Newspaper Article 24/09/2023
Pakistan’s aspiration of shifting to human security and empowering the disempowered is enshrined in its National Security Policy 2022-2026. This dream can come true only if Pakistan is well connected with its neighbours, Eurasia and beyond for trade. The tenuous relationship with neighbours, inconsistent economic policies and internal instability are the major hurdles.
Pakistan remains hostage to territorial disputes with India that are deeply embedded in history and psyche. India, however, portrays a disregard to this conflictual situation in the wake of her relevance to US global ambitions, more so America’s China containment policy that engender ‘condoning’ its arrogance, deceitful occupation of Kashmir and obstinate religious extremism. Despite overtures by Pakistan, it disavows bilateral engagement on unsubstantiated pretexts.
Notwithstanding the fact that people of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan have socio-cultural and religious affinity, our relations are marred by some real issues, but mostly misperceptions. Pakistan acts as a lifeline for Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is a conduit for Pakistan’s connectivity with Eurasia. According to a VOA report of 31st August, Afghanistan has concluded $6.5 billion gold, copper, lead, zinc and iron mining contracts with companies from China, Iran, Turkey and the UK. India had won an iron ore extraction contract worth $10.3 billion in 2011. In same year, Canada was granted a site too. Afghanistan is exporting crude oil. Pakistan buys coal in ample quantity from Afghanistan. Comparative peace, reduced corruption and enhanced income from trade royalty under Interim Afghan Government have helped Afghanistan survive despite sanctions in the absence of its formal recognition. Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral trade has reported a surge. Pakistan’s trade with Central Asian States through Afghanistan has also increased by 70%. Despite its economic woes and internal security issues, Pakistan hosts about 30 million Afghan refugees for past forty years plus. These facts notwithstanding, Pakistan is viewed as an unfriendly country by people of Afghanistan — a misperception fostered by foreign sponsored media indeed. The reasons may also reside in the blames of Pakistan meddling into Afghan internal affairs, problems related to issuance of Pakistani visas and inconvenient Pakistan-Afghanistan border management wherefrom thousands cross every day. These misperceptions could be removed by respecting Afghanistan as a sovereign country, facilitation in visas and trade. Registration of illegal Afghan immigrants with the Interim Afghan Government cooperation is considered extremely essential to stem the rising tide of terrorism in Pakistan and resolve border crossing issues.
Iran and Pakistan are cooperating in counterterrorism, drug-trafficking and smuggling. Iranian electricity and commodities including petrol contribute significantly to better life in the less developed areas of Balochistan. Recent bilateral visits of leadership and officials including military and intelligence have contributed well to improving bilateral relations. In a recent talk at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), Ambassador of Iran His Excellency Dr Reza Amiri Moghaddam echoed the same sentiments. He emphasised closer economic cooperation by turning the Pak-Iran border into an economic region. He said that land of Iran would never be allowed to be used against Pakistan for espionage or sabotage. Iran-China increasing collaboration, KSA-Iran rapprochement adroitly brokered by China and Pakistan-China multifaced ties further strengthened by CPEC are likely to catalyse interdependence between Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the GCC countries. BRI complemented by China’s Global Development Initiative can be helpful too.
In this whole matrix, India, though a big country of Eurasia, is more west-leaning due to obvious advantages afforded by favourable global politics woven around US-China competition. SOAS, UK Professor Arshin Adib in an interview remarked that India has a Eurasian DNA, but is west leaning. It will comeback, however. One can hope that India will not be able to stay away from the economic swirl moving around its border for long in shape of BRI, and not benefit from it. Too extreme environment within India and tense relations with her neighbours could exacerbate fissiparous tendencies within India. This realisation may take time. Maybe a leadership other than the hardliner, self-centred myopic RSS-BJP could rethink, but it is hoped that India will be integrated in the regional web of economics for good of its people in due course.
Pakistan must continue to strive for resolution of disputes with India through peaceful means and mutually beneficial relationship for better future of generations of the region. “Complex Interdependence” is likely to be the remedy, wherein people to people and business to business connections complement the formal ties. A future woven around this concept is likely to usher peace and stability in the region through intertwined destinies. Our good relations and economic cooperation with all the regional countries, the West and more importantly with the neighbours is an extremely essential prerequisite for realisation of Pakistan’s dream of geo-economics as enshrined in National Security Policy of Pakistan.
Note: This article appeared in Tribune, dated 24 September 2023.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.