Pakistan has aspirations to be a power player in Asia and beyond. It has also strong potential to emerge as the business centre of Asia Pacific region. Although, tackling terrorism and negotiating with regional partners shows progress, yet there is still a long way to go. It will be a serious foreign policy challenge for Pakistan to balance its relations between the US and China particularly in the light of new Asia Pacific Pivot policy of the US. Domestic stability and national harmony will, too, have positive impact on external relations of the country.
It is more than a truth now that the influence of Asia Pacific in the making of new world order is growing with every passing day. The region occupies a huge area starting from the Indian subcontinent to the west coast of America. It spans two oceans — the Pacific and the Indian — busy pathways of maritime activity and strategy. The region is home to about half of the world population. It has a number of important centres of world economy whose goods, tools and services are competing with the West in many ways. Asia Pacific thus provides both a competitive edge and an economic challenge to the West. Three of the most important straits — Malacca Strait, Sunda Strait and the Strait of Lombok — are situated in the region. The Malacca Strait is the world’s busiest shipping lane equivalent to Suez or Panama. Almost all the shipping passes through these three straits which further signifies the strategic importance of this region for regional and international actors. Three regional littoral states Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, are adjacent to these choke points and thus have the potential to exercise control over a significant percentage of the world’s maritime trade.
The Asia Pacific region has been the focus of world attention and the centre of academic debates in recent times due to an all-too-visible Sino-American rivalry. Besides this omnipresent antagonism, growing indo-China discord and the traditional Sino-Japanese hostilities in South China Sea are also among the major causes of the importance of this region.
It is also important to know that Asian countries, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), have now begun to spend more on defence than the European countries. Moreover, SIPRI reports suggest that China’s defence spending has increased by 750%, from $18 billion to $188 billion during the period 1989-2013. On the other hand, Japan’s increasing assertion on its military profile, the shift of global politics towards Asia owing to the rise of China and India as second and third largest economies, India’s qualitative and quantitative development of its defence forces under the guise of Indo-US strategic partnership especially nuclear deal and “Pivot to Asia” policy of Obama Administration have enabled the region to serve as a strategic juncture in the contemporary international geopolitical and geo-economical arena.
The importance of Pakistan in successful operationalization of China’s new Maritime Silk Road strategy as well as ongoing developmental work on Gwadar port has surely increased Pakistan’s credentials in the region.
Interestingly, Pakistan, being an important player in the tussle between Australia-India-Japan-US nexus and China, and also due to its strategic geopolitical significance, possesses the rank of a pivot in Asian Pacific juncture of international politics. However, the country has to brave a number of challenges and hardships to cash in on this opportunity. Pakistan’s socioeconomic problems have not only posed non-traditional and traditional security threats to its national security and integrity but have also decreased its capacity to deal with these issues. It is because of the fact that since its inception, Pakistan has been facing an acute leadership crisis which led to fragile civil-military relations which do affect the process of foreign policy making in the country.
Nevertheless, the region’s outlook in the near future is quite optimistic. The change of leadership in China, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan has affected the foreign policy directions of each state. And, this changed behaviour has led to the initiation of cooperative bilateral relationships among South Asian countries and beyond the region as well.
Cordial Sino-Pakistani relations are further expanding continually. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan in April 2015 enabled the two countries to reinforce the importance that they attach to their strategic relationship. They also made clear that they want to strengthen the all-weather friendship and elevate it to a strategic level in the near future. During Xi’s visit, both countries concluded a host of agreements and MoUs aimed at implementing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and several other projects in energy, communication, and infrastructure sectors in Pakistan involving a Chinese investment and financial support amounting to $46 billion. For Pakistan, it would be the forerunner of economic growth in all sectors of country’s economy.
Pakistan-Russia relations have also improved recently. Similarly, elections in Afghanistan also have positively impacted South and Central Asia, as a non-violent Afghanistan would augment the likelihood of development in Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India (TAPI) and Central Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project (CASA-1000) projects.
In addition, the qualitative development of armaments by Pakistan in the shape of surface-to-air missile FM-90 that has the capacity to engage aerial targets, together with cruise missiles, drones and air-to-surface guided missiles and is able to operate efficiently even under adverse electronic counter measures (ECM) environments is a rational response to India’s qualitative and quantitative improvement of military might that would, in one way or another, help in maintaining strategic equilibrium in the region. Last but not least, the importance of Pakistan in successful operationalization of China’s new Maritime Silk Road strategy as well as ongoing developmental work on Gwadar port has surely increased Pakistan’s credentials in the region.
In the end, it is a welcome development for Pakistan that its leverage in global and regional politics is increasing day by day. Hence, it is equally important for the US to address Pakistan’s apprehensions regarding Indo-US nuclear deal. At the same time, Sino-Pakistani strategic relationship should not be secretive anymore. On the Pakistani part, it is also need of the hour for its decision-making elites to make foreign policy objective more explicit because failure in this would throw Pakistan in limbo if region undergoes even a minor conflict between existing and emerging major powers in the future.