Trade Imperatives

By: Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Tariq Khan
Published: August 1, 2017
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It was the dawn of a new age in 1947. The end of the World War II, the beginnings of the Cold War, Pakistan comes into being, Israel follows. There were dizzying moments, complicated, confusing and ambiguous for a world emerging from a protracted global war and the end of colonialism. There were stark choices. A republic or an Islamic Republic? Ally with Russia or the US, the Ummah or remain independent – what was it to be?

The legacy of the times put Pakistan into the US camp and created a Chinese ally, an Indian adversary, and an Afghan irritant. In hindsight, people offer alternative options. They sometimes admire, sometimes criticise, but they never consider the ‘obtaining environment’ before they speak when they air their opinions.

Beleaguered, impoverished and tottering on the edge of the abyss, Pakistan learned to survive and has done so till today, sometimes selling its soul to the devil, sometimes cajoling the powerful, at other times compromising and acquiescing, but it has continued to limp on – literally almost surviving, from one day to another.

Pakistan today, is a hostage of history and has been moulded into the dichotomy that it has become, not by policy or plan, but by unfolding events of the time. Pakistan never had the freedom, privilege or the space to independently decide its future.

So today Pakistan and Iran share a mutual suspicion, while Pakistan leans towards the illusive Ummah. Exactly 70 years down the road to nationhood, Pakistan is still lost, directionless and confused. The region is rocked by the ongoing freedom struggle in Kashmir and relentless instability in Afghanistan. Pakistan is accused of contributing a lot in the former, yet not doing enough in the latter; always accused of being in the wrong with little to show for anything right.

Pakistan, a victim of endemic terrorism, is invariably accused of propagating violence and extremism and has a poor image the world over. Pakistan is blamed for orchestrating, engineering and manipulating the US failure in Afghanistan and the resistance to India’s illegal occupation in Kashmir. Pakistan, with its limited resources and no wherewithal, is accused of influencing these major conflicts in the region while is itself subjected to outside interference, rooted in sectarianism, separatist demands, and ethnic conflict.

Pakistan never had the freedom, privilege or the space to independently decide its future

With few supporters and even fewer friends, in 2017, Pakistan is still learning to survive, while all else is collapsing around it – Libya, Iraq and Syria. Caught up in the trials and tribulations of the region, squashed between the pulls and pushes of competing national and international interests, Pakistan appears to have lost its voice and its sovereign identity. Its decisions are usually influenced by others, its posture in line with what other nations would have it be, its actions are always either in support of other nations, or against them, but nothing to do with itself.

Sovereign decisions, in Pakistan’s own interests are few and far apart, policy non-existent, trapped in the throes of social polarisation, financially on the edge of ruin, plagued by maladministration and poor governance, Pakistan still stumbles on from moment to moment; purpose undefined, objective unknown.

So what is Pakistan’s relevance to the comity of nations and the region? Is it a pariah sitting on the fringes of civilisation as opportunity and development pass it by, or is there more to Pakistan than what meets the eye?

Pakistan has a geographical reality to its existence which can neither be wished away nor ignored. It has access to the Arabian Sea, it connects with the hinterland of Central Asia where 1/5th  of the world’s minerals are in search of an outlet, it allows China, the fastest growing economy to connect with the world; moves trade both ways, especially oil, gas and minerals.

So is Pakistan a trade corridor and nothing else? The answer is in a resounding affirmative. For the most part, that is what Pakistan is and its power potential is limited to being a trade corridor, but could be much more than what it has, as of now. Its policies and its future lie in this unique and God-given opportunity. It is here that Pakistan can become a dynamo in terms of the economy, welfare of its people and its relevance to the world in general and the region in particular.

But then Pakistan is also a country with the seventh largest army and a nuclear arsenal. Why does Pakistan need such a capability when it should be focusing on trade? This is something its own people and the world question. The answer lies in the fact that Pakistan has never been accepted by India or Afghanistan as a reality.

In the first place, India has a constitutional obligation to secure ‘Akhund Bharat’, and it is with this legacy that it refuses to accept the reality of Kashmir, making it one of the longest unresolved UN resolutions. It is this same agenda that facilitated the break-up of Pakistan through a prolonged campaign which resulted in invasion in 1971.

As for Afghanistan, this is the only country that did not recognise Pakistan as a State in 1947. It claimed territory up to the Indus in some cases, the coastline in other cases, facilitated the Pushtun separatist movement and still does not recognise the international border between itself and Pakistan.

To survive the times, Pakistan inadvertently became a frontline state, first during the Cold War and then again following the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. In both cases, Pakistan was used and abused, as it lent itself to exploitation and manipulation, hoping that in return there may be a favourable word on Kashmir, maybe a move to recognise the Durand Line, even a few weapons here and a little aid there.

Pakistan has nothing to show for its alliances and cooperation, and her closest ally, the US, now sleeps with her greatest enemy, India

But having lost 80,000 people to domestic terrorism, and after $118 billion in losses (State Bank of Pakistan Annual Report 2016), Pakistan has nothing to show for its alliances and cooperation, and her closest ally, the US, now sleeps with her greatest enemy, India. Pakistan is presented as a mutual spoiler to both, while each justifies their own failures in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

The paradox that determines Pakistan’s image today is that India, eight times the size of Pakistan, complains how Pakistan is destabilising it, while a superpower leans on Pakistan, a country with limited capabilities and capacity, to win the war for it in Afghanistan.

Plagued by bad governance, a failed foreign policy, indifferent policies, maladministration, corruption, extremism and terrorism, Pakistan was extended a life-line by divine intervention and a Chinese initiative: the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). A $50 billion investment, which will make Pakistan what it should have been from its very inception; a trade corridor.

As China connects with the world, as Central Asia discovers its new access and as Russia finally obtains its warm water ports, Pakistan may finally have the stake-holders it always needed, who could be essential to her survival. With such stake-holders on one’s side – partners, contributors as well as beneficiaries – a formal defence system may even become irrelevant when the nations of the world would be willing to ensure stability and cohesion, so that their own interests are protected and business remains uninterrupted.

Can India allow this to happen, should Iran give up its Gulf supremacy, will Afghanistan settle down and let trade define the future of its people rather than chaos? Not likely. India needs to contest China and it will claim Gilgit-Baltistan as its own. With Kashmir boiling over, Pakistan will remain the primary suspect and open to punitive action, more for political reasons than for any corrective measures.

Indian ambitions in search of big power status will keep the region a hostage to conflict and acrimony. The artificial Unity Government in Afghanistan will feel more heat as the Taliban up the ante and secure even more spaces than the 45 percent they already control (SIGAR Report); ‘its Pakistan’ they will whine.

The US will demand that more should be done. Iran will promote its proxy war with Saudi Arabia just as Riyadh will fund its own proxies. The Gulf, disturbed by the Gwadar port venture, will pay and facilitate the disruption of the CPEC. Pakistan will see more violence and more terrorism and yet be blamed and accused of destabilising the region.

Since war cannot be fought by conventional means under the shadow of a possible nuclear conflict, but because wars must go on all the same in the name of national interests, wars will continue but by other means.

There will more Kulbhushan Jadhav style missions and covert operations. Attempts at further polarising Pakistani society, dividing security elements and the populace, media campaigns, and hostile exterior manoeuvres through diplomacy, will all increase. In short, Pakistan suffers from the old adage: where it has lost itself trying to please everyone else and now it’s losing everyone as it’s finding itself.

So when nature and destiny have brought Pakistan to where it is, Pakistan must protect its future for coming generations, must stamp its own identity and draw up the parameters of its core needs and define its objectives in its own national interest. It must settle to the idea of national security being directly proportional to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and not just guns.

Pakistan’s future lies in its corporate potential, it is the only activity that must define and direct all other activities

It must define its foreign policy objectives based on national interests and not illusive, ambiguous ideological edicts. It must support Kashmir internationally, highlight foreign terrorist activities in Pakistan and align itself with the region securing its relevance. Most of all Pakistan must shape opinions, internally as well as internationally, as opposed to false perceptions created by the enemy: ‘This is an army with an army,’ they say.

However, until then, Pakistan needs to ensure its tangible and intangible safe-guards are in place, are competent and functional, so that CPEC and its corporate endeavours are protected and facilitated. Having acquired a corporate direction and with CPEC well on its way, when the international community is willing to be members of the project, when the world begins to see the benefits of CPEC, Pakistan may shift its focus from a military orientation to a trade orientation.

Pakistan’s future lies in its corporate potential, it is the only activity that must define and direct all other activities. Administrative decisions that do not facilitate corporate activity should be seen as irrelevant and unnecessary. Pakistan has to take its place amongst the nations of this world not as a nuclear power, a military force, or an ideological hub, but as a centre of trade with fiscal sovereignty, economic viability, progress, opportunity and development driven by high levels of education.

The pride that Pakistan has, in the remittances from its expatriate community, must be replaced by pride in giving all its citizens an equal opportunity here within Pakistan. It is the corporate community that can give the necessary infusion to its people of being one nation, many languages and diverse ideologies; to allow for a rich mixture in culture, history and traditions with a balanced society, confident and secure in its diversity.

This can be achieved when the State recognises that its only objective is the prosperity of its people, nothing more and never less. Such an outcome is never possible when nations are under debt, always short of resources and lack wherewithal. Such nations make compromises that are invariably always at the cost of their own people. It is why Pakistan’s future lies in its corporate potential; let Pakistan find its place in  the world through trade and not its ability to fight everyone’s else’s war, or as a nation waiting to be hired.

About the Author
Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Tariq Khan
The writer is a retired Pakistan Army general, who has served as Corps Commander at Mangla and Inspector General Frontier Corps