. The proposed gas pipeline will enter from Turkmenistan into Herat in Afghanistan before extending via Kandahar into Chaman in Pakistan. From there it is to move on to Zhob, DG Khan, Multan and onward to Fazilka before entering India. TAPI gas pipeline is expected to operationalised in 2019. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiated in 2015 is by far the largest project which promises to bring $46 billion Chinese investment in building networks of highways, rails along with gas pipelines, energy projects and industrial parks. The CPEC, apart from overcoming energy shortages and achieving infrastructural and industrial development in Pakistan shall also provide a comparatively short rout for Chinese exports through Gawadar deep-sea port in Balochistan, Pakistan.
For successful implementation of these important projects of regional economic development Pakistan has to adopt three major policy shifts. One, Pakistan has to revisit its priorities in budgetary allocation. So far around 80 percent of the country’s budget goes to three areas; debt servicing, defense and administration. It leaves very little for the social and development sectors. It has to obviously change if Pakistan wants to have any real development. Two, Pakistan must have political stability to focus on socio economic development. But the experience of elected political governments after 2008 shows that intelligence agencies related to the armed forces constantly remain active to keep the civilian governments shaky so they aren’t able to challenge military’s domination of policy making in the state system. This is the root cause of permanent political crises. Three, the security policy of keeping “non-state actors” such as Taliban, LeT, JeM and others has to go as they not only threaten regional peace and cooperation but also hinders the country’s efforts to overcome internal terrorism. The existence of powerful terror networks is not only destabilising the country but is also pushing it into isolation. It is time for giving priority to the geoeconomic.
Writer: Afrasiab Khattak
The writer is a retired senator and a leader of Awami National Party (ANP). He tweets @
THE PASHTUN TIMES