Pakistan can’t afford economic isolation
There was certain tune after Mullah Mansour’s death in Balochistan. There was also a distinct melody that rang in the ears of our policy makers once the news was revealed. That he got away with a National Identity Card, ( which many of us tend to queue up for in the searing heat across the country) and the subsequent reaction afterwards, is indicative of our reactionary approach towards untoward events which often have a bearing on our national psyche and policy making. Make no mistake, the subsequent reaction to the Chabahar Port Agreement between two of our Western neighbours and an inherent hostile eastern one, is no different.
We are now confronted with a situation where each of our neighbours – with the exception of China – is looking forward to the prospect of capitalising on the opportunity of linking the strategically significant Chabahar port of Iran to Afghanistan. Alarm bells over the security implications of this initiative had rung the moment this became public news and that too for good reason. Yet, despite the palpable security threats such as intelligence gathering, unleashing itself Vis a Vis the promotion of regional connectivity between Iran, Afghanistan, India and Central Asia, one wonders why there is an absence of a similar outcry over a lost opportunity on our part to capitalise on such regional arrangements? Availing the opportunity to benefit from a resurgent, Post P5+1 Nuclear Iran aiming to expand itself to the landlocked states of Central Asia, is certainly a great opportunity which we could have capitalised on even if economic cooperation narrows down to our two western neighbours, instead of India.
The poignancy of the isolationist threat and security rhetoric, notwithstanding the inability to forge relationships with Iran and Afghanistan which ought to be defined by a high degree of mutual trust, amicability and mutual economic cooperation, is now taking its toll, with our adversary India being the main beneficiary. The statement of the Iranian Ambassador at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad, where he stressed on how India bought Iran’s oil during sanctions buttresses the previous point made. While both issues of intelligence involvement in Balochistan and cross border terrorism with Afghanistan are of grave significance for Pakistan, it is equally essential to play a role in promoting an economically conducive environment in the region which is marked by a restive Afghanistan in the middle of the strategic calculus for each of the stakeholders. Our most trustworthy friend China for example has realised the importance of forging economic belts across the world to outsource its industrial capacity and establish a footprint in Asia, where the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar corridor or BCIM acts as an example of how border disputes and security quagmires should not detract from economic interests and realpolitik for any state. Why should Pakistan be an exception then?
Our decisions in recent times have been to prop up security as a top national priority at the expense of talk centring on economics and trade, which have irked our neighbours and is costing us dearly. Similarly, our previous ability to coax the Taliban to the negotiating table has been dealt a severe blow with the death of Mullah Mansour, and fomented allegations that we continue to operate a dualistic policy of going after certain militants at the expense of others, from Afghanistan. It is imperative for us to rekindle lost ground with Afghanistan and Iran by emphasizing on the importance of CPEC and its link with the wider objective of regional connectivity by continuing to work on projects such as the IP Gas pipeline which was previously subject to sanctions.
The constant chest thumping over Chabahar being used as a destabilising port should not detract from the fact that our diplomacy is falling short as far as evolving beyond certain matrixes is concerned, which often results in us missing out on economic opportunities which are unfolding in the region. Iran’s constant insistence that China and Pakistan was given an opportunity to capitalise on the deal, and the fact that it is still on the table shows how our security obsessed approach with our Western neighbours, continues to put our economic interests and regional profile at stake.
Truth be told, at this point in time, Pakistan cannot afford regional economic isolation, with only China providing munificence and acting as our benefactor as it has time and time again. What would be more appropriate, would be to explore how our country with its strategic location and significance can leverage itself as a hub for promoting regional connectivity by becoming actively involved in regional arrangements instead of adopting a Zero- Sum approach. If CPEC as a $46 billion investment, despite palpable security threats can take place in Pakistan, then putting up a case to capitalise on regional initiatives and facilitate regional trade is certainly a possibility.
Maybe then, the twinkling tunes of economics can supplement our inherent obsession with security and allow us to reap dividends from economic cooperation which is the need of the hour and will be the need of the region as well.
With CPEC, there will be no such thing as Pakistan's isolation. Though it will take time for people to understand CPEC as Pakistan's master stroke and the whole world will be wondering why they did not recognize it.
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