Pakistan has negotiated very difficult geo-strategic challenges for the last four decades. In the past, Pakistan had been the darling of the West, but when Islamabad needed its allies to help, it was greeted with policies of deception. Now, it has rebalanced its foreign affairs to an extent that allows Islamabad to look eastward. The idiosyncratic belief system and charismatic international standing of Prime Minister Imran Khan have paved the way to opening up new boundaries that allow Islamabad to further its national interests.
Pakistan has for the first time rebalanced its foreign affairs with neighboring states for the purpose of deriving long-term economic benefits for its people. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the flagship project of Beijing’s world-changing Belt and Road Initiative. The BRI is part of China’s ambition to compete in the rising multipolar world order. Beijing has proved its iron brotherhood with Islamabad on both economic and diplomatic fronts.
China has initiated economic prospects in order to establish an environment of long-term competition to impact world powers in the economic race and create avenues for other states to participate. For example, recently the first European state to take an interest in the BRI, Italy, announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with China to make Palermo a Belt and Road port.
To date, Chinese companies have cooperated in the construction and operation of almost 42 ports in 34 countries under the BRI. China has also signed 38 bilateral and regional maritime agreements covering 47 countries in connection with its Belt and Road trade routes. The key strategy of Chinese shipping company COSCO and other Chinese companies is to invest in smaller European seaports and then try to develop them.
Andrew Korybko, a Moscow-based American political analyst, believes that “Pakistan under BRI can transform itself from being a passive object of international relations to a leading subject of the rapidly changing global order if it creatively expands this central corridor throughout the rest of the supercontinent in order to become the Zipper of Eurasia.” According to The Atlantic magazine, US president Barack Obama’s East Asia strategy or “pivot to Asia” was adopted in order to contain the Chinese sphere of influence, while his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, coined the term America’s Pacific Century.
This significant shift in US foreign policy might have been a response to the String of Pearls narrative, a term coined by Booz Allen, head of an American management information and technology firm, in his report titled “Energy Futures in Asia.”
Apart from all these strategic fears, in my view, Beijing’s current foreign-policy narrative is to abandon the zero-sum game in favor of a win-win situation for all.
In parallel with this, Pakistan has endorsed the policy of regional connectivity by applying economics to boost regional economic integration, to create dependency in trade to avoid any foreseeable conflict, to which end it has offered to neighbors such as India, Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asian states to become part of CPEC and make their economies prosper.
According to Ishrat Husain, former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, “Our relationships with our neighbors should be determined by economic interests rather than politics.” Geopolitically, Afghanistan is vitally close to Central Asia and potentially connects Eurasia with an alternative route to CPEC with the upcoming Lapis Lazuli corridor. Similarly, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project is a substitute option for the Iranian route, and has been called the “peace pipeline.”
New Delhi and Islamabad can overcome the stalemate of their prolonged Kashmir dispute through compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 49, which suggests a way out through the democratic means of a free and impartial plebiscite, and also by giving space to economic dependency to avoid any strategic miscalculation in future.
Islamabad’s policy gestures suggest that it has adopted an “intermestic policy,” which can be defined as a congealing of strategic and economic policies. On the strategic front, Pakistan is in the process of converting to an Act East Policy, by using its geo-strategic location to diversify its friends club. In relation to this, the growing geo-strategic ties with the former Cold War rival Russia suggest Islamabad’s balancing strategy to cope with the rising Indo-US romance. The emerging triangular nexus among China, Russia and Pakistan is a pre-emptive measure to sustain the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region. Moscow’s decision to lift an arms embargo against Islamabad has opened up new avenues to increase its arsenal through the acquisition of Russian equipment.
On the Middle Eastern front, Islamabad has succeeded in partnering with Riyadh for a huge US$20 billion investment in CPEC, which according to Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is just the first phase.
Pakistani newspaper The Express Tribune has also reported that Iran has hinted at joining the Pakistan-Russia-China trilateral alliance for regional peace and stability. Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally gone rogue, is also forging closer ties with Islamabad, as is Qatar, a country recently demonized by the US-backed Saudi coalition of bullies.
To put it in a nutshell, it should be a priority by the decision-makers in Pakistan to further its national interest through means of regional connectivity to sustain an environment of security, peace and prosperity. According to Anatol Lieven, the author of the book Pakistan: A Hard Country, “Pakistan is not a failed state but a struggling one. It will continue to exist unless there is outside intervention by the USA and India.” Furthermore, he acknowledged the Pakistan armed forces’ role as the “savior to its long-standing stability.”
Korybko states, “Pakistan’s promising economic potential, international connectivity capabilities, and unparalleled geo-strategic location combine with its world-class military and proven diplomatic finesse over the decades to turn the South Asian country into the global pivot state of the 21st century.”