ISLAMABAD: Speakers on Wednesday said Pakistan should not miss a huge opportunity arising out of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project despite the fact that the country’s ruling elite had more social and economic links to the West - a reason that hampered progress on the multi-billion dollar programme in the past.

They said the CPEC project had the potential to trigger modernisation in agriculture and industrial sectors of Pakistan but this did not happen because those at the helm of affairs resisted the much-needed transformation.

They expressed these views at a seminar on ‘Navigating Challenging Times: US-China Relations and Pakistan’ organised by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based research and advocacy think tank.

Lawmakers, former diplomats, retired military officers, academics and experts on regional trade and international relations participated in the event.

The sub-themes of the dialogue included ‘challenges and opportunities for Pakistan in navigating the complexities of the US-China relations’, and ‘role of diplomacy in shaping US-China-Pakistan relations’.

The participants also discussed potential areas of cooperation and collaboration between the US, China and Pakistan to address challenges and promote mutual understanding.

Speaking on the occasion, Senate Standing Committee on Defence Chairman Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed said the future laid in regional economic connectivity and Pakistan had tremendous opportunities in it.

“It is all about geo-economic… and we have to open up the borders … and then avoid a new cold war,” he said.

Senator Mushahid, who is also chairman of the Pakistan-China Institute, suggested that Pakistan needed a new charter of foreign policy on national security.

“The national security has to be redefined not in terms of military might but for human security, climate change, energy, food security, water scarcity, population and education,” he said.

The senator said there was a need to understand China’s strategic culture, adding that any new cold war between US and China would be averted because the latter was not economically weak as was in the case of the former Soviet Union.

He said the relationship between China and Pakistan was strategically strong. “China needs Pakistan and Pakistan needs China,” he said, adding that it was a convergence of interests.

Former corps commander Peshawar retired Lt Gen Mohammad Masood Aslam viewed that Beijing itself had strategic interests, which dictated strategic and economic investments in Pakistan.

He said economic diplomacy was the need of the hour for Pakistan and this should be the main pillar of its foreign policy. For social and economic development, the country should focus on areas including food security, climate change, health, provision of technology, elimination of terrorism and poverty alleviation, he said, adding that “our diplomacy has to be totally linked with the economy”.

Political analyst and expert on regional affairs former senator Afrasiab Khattak endorsed the view of other speakers that the problem with Pakistan was its old western connections and economic dependence on the West.

“CPEC is a great opportunity and Pakistan should not miss it,” Mr Khattak said, suggesting that Islamabad would have to maintain economic relations with the Middle East, China and other neighbouring countries as part of this transformation.

He warned of a new cold war and said Pakistan should redefine its relations with other countries.He feared that the western world could use Pakistan against China, adding that militancy structures were still intact.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader and former senator Farhatullah Babar held that Pakistan should genuinely strive to promote regional peace and trade, which were prerequisites for its economic development. We have to revisit our economic model as the country did not have a conducive model, he said.

PIPS Director Mohammad Amir Rana remarked that the challenge right now was how Pakistan could make a balance between the US and China and whether Pakistan had to make this balance or not.

Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2023

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