Every situation offers a set of choices to states that are derived from external as well as internal factors, such as people, economy, geography, identity, culture and history. Since these factors are not static, they are debated on and policy guidelines are set.
This article will first look at Pakistan’s global situation, then narrow it down to regional and domestic position. It will evaluate the challenges Pakistan is facing and if it has the ability to successfully deal with them.
Two external events shape Pakistan’s current international relations: the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the US/NATO withdrawal and the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. The first one has brought the western states in direct confrontation with Russia and China. This threatening global conflict, even if fought on ground in a small European country, is pushing other states to take sides. The Russia-Ukraine crisis has negatively impacted the international economy, which in turn has weakened Pakistan’s already feeble economy.
The US/Nato withdrawal from Afghanistan has also played against Pakistan. The withdrawal, initially viewed as a victory for Pakistan’s policy, has re-ignited domestic terrorism as well as decreased Pakistan’s strategic significance for the US.
Pakistan’s foreign policy was dependent on its strategic location for far too long. The country received military and economic support from the US-led West because it made its territory available to them. Initially, in 1950s to the West against Soviet Union, followed by China in 1960s against India, to the West (as well as China) against Soviet Union in 1980s and the Taliban in Afghanistan in the last two decades.
Weapons and money from the West have determined Pakistan’s policy. Such a policy has kept Pakistan dependent on foreign aid and has stymied its political and economic growth.
Weapons and money from the West have determined Pakistan’s policy. Such a policy has kept Pakistan dependent on foreign aid and has stymied its political and economic growth. The withdrawal of the US/Nato forces from Afghanistan has decreased Pakistan’s strategic importance to the world. The worries have further compound with India’s aggressive stance against Pakistan under Narendra Modi. India is economically and politically stable and closer to the US/West now than ever before and maintains friendly relations with Russia. This has enabled her to keep her rivalry with China manageable.
Due to Pakistan and China’s common revelry with India, Pakistan is still significant to China. However, experience tells us, China cannot or does not want to fill the economic or security void created by the West in the region. It is also cautious about the extremist strand in Pakistan.
Pakistan is in a challenging environment. The ability to deal with these challenges depends on economic and political stability and intellectual quality of the state that seems to be missing in the country.
Many independent economists have pointed out the continuous downward slip of the economy and have proposed a way out through extreme austerity measures, decrease in imports and increase in exports, along with foreign capital investment. In an environment of political polarization, economic uncertainty and immature debate led by political protagonists, critical decisions are hard to make and foreign investment is negligible. Although the government has taken some austerity measures, the common man continues to face economic hardships. The opposition, mainly the PTI, is playing the populist card. Rather than demanding stronger austere measures, the party criticizes the government for the little that it has done so far. Its rhetoric appeals to many people. Because of its popular but illogical narrative of divide within the military and foreign conspiracy as the main cause for ouster of the PTI government, the PDM government has been unable to curtail the defense budget. The little breathing space that the IMF bailout has provided is not helping much in reviving the economy from the destruction of infrastructure caused by the floods.
Pakistan needs to maintain balanced foreign policy towards the West/US, China and Russia. The government must engage with people to counter such exigencies. It must share the hard facts with them and confront the populist challenge head on.
Agreeable, the situation in Pakistan is dismal. But stating anything otherwise would be dishonesty of the highest order. The best option available is to initiate a debate on the need for change, and what that change needs to be.
The government’s policies to face challenges are proving to be highly ineffective. It is relying on administrative actions (right or wrong) to deal with a political issue. Regionally, Pakistan is sticking to its Afghan policy, which is increasingly destabilizing Pakistan by encouraging Talibanisation and terrorism. Some experts claim that Pakistan wants to become useful again for the international players in deteriorating situation in Afghanistan with the expected fallout in Central Asia. This policy may provide a temporary respite. It would however, in the long run cause political and economic instability in Pakistan.
Pakistan needs a bold leadership, which can break from the past, and try to gradually strengthen internally for its own sake.
Can Pakistan do that? Is there any leadership left, right or center, that has enough popular base to take the country on that road?
Agreeable, the situation in Pakistan is dismal. But stating anything otherwise would be dishonesty of the highest order. The best option available is to initiate a debate on the need for change, and what that change needs to be. The intelligentsia should initiate a more educated debate, about issues and policies, not individual leaders.
The country is caught in a political quagmire and the way out is only through political solutions provided by the people and intelligentsia.