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­­Regionalism and Pakistan

­­Regionalism and Pakistan

By: Tariq Mahmood Khan

Globalization is the product of the ongoing twenty-first century and it has deep impacts on all parts and all nations of the world. Many new phenomena have emerged as a result of this exclusive process. Although regionalism is relatively an older phenomenon, it has assumed immense importance as a by-product of globalization in the recent years. New regional groups, unions and blocs, e.g. European Union and SAARC, have developed into strong regional organizations. China’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative is also a form of regionalism. Both globalization and regionalism have the same objective, that is, economic cooperation at the regional level, and they have remained considerably successful.

Economic cooperation and development through regional organizations have not been popular among our foreign policy makers. Our efforts to become a part of regional organizations have been lackadaisical, to say it mildly. In the past, we had before us the opportunities to gain benefits through regional pacts and accords, but we could not exploit them to our interest. For instance, Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD), which was established by Pakistan, Iran and Turkey on 21 July 1964, had a great potential for Pakistan’s economic uplift. Similarly, when the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), which was founded in 1984, was expanded in 1992 – this year, seven new members Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were admitted as members – taking the number of member states to 10, this could have been a game-changer in the region. That was a big economic opportunity for us as well. But, we failed to acknowledge the future prospects it could offer. Landlocked Central Asian States, which got independence from the Soviet Union, are rich in natural resources. They, along with Afghanistan, needed a land route which could connect them to the world. And that was very feasible and practical for them to opt for the Pakistani ports of Gwadar and Karachi. But due to the external pressure and internal deficiencies, we could not invigorate this organization. Resultantly, we could not get away with our economic dependencies on the West.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established for the promotion of cultural, educational and economic cooperation among the countries in South Asia. But, it, too, could not live up to the expectations due to the nefarious Indian intentions as well as its hegemonic behaviour. Last year in June, Pakistan became a full member of another promising regional organization, i.e. Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). This is a Eurasian bloc which is basically designed for economic motives. This can be a beneficial platform for its members in future. But, remembering our past and present, one can only hope that Pakistan works prudently to get the maximum out of the SCO membership.

In matters of enhancing regional cooperation, Pakistan has failed miserably. A number of factors can be held responsible for this fiasco. First of all, the war-ravaged country of Afghanistan has been the single biggest source of continuous unrest and unabated terrorism in South Asia for the last almost four decades. Unfortunately, our ties with this country, which is our western neighbour, are at the lowest ebb. India-Afghanistan nexus against Pakistan has further added to the deterioration of this relationship. Afghanistan is a natural geostrategic partner of Pakistan but its authorities are deliberately ignoring the ground realities. This attitude is harmful for both the countries. Afghanistan is the third largest export market for Pakistan at present. So, it is important that the governments of both countries take solid steps not only to sustain the current volume of trade but also to enhance it.

Read More: What’s next for the SCO

Similarly, Pakistan’s trade volume with India can be boosted although the current balance is in India’s favour. India can be given the MFN (most-favoured nation) status but that should happen only after we secure our own national interests.

Pakistan’s relations with Iran are also deteriorating especially after the introduction of Indian factor in Chabahar port. The failure of Pak-Iran Gas Pipe Line project has seriously damaged both countries’ interests. American and other international sanctions have led Iran to become a closed economy. After its nuclear agreement with the West – P5+1 – it was thought that the Iranian economy will strengthen, albeit slowly. But, after Trump’s decision of withdrawing the United States from this agreement, the situation has become even more complicated and perplexing. Both Pakistan and Iran can enjoy cordial relations but our much stronger relationship with Saudi Arabia is keeping Iran at bay. Iran is also in competition with Gwadar Port, the flagship project of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) by developing Chabahar port with Indian investment and assistance. So, good relations with Iran in the near future seem highly unlikely.

China, our most dependable ally and friend, is investing heavily in Pakistan especially in CPEC projects. China’s vision is the promotion of regionalism but three other neighbours of Pakistan are going in the opposite direction. It is also true that a deep divide of pro-American and pro-Chinese sentiments also exists in this part of the world. Pakistan is naturally tilting towards Chinese side as we are going to be economic partner of China. The new dimensions of regionalism in Asia have emerged and our future is linked with them.

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