Pakistan’s stubborn legacy continues to cast a dark shadow on a wide range of national issues, making needed strategic policy changes problematic in a situation made more complex by the nation rarely so divided.

The security establishment is concerned that ‘strategic challenges and related policy shifts in external relations could have repercussions for the country’. The concerns about fallout of the escalating civil war in Afghanistan including feared influx of refugees and the brewing unease in Pakistan-US ties owing to rising tensions in US and China relations are rising. The ‘geopolitical tensions’ an analyst says, have begun ‘to impact our fragile economy. The IMF programme currently remains in a state of flux.

Taking the parliamentarians into confidence the top security officials sought support from public representatives by asking them to avoid ‘political divisiveness’ on national issues. 

Pakistan has been unable to develop a proactive foreign policy to help promote economic development and shared prosperity or eliminate security risks

Implicit in a consensus on security is the inclusion of appropriate feedback and inputs from the public representatives and approval of the parliament. There are no such indications and the move is a usual one-off exercise with limited benefits.

What has been achieved by top security officials is not clear in line with the puzzling statement of a PM’s special assistant. Referring to the Bilawal Bhutto to the US this month he has accused PPP leader of trying to appease the US after PM Imran Khan’s refusal to give military bases. Only time will tell how effective the new security strategy will be in countering the emerging external challenges.

Pakistan has been unable to develop a proactive foreign policy to help promote economic development and shared prosperity or eliminate security risks. To come out of the reactive foreign policy instance the nation has to break the begging bowl in the first place. The country’s economy is mortgaged with those who represent international finance capital and their local associates.   

While foreign debts have risen to unprecedented levels, borrowings have no doubt been noticeably diversified with China emerging as the largest single lender. Beijing also provides a lion’s share in inflows of direct foreign investment. 

The PTI government is now trying to fast track China Pakistan Economic Corridor projects which had lost steam since Pakistan entered the bailout agreement with the IMF.

And to quote Western press China is the now the largest global lender. All this does creates space for Pakistan to take bold decisions but is not enough for a smooth sailing.   

No doubt, the fragmentation of international markets in a multi-polar world with economies of most hegemonic powers in trouble, developing countries like Pakistan may get an opportunity to assert independence.

But it is only economic self-reliance that would provide Pakistan the political muscle to achieve real national sovereignty.

Pakistan is heavily dependent on traditional western sources for credit as well as markets for export of its merchandise, workers’ remittances etc.  There can be no disagreement over the fact that Pakistan needs to build on these relations through astute diplomacy on the basis of equality, avoiding counterproductive confrontation.  

On June 30, PM Imran Khan urged people to pay taxes to become a ’real sovereign nation.’ This is a much more complex issue than mere enhancing tax revenue. Take for example the performance of state-owned enterprises. A World Bank study ‘Hidden Debt: Solutions to Avert the Next Financial crises in South Asia’ says: The sector (in Pakistan) shows a tendency towards rapidly declining profitability in recent years, with its net income dropping at an average annual rate of 57per cent from 2014-2017.

The  research report noted that  the total liabilities of state-owned  enterprises (SOEs), that made a loss  in three out of  the past five years, have  been  at about eight  to 12pc of the GDP, several times more than the country’s public spending on education in 2019-20.

The sovereignty is the right of a nation’s people to shape their destiny as they deem fit and is safeguarded by sovereign parliament drawing strength from a democratic culture where rights and responsibilities are widely dispersed.   

In an authoritarian rule, a threatening telephone call from a big power can bring about an abrupt change in strategic policies.

In a hybrid democracy, there is a systemic erosion of social cohesion as the wedge between the government and the masses widens. The elite views the federal budget FY2022 as ‘pro-poor’ but people disagree, according to the latest Ipso research report. A majority (54pc) of the respondents feared a surge in prices of wheat, rice, sugar and pulses owing to (indirect) taxation measures.

It is not a strange coincidence that policymaking both in the US and Pakistan is constrained by political divisiveness. In a political memo, Alexander Burns recently wrote in New York Times that “US outlook brightens, yet politics won’t budge”, adding that “Our system…isn’t very responsive to the real changes in the real world”.

In case of both countries, there is no guarantee that the short-term economic success will be sustained over the long- term.

It is the interest of both sides to shake off historical legacies and cooperate in areas where their interests converge.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, July 12th, 2021

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