Addressing foreign policy and domestic challenges

It is, however, encouraging that a few Muslim countries have a fairly comprehensive industrial and technological base

Talat Masood May 08, 2024
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board


The response of world’s major powers to the Gaza war has been a subject of serious scrutiny and a topic of editorials of several international and national papers. In essence, Israel’s brutal and most inhuman conduct on the people of Gaza has shaken the conscience of the world, but not of the US or of the Western power elite. The response of most of the governments of Muslim-dominated regions has been muted and half-hearted.

It is a sad commentary on the region that the natural reaction of the Arab citizens’ grief and anger over Gaza’s plight is being repressed – apparently over apprehensions of internal resistance.

As regards India, one did not expect that PM Modi would comment objectively on the conditions in Gaza when his own record of prejudice and treatment of Muslims is so deplorable. It is not surprising that his support and leaning is toward Israel.

At the diplomatic level Pakistan’s permanent representative at the UN did raise the issue forcefully and authored the joint resolution that echoed the horrific feelings of the Muslims in general. Whilst some of these were positive moves but hardly made any impact on moderating Israel’s brutal campaign in Gaza.

Israel’s confidence in pursuing inhuman and barbaric policies on the people in Gaza emanates from the unconditional support that it enjoys of the US and the West. It is also a reflection of the mindset of the West against Muslims in general. The huge demonstrations in the US in support of the people of Gaza reflects how the western governments are out of step in their thinking and policies with their people.

Whilst the plight of people in Gaza and the future of Palestine are the main focus of attention, other developments of significance also need to be discussed as these are likely to have a significant impact on the power dynamic and future trajectory of relations between countries in the Middle East.

The US effort to draw Saudi Arabia and Israel into some form of alliance is a very fundamental change that the US is pursuing. This is aimed at strengthening Israel, drawing Saudi Arabia fully in the Western camp, isolating Iran diplomatically and squeezing its economy. The US is also putting pressure on Pakistan to avoid engaging closely with Iran on economic and strategic issues.

It serves the fundamental interests of Muslim countries to improve and strengthen democratic institutions, develop strong economic and commercial linkages within the region and with each other. But these developments are only feasible if there is a determined effort on the part of the leadership to focus on modern education with emphasis on science and technology and strengthening institutions. In the absence of these developments, they will continue to depend heavily on the US, West and China for technology and products. And will be vulnerable to the dictates of major powers.

There are efforts on the part of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to boost self-reliance and indigenous capabilities, but it would take time to build a sound infrastructure to support these endeavours. Lately, under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has made serious efforts in enhancing regional cooperation and raising the country’s political and economic clout. Educational facilities were upgraded and linkages with Western universities were made to stay abreast with current developments. But considering how fast technology is moving and science is opening new vistas, it would require sustained effort spread over years to build a sound academic, industrial and technological infrastructure to catch up and keep pace with the fast-changing developments.

It is, however, encouraging that a few Muslim countries have a fairly comprehensive industrial and technological base. In Turkey, textiles and apparel manufacturing is a significant industry. Chemical industry is another important sector. The electronics industry is a major source of supply for internal consumption and exports. It has a well-developed machinery manufacturing sector.

Indonesia and Malaysia have also developed a sound industrial and technological infrastructure and their mutual trade with other countries is growing. Malaysian exports to Indonesia include refined petroleum, ethylene polymers, machinery, crude petroleum and integrated circuits. Indonesia exports coal briquettes, refined petroleum, fatty acids, etc. For Pakistan too, Malaysia is the major source for palm oil.

Pakistan too has made significant progress in certain specific scientific and technological fields especially where defence and security priorities converged. But it suffers from weaknesses in the manufacturing sector that needs to be addressed on priority. Most of the machines and infrastructure especially in the public sector is obsolete and apparently workload is not enough to justify investing in inducting new machines. But demand from within the country or abroad would come when we are able to produce goods of quality and these are available in the market.

In essence, Pakistan’s leadership has to seriously focus its orientation towards expansion and modernisation of its industrial and agricultural sectors and building its economy toward greater self-reliance. This will involve upgrading educational institutions, greater liaison and coordination with industry.

On policy matters, Pakistan should prioritise economic development and the well-being of its people. It has not been able to exploit the advantage of its geo-strategic location due to adverse relations with India and disturbed security conditions across the Pak-Afghan border. Pakistan-China trade through the land route and from the Gwadar port is also far less than its potential. And there is no serious effort to enhance mutual trade in sight.

The Pakistan-Afghanistan border will continue to be a security issue for Pakistan in the foreseeable future. But Pakistan, while taking appropriate measures to enhance security, should optimise trade through the Western border to Central Asian countries. It is somewhat disconcerting that Pakistan and Afghanistan have not been able to develop a relationship that could optimise the potential inherent in their geo-strategic location, proximity and converging interests.

Pakistan’s leadership has to overcome its present challenges by pursuing foreign and domestic policies in right earnest that are people-centric and contribute toward the well-being and prosperity of its people.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 8th, 2024.

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