KARACHI: The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) held a seminar/webinar on ‘Emerging geostrategic contestation in Asia-Pacific: challenges and opportunities for Pakistan’ on Wednesday.

Retired Lt Gen Tariq Waseem Ghazi, who inaugurated the event, said in his address that Pakistan had always punched above its weight.

“We have always been involved in somebody else’s game, somebody else’s war, considering ourselves as the key player in those events. In pre-colonial times we were fighting the Russian Empire, fighting for the British or fighting for somebody or the other. After independence there were times when we were looking at CENTO and sometimes at SEATO, and then we saw ourselves in the middle of the Gulf War, in the global war on terrorism, etc … while Kashmir burns.

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“So what is the way? One way is that we become an island and look after ourselves or [the other way is] become part of the global discourse and be relevant. There are some things that we cannot ignore and Asia-Pacific is one such thing,” he said.

‘Time to stop sitting on the fence’

Gen Ghazi, who had served as the defence secretary after his retirement from the army, continued: “We need to understand the environment in which changes are now taking place. We are reverting from uni-polarity. There are failing powers, realignments, shifting power centres and the emergence of other powers. What this chaos does is that it creates stress on the global system. This stress is especially felt by the powers that are actually failing; one of them is the US which finds itself receding [power]. Since US hegemony is eroding, as the erosion takes place there’s a reaction against it. What defines it [reaction] is the arrogance and hubris of the US, which tries to justify it by creating bogeys. The US can, but will not do, is to show some humility and come to terms with the loss of this power — and accept the rise of China by finding ways of transition peacefully. This will not happen and a piece of evidence is the [recent] US strategic framework for Indo-Pacific.”

With respect to Pakistan, in his detailed analysis, the general remarked, “It’s time for us to stop sitting on the fence”.

In the pre-lunch session, two eminent speakers expressed their views on the subject.

Former foreign secretary Salman Bashir was the first one who spoke online. He said: “We are witnessing changes of historic import. These changes are taking place on a civilisational scale. They are not episodic, but are very deep and will have an impact on world history. We should keep our eyes on the fundamentals. The centre of gravity of world politics has shifted to the Asia-Pacific. This has prompted reactions. Some of them are: can the rise of China be stopped, contained or reversed? Is China attempting to be a dominant power in the world? Is the West, specifically the US, equipped to out-compete China? Would the 20th century Cold War toolbox work in the 21st century?”

The diplomat said in his view the answer to all of the queries is ‘no’. Yes, he pointed out, China does bring positives to humanity at large. [But] the strategic thought in western hemisphere continues to put premium on outdated power politics. Geopolitics is no longer workable because of the deep transformations that have taken place the world over. The key drivers of change are demography, technology and globalisation.

‘US using Cold War toolbox against China’

Mr Bashir said political and economic systems have now started to fade. The rise of politics of identity, racism, xenophobia, extremism and white supremacy signify a deeper malaise. This can’t be fixed by the tools of geopolitics. The US is using Cold War toolbox against China. India has joined the anti-China venture as a junior partner. The Indo-Pacific US strategy is based on Indo-US defence partnership. It has consequences for Pakistan. The anti-China tirade has bipartisan support in the US. “China has no design of global domination in the western sense,” he said.

Talking of India, Mr Bashir said, “Modi has tarnished India’s reputation as a secular democracy and it is going to get worse.”

The second speaker, retired Rear Admiral Pervaiz Asghar, said in most recent terms Indo-Pacific can broadly be considered as Asia-Pacific maritime equivalent. The Trump administration from its early days preferred to use the term Indo-Pacific in lieu of Asia-Pacific. It formalised it on May 30, 2018 by renaming the US-Pacific command as Indo-Pacific command. Its defence secretary clarified the renaming had been done due to the increasing connectivity between Indian and Pacific oceans. “Indo-Pacific command is more definitive in its construct.”

He then shed light on India-US partnership and the agreements that have been signed in the last few decades between them, allowing India, among other things, to have access to US intelligence data.

“From Pakistan’s perspective, this is bad news. Having a large, unfriendly neighbour was bad enough; now that it’s teamed up with the biggest military in the world is a disaster,” he said.

Earlier, PIIA chairperson Dr Masuma Hasan welcomed the guests and informed them about the PIIA, which she said is the oldest think tank of the country.

The post-lunch session had two more speakers lined up: Ambassador Aizaz Chaudhry, the director general of Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, and Prof Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal of the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, February 4th, 2021

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