Is it time for Pakistan to reconsider the US as its ally?
Close to 50,000 deaths, over $100 billion in losses, and growing insecurity and fear among the citizens with each passing day.
These are few of the highlights of Pakistan’s involvement in the US-led war on terror that has now been fought for more than 12 years.
This war which was initiated to target the militants in Afghanistan has haunted and continues to haunt, many innocent civilians, not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan.
The United States, along with its allies, began this war to hunt down the 9/11 mastermind, Osama bin Laden and to put an end to the Taliban regime and its activities. However, in spite of the fact that both these motives have been achieved, things have gone from bad to worse in the region.
This raises seemingly obvious questions, the answers to which are also painfully obvious.
How long will this war go on? No one knows.
How many more innocent civilians will Pakistan lose to terrorism? Very few have an idea.
And above all:
Is the alliance with the US really benefiting Pakistan?
That, in my opinion, is the million dollar question we need to be focusing on.
Pakistan has received a total of US$ 15 billion in terms of support and benefits from the United States, as part of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) for its role and assistance in the war on terror. But even this CSF is usually released with multiple conditions attached, making it look more like charity than support.
Moreover, Ishaq Dar, Pakistan’s finance minister has recently made a plea to the US ambassador for an early release of the CSF, in order to boost the falling Forex reserves of Pakistan. It would be an understatement to say that the situation does not look well for our economy.
These scenarios, rather than establishing Pakistan as an ally, portray it as a mere ‘client’ state for the US.
The implications and signals are simple for Pakistan and these signals point towards the need for a shift in the country’s foreign policy.
With the United States moving out of Afghanistan in 2014, Pakistan must reconsider its alliances – not only for its own stability but also in the larger interest of the region.
Pak-Russia and Pak-China relations
Important regional stakeholders, such as China and Russia, are keenly interested in post-2014 developments in Afghanistan and this interest is not just confined to Kabul. These two powerful states have their eye out for Central Asia as well, where both Russia and China enjoy valuable strategic assets.
With such concerns in place, Pakistan has an important role to play.
It would be in Pakistan’s best interests to latch on the window of economic opportunity presented in this current scenario. This opportunity would require Pakistan to tilt its international policy focus from the West towards the East. After all, China is currently the world’s second largest economy, with an ever expanding pace. A positive and healthy relationship with this economic giant will provide Pakistan with an opportunity to boost its local and global trade.
The Gwadar Port project, if taken seriously this time, could help both countries establish a sea conduit that could also facilitate the land-locked states of Central Asia.
On the other hand, Russia happens to be a global energy giant. Many of Pakistan’s current energy woes could easily be resolved by reaching out to Moscow in a proper and friendly manner. Russia has even offered to invest in Pakistan’s energy sector recently, along with a possible export of 5000 MWs of electricity through Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan.
Both Russia and China have, time and again, expressed their interest in taking India and Pakistan on board in the successful Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The SCO, which aims at regional support and cooperation, will provide a wide array of development opportunities to Pakistan.
Pak-Iran and Pak-India relations
Iran, with its proposed gas pipeline deal, can also become a positive factor for Pakistan’s economy.
The gas pipeline project, initiated by the previous government – Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – needs to be effectively concluded by the current Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government. Both the US and Saudi Arabia – Iran’s ideological foe – are constantly showing their displeasure over the project. Sandwiched between both these powers, Pakistan has to decide on either pleasing them or furthering its own national interest.
Along with these neighbouring states, positive ties with India – Pakistan’s most important immediate neighbour – would also do nothing but good to our security and economy.
Countries mostly progress on trade, not aid.
Russia, China, Central and South Asia jointly boast a population of over three billion. With such a large number of potential consumers, Pakistan’s ruling establishment has to start focusing on economic, rather than strategic gains and begin the process of trade and business with these regional members.
If Islamabad succeeds in reaching out to its Asian markets, it would no longer be in need of any financial aid from its western allies. It is time for Pakistan to change its alliance and look closer to home. We can potentially think of a better, prosperous and brighter future if we play our cards right.