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An opportunity

Published Mar 21, 2017 05:46am

PAKISTAN’S leaders often boast of our vital strategic geographical location. Yet this location has done little more than thrust the country into global wars and force it to become a proxy battleground for foreign ideological agendas. Pakistan now has an opportunity to turn this reality around courtesy of the profound geopolitical changes facing the world today.

There is increasing talk of a shift from America’s global hegemony to multipolarity and of a new emerging Great Game in which Washington is being challenged by aspiring competitors. Smaller states seldom have a chance to influence the direction of such hegemonic competition. But Pakistan finds itself suitably placed to force the great powers to be more cooperative and extract benefits for itself.

Geography is the principal enabler. Competition is most pronounced in the South China Sea, in Russia’s extended backyard, and in the Middle East. Each of these regions intersects with Pakistan’s neighbourhood, and herein lies the opportunity.

China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative is the poster child for Beijing’s willingness to prove its global mettle. CPEC is the quintessential test case whose success is necessary to convince China’s aspiring allies of its ability to lead independent geostrategic initiatives of serious consequence. This implies that Pakistan will be centre stage in Chinese foreign policy.

Pakistan can work the global chessboard in its favour.

Second, Russia is looking for new partners and markets to export arms. India’s tilt towards the US has provided Pakistan an opening to mend ties with Moscow.

Third, because of the Middle East chaos, the world is struggling to find geopolitically relevant Muslim country partners that can have a moderating influence in the Islamic world. Pakistan is an obvious candidate.

Finally, the presence of nuclear weapons on the subcontinent implies that the costs of a total blow-up of Pak-India ties or Pakistan’s implosion are prohibitive.

With some visionary thinking, Pakistan can work the global chessboard in its favour by bringing the US, China, Russia, among others, together on these issues. China will remain CPEC’s driving force but proactive outreach from Pakistan to identify options to involve the US, UK, and Russia more seriously could transform an initiative otherwise seen as one of the flagships of Sino-US competition in Asia into a cooperative one.

Likewise, the US, China, and Russia share concerns about Islamist extremism. Pakistan is seen as part of the problem but its recent domestic counterterrorism successes imply that it can present itself as a potentially stable Muslim country that can stand up to the onslaught of Salafi-inspired radicalism that is beginning to face pushback in Pakistan. The fact that Islamabad maintains deep ties with the Gulf/Middle East positions it well to play this role.

Further, the world’s shared interest in avoiding a Pak-India disaster implies the need for the great powers to keep Pakistan engaged. This militates against the Modi government’s self-stated policy to isolate Pakistan and leaves space open for continued relations between Pakistan and the great powers, even if India remains their preferred partner. This will require Pakistan to reconsider its foreign policy orientation in at least two respects.

Foremost, the Cold War mentality of putting all eggs in one basket still lingers in Pakistani thinking. The emerging global order will prize countries able to demonstrate their importance for all competing camps. The current discourse in Pakistan about Sino-Pak relations and improved Pak-Russia ties offsetting the deteriorating Pak-US equation is self-defeating in this regard. The US remains Pakistan’s largest export partner, it holds most influence over international donors that Pakistan relies on, and only it has the military, economic, and diplomatic tools to isolate Pakistan. No good can come of being on America’s wrong side.

Second, Pakistan’s role as a melting pot for great power cooperation requires a better-managed neighbourhood. The tendency to allow ties with India to drive the country’s global policy orientation and the nature of its ties with other important countries has hurt Pakistan. The smarter policy would be to isolate Pak-India problems from broader discussions about Pakistan’s relations with the great powers. Refusal of other countries to support Islamabad on Pak-India issues must not be allowed to overshadow the need to work with them to establish Pakistan’s utility as a key enabler of great power cooperation in and around the South Asian region.

Finally, the vision purported here is predicated on Pakistan’s internal strength. Economic and governance reforms that create opportunities for inclusive growth and stability remain crucial. So does the need for the state to consolidate counterterrorism gains and push ahead with the agenda to reverse the growing extremism in society. This implies the need to ensure zero tolerance for all terrorist outfits in the country.

The writer is a foreign policy expert based in Washington, DC.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2017

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (53) Closed

Mar 21, 2017 05:53am

Ayub, Zia and Musharraf all tried to influence the global chessboard in Pakistan's favour. It only backfired and Pakistan is paying the price. Why cannot Pakistan be a normal country and focus on Development.

Mike London
Mar 21, 2017 06:24am

Great article, but it is easy said than done.

Mar 21, 2017 07:13am

Without quick normalization of relations with India and addressing their concerns, peace in South Asia will remain a dream. More of the same approach will force India to annul the Indus Water Treaty, an decision most Indians are loathe to take. However past generosity was based on hopes of better relations, when those hopes die, such Treaties also die.

Mar 21, 2017 07:48am

The author's grand vision is predicated on key assumptions that are neatly summarized in the final paragraph. The real challenge is maintaining internal strength and stability while simultaneously ensuring zero tolerance towards "all" terrorist outfits.

R S Chakravarti
Mar 21, 2017 07:50am

I like the term "potentially stable".

Mindshare ,tx
Mar 21, 2017 08:06am

One of very few optimistic and pragmatic article from. Surely, you made quite realistic observations and suggestions. Keep it up.

M. Emad
Mar 21, 2017 08:22am

Pakistan current leadership/ economy no match for Indian or even Bangladesh leadership/ economy.

Mar 21, 2017 08:24am

what should be done is fine, but what could be done is more important

Mar 21, 2017 08:37am

I loved the last line.

"This implies the need to ensure zero tolerance for all terrorist outfits in the country."

Is anybody listening???

Mar 21, 2017 08:59am

Good work, suggestions should be adopted by the establishment. I can already see someone getting uncomfortable.

Mar 21, 2017 09:08am

Yep, a GREAT potential and possibilities. Real progress in Pakistan will happen when an average Pakistani sees improvement in personal terms. Nothing of that sort is addressed here. This article is a pipe dream at best.

Mar 21, 2017 09:12am

Any fool can suggest, and most fools do.

Mar 21, 2017 09:14am

Great article but all I see are theories and. Even if the universe aligns itself to bring Pakistan the way the author wants to, how would you fix the ever burgeoning problem of massive corruption in the nation that has robbed the hapless citizens, and plunged the economy to depths unimaginable.

Mar 21, 2017 09:27am

Funny how random blabbering qualifies as an article nowadays.

Mar 21, 2017 09:29am

"Third, because of the Middle East chaos, the world is struggling to find geopolitically relevant Muslim country partners that can have a moderating influence in the Islamic world. Pakistan is an obvious candidate." Really?

Mar 21, 2017 09:43am

Well written and more practical.

Muhammad Saleem
Mar 21, 2017 10:03am

Article says it all and truthfully about Pakistan. Pakistani leadership and establishment is well aware of it. There is no smooth sailing in growing-up of nations. Pakistan has come long way and against all odds. The author has made excellent points and there is no doubt that Pakistan can and will realize its true potential within next 20-30 years. It will be among top 10 countries of the world. Most of us will be around to witness that.

Mar 21, 2017 10:08am

Moeed Sb please spare us this ... "Third, because of the Middle East chaos, the world is struggling to find geopolitically relevant Muslim country partners that can have a moderating influence in the Islamic world. Pakistan is an obvious candidate."

Mar 21, 2017 10:09am

@Audi Agree with you.

Mar 21, 2017 10:07am

Optimism is good for health. But if it is carried to this extreme it may be counter active.

Mar 21, 2017 10:27am

The greater challenges in diplomacy will emerge when stands have to be made in issues of conflict. Chess game is not with moves of free choices. It comes with pains, change of ideas, and a track record of intentions. Instead of piggy back on Chinese project of OBOR, the day Pak directly offers something useful to the world, it will have better position on the chess board.

Mar 21, 2017 10:32am

the last sentence will define the start with that.

Mar 21, 2017 11:01am

So more of the same? There really seems to be no plan.

Mar 21, 2017 11:04am

Prioritize education and enforce the rule of law. Everything else will follow. Grappling with the complex world is hardly necessary as many opportunities will open up if we get our priorities right.

Srinivasan Kailasam
Mar 21, 2017 11:11am

Great article, but I doubt whether Pakistan has the mandate to change relations with India on its own. The great powers of the old had a lot of interest in maintaining the status quo. Now, China has become an added factor.

Mar 21, 2017 11:15am

That is all India wants. Zero tolerance for ALL terrorist outfits. India and Pakistan's well being has common ground.

Mar 21, 2017 11:11am

Everyone knows the challenges and current fact, I think articles should give the analysis of challenges and current facts along with insight into how to overcome these challenges to our benefit. This article is too layman like write up and do not qualify as expert's opinion.

Mar 21, 2017 11:31am

@ashraf well said sir. I hv applied this logic in my personal life and it indeed happened the way you said. What applies for an individuals life must also be for a nation. So ,get the basics right, good things will follow. No need for grand designs and alignments.

Yogi adiyanath ki jai
Mar 21, 2017 12:02pm

Just why cant u guys simply focus on strengthening you economy rather than plauing chessboards.

Mar 21, 2017 01:17pm

Look East young man. China, India, Korea, Singapore along with heavy weights, like Japan and Australia could take limelight away from America in a few short years. Pakistan should hedge its bets and distance itself from over reliance on US military aid or being a partner its never-ending war on terror.

Fight instead a war on illiteracy, poverty, hunger, diseases and despair.

Mar 21, 2017 01:47pm

Every paradime shift suggested by the author prceeds with a "if", and that leaves a wide gap. Also, China is engaged in two greatest pressing problems 1. A belligerant N.Korea has become flash point for the entire region, which China is unable to contain. 2. South China Sea conflict situation is getting escalated after Trump's election. So, China finds its hands tied. Also Russia is facing more immediate problems at its European borders, with 800 U.K troops landing in Estonia.

Mar 21, 2017 02:06pm

Without a good raltionship, Pakistan could not change the "Worldchessboard" in its favour. Pakistan needs strategical depth and it is only possible with good and peaceful raltions with India.

Mar 21, 2017 02:24pm

The only line makes sense in the whole article is 'This implies the need to ensure zero tolerance for all terrorist outfits in the country.'

Mar 21, 2017 02:57pm

Useful choice of words & terminologies.

Fried Chillies
Mar 21, 2017 03:28pm

The banal argument of isolating bilateral issues between India and Pakistan while working on other outreach initiatives won't work. All other issues that interests the world in our combined markets are tied to how we resolve mutual issues.

No one will invest in a burning subcontinent. If Pakistan can create issues given its size imagine the amount of issues India can create. IWT was not even a major one

m arif
Mar 21, 2017 03:56pm

Well said . Pakistan should have zero tolerance for all terrorist outfits in the country.How does Mr Yusuf look at the appointment of the new Chief Minister of Uttar Pardesh? To show fairness, he should make some comment....

Mar 21, 2017 05:35pm

Great idea though difficult but we must try best for better relations wiyh other and neighbouring countries.

Taimoor khan
Mar 21, 2017 05:38pm

"No good can come of being on America’s wrong side"

Pakistan has been on America's wrong side in recent history, specially after 9/11. We have the distinction of most sanctioned American ally, and this goes beyond any argument of support to so called "Islamic terrorists", long before such terms were coined. It is self serving argument that without American support Pakistan will go down the drain, this is simply not true when one look at the history of two nation. With regards to CPEC, and participation of western civilization in this project, it is not really Pakistan prerogative here , . At one side, they are trying to choke China in south China sea dispute which in reality was the reason which got the CPEC going. and on the other hand, they want to join CPEC! Strange anomaly!

sardar ali
Mar 21, 2017 05:43pm

exactly, the last line is penacea but not for pakistan only, i think, in world today, all the commity members are facing the problems like pakistan in different manner, we should be practicle and realistic as well. whosoever, pak, india, US, china or russia should have zero tolerance for the problem discussed in article.

schabboo Khan
Mar 21, 2017 06:18pm

The last paragraph makes most sense in this piece. Fix that and everything else will fall into place!

mad russer
Mar 21, 2017 06:43pm

@Taimoor khan : which western country wants to join cpec...some references and/or sources may help please.

Subhash bose
Mar 21, 2017 07:02pm

Nothing negative, but the current time for Pakistan is not to look for and Opportunity but to engage itself into steady progress of its society in terms of Education, religious tolerance, agrictultural - Industrial production, trade and commerce.

It took America / UK / Germany/ Japan / China centuries to get considered themselves as prosperous countries.

Please remember that slow and steady runner wins the race.

Mar 21, 2017 08:34pm

Love you Pakistan Pakistan zindabad..World needs you and no one can stop Pakistan from becoming a leading global power

Fried Chillies
Mar 21, 2017 09:35pm

For a United Consortium of South Asia comprising of Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma, Bhutan and negotiate with the rest of the world as a United front. That way Pakistan will own it's assets and resources instead of surrendering to China. Water, road, defense, infrastructure all solved in one swoop. Build a framework and get ahead of life.

Rajiv Ranjan
Mar 21, 2017 10:05pm

@ashraf Like this:Prioritize education and enforce the rule of law. Everything else will follow.

Taimoor khan
Mar 22, 2017 01:33am

@mad russer Read the article, the writer is implying that Pakistan must facilitate stakes of western countries in CPEC. As for news item, UK has openly experssed its desire to join CPEC.

Gurpreet singh
Mar 22, 2017 06:36am

Pakistan needs to get over its obsession with "strategic location" & "geo-politics". Locations don't make a country prosperous, its people do and the most valuable commodity that a country has, is human capital. Pakistan needs to educate its people & focus on economic development rather than thinking about how to be a pawn of superpowers in their wars.

Mar 22, 2017 12:54pm

@Rajiv Ranjan "Prioritize education and enforce the rule of law. Everything else will follow." Security is required for both. You can't have rule of law or education without security.

Mar 22, 2017 03:25pm

All well and good but does the author honestly think that these PMLN politicians including the PM have the knowledge, expertise, foresight and dedication to think along these lines? All they know is murky world of Punjab politics and that is how they see the world as well.

Well Meaning
Mar 22, 2017 04:37pm

@Gurpreet singh brilliant observation.

Mar 22, 2017 07:27pm

Great optimism shown by the author ... however the BIG however is, is it achievable with distant past, recent past policies used by Pak leaderships (Civil or Military )?? The obvious issue I can see (i am no expert, and this is my opinion based on my limited understanding)..You can't have the countries Foreign policy only ONE country ties with US in past, or China in recent past is all the extension of policies thinking / considering that ONE country in mind... India is on rise, and rightfully, as irrespective of Govt (congress or BJP or any other), their foreign policies are based on their need for the country (not thinking of one country, yes they also have that country in mind all the time, but that is specific and separate)... same applies for any other (which are doing better socially, economically ). As soon as Pakistan starts thinking in that line, I think at least they will be on right path...

Nawab hiqamuddin bin tajikk
Mar 22, 2017 11:59pm

@Taimoor khan

You seemed to have missed the most important point in the article : "This implies the need to ensure zero tolerance for all terrorist outfits in the country."

CPEC or no CPEC -- nothing will improve for pakistan if it doesnt address this point sincerely and properly.

Mar 23, 2017 06:28am

Okay you said it all, in the last para. If Pakistan can do that all, without double standards,it can do a useful role for peace in the region.

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