Pakistan’s economic security paradigm | By Dr Shoaib Baloch

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Pakistan’s economic security paradigm

PAKISTAN has shifted its statecraft from geopolitics to geo-economics. It is due to the fact that globalization and information technology have brought about a profound shift in the world.

New developments such as the rise of new power poles, technological advancement, shift in global wealth dynamics, change in global climate order and emergence of new concept of security have been the very reasons behind chalking out a new strategy to engage with the contemporary world.

National economic meltdown has also necessitated for this new approach to shift from traditional security concept to economic and human security.

The geo-economics policy revolves around economic diplomacy, new terms of engagement, regional economic integration through energy pipelines and infrastructural development for connectivity, investments, socioeconomic development or human security and commercial intercourse.

Can Pakistan carry out the policy of pivoting geo-economics in an atmosphere of intense geopolitical competition in the region?

If realist paradigm is a guide, India will leave no stone unturned to foil Pakistan’s economic security policy.

Economic emaciation of Pakistan is indeed in India’s security interest. How can India cooperate with Pakistan to become an economic power in the region?

However, if Pakistan pursues a policy of appeasement toward India by putting aside New Delhi’s unilateral action in Kashmir and its support of terrorism in the country in order to make the new policy approach to be succeeded, it will be a geopolitical suicide.

Changing global geopolitics has swung the pendulum to India’s favour as the US needs India’s cooperation to compete or even confront China.

Great power competition has made India a darling of big powers, while Pakistan has been pushed into the eye of regional geopolitical storm.

In short, India factor will preoccupy Pakistan’s foreign policy decisions; this will put impediments in the path of the country’s economic security.

Another problem is Afghanistan. The return of terrorism, border clashes, refugee crisis and militants at the helm of affairs in Afghanistan are major irritants which may create an unbridgeable chasm between Islamabad and Kabul.

Pakistan’s policy shift toward Afghanistan from ‘strategic depth’ to ‘strategic shift’ appears to be momentous; however, the country needs to explore avenues for engagement with the Taliban Government and cast about for the support of major powers to ensure peace in the country.

Yet, spoilers of peace—India and non-state actors—will prove to be a thorn in the flesh of Afghanistan.

Instability in Afghanistan serves India’s interest to foment terrorism in the region and increase Pakistan’s security and economic concerns to divert its attention from Kashmir quagmire.

Besides this, the geo-economic policy will fall through as regional connectivity becomes a pipe-dream when regional tension mounts due to the clash of interests in Afghanistan.

Similarly, Iran has a sanctioned regime. International sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program and its support to various non-state actors in the Middle East rocks Pakistan’s pivot to geo-economics in the region.

It impedes commercial engagement with Iran. Moreover, economic engagement with Iran may result in the degradation of diplomatic relations with the Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia.

Nevertheless, Iran-Saudi thaw seems to be on the card given emerging shift in global geopolitics.

It can facilitate Pakistan to harness the untapped economic potential of the region through engaging with Iran and Saudi Arabia for its energy security.

Yet it is a long way to go. No doubt China is our traditional friend. It has invested billions of dollars in our country under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, supported us diplomatically and even provided a strategic bulwark against India.

And it may not be wrong to say that our geo-economic policy is a brainchild of China’s economic revolution and geo-economic enterprise as the CPEC is its vivid component.

However, the Pakistani market, it will create troubles for domestic industries. Therefore, Pakistan needs to expand the volume of its trade with China and produce value-added products to compete in international markets.

It is obvious that our geo-economic policy will be abortive unless we balance our trade with China.

Equally important, the US is our biggest export destination. Amicable relation with Washington is paramount for the geo-economic policy to do the trick.

Geopolitical rivalry between the US and China can spoil this grand strategy, however. The US is our largest export market while China has invested in multibillion projects in the country.

Both countries are of equal significance for our economic security. Therefore, a delicate balancing approach is imperative. Neither power is to be antagonized.

Even though Pakistan attempts to engage with both powers on economic terms, the security interests of the country and shifting sands of geopolitics will make it onerous to remain neutral.

It will be an uphill task to divorce geopolitics from geo-economics. Internal obstacles can also hamper our geo-economic policy.

Extractive economic institutions, elite captured economic structure, political instability, social polarization, return of terrorism, narrow spectrum of tax regime, energy crisis and rising ecological threats will make the geo-economic statecraft a futile attempt.

Indeed, the purpose is not to throw cold water on this initiative, but it will be a pursuit of pie in the sky unless grounds are prepared to make it fruitful.

Good relations with neighbours and internal economic reforms are sin qua non. This policy will fall through if we fail to establish friendly relations with economically powerful states.

Although great powers have geopolitical axes to grind under the guise of geo-economics, Pakistan needs to stop the impulses of emotion and ideology in its foreign policy to craft a balance equation. National interest must trump all interests.

—The writer is a strategic affairs and foreign policy analyst.