• Saleem Qamar Butt

Contemporary Great Game: Pakistan’s Challenges and Opportunities




On the global scene, containment of rising China, resurgent Russia, Potential Nuclear Iran, Nuclear North Korea posing threat to American allies in Asia-Pacific region as well as part of American mainland and finally Nuclear Pakistan being a stumbling block for newly propped up strategic partner India are considered top American priorities for containment as per latest threat assessments and leadership’s pronouncements. However, three main competitors i.e. America, Russia and China have not fought any direct war before and after two most devastating World Wars; and instead, after two decades of peace post 2nd World War, till To-date, world has experienced dozens of major and minor conflicts fought by other countries on behalf of these major powers in distinct phases of Cod War as covered earlier in my article ‘Global Strategic Chessboard: Pakistan’s Role in a New Phase of Cold War.

In the recent past, the three big powers have launched vigorous efforts to improve security measures in their respective regions. For example, while America has been busy in expanding and consolidating her sphere of influence in Asia-Pacific by implementing “Pivot to Asia or Asia-Pacific Rebalancing Policy”, with controlled management in Europe and rest of the world including Middle East, CASA Region, Africa and South/ Latin Americas through Breton woods financial institutions and NATO military alliance; Russia invaded Crimea and other parts of Ukraine and allegedly tried secretly to destabilize European democracies. And China has built artificial island fortresses in international waters, claimed vast swaths of the western Pacific, and moved to organize Eurasia, Central Asia and South Asia economically in ways favourable to her through biggest infrastructure development programme under Belt and Road Initiative. And our neighbouring country Iran has expanded its influence over much of Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen and is allegedly pursuing nuclear weapons. Pakistan despite having won the war against terror on an extremely heavy human and economic cost as a ‘front line state and best non-NATO ally’, remains under tight scrutiny through IMF, World Bank and Indian sponsored FATF trap while being subjected to multi-front wars through 5th generation warfare by multiple nexus mainly due to two reasons i.e. Nuclear Deterrence Capability and Pivotal role in Chinese BRI through development of Gwadar deep sea port and completion of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Some Western foreign policy experts opine that following the example of Cold War period, during which the United States successfully contained the Soviet Union, effectively deterring its military aggression and limiting its political influence for decades; in the same way America should apply updated and modified containment once again, now to Russia, China, and Iran (perhaps considering Pakistan as a given). Now as before, the possibility of armed conflict exerts a major influence on the foreign policies of the United States and countries throughout Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. The Cold War divided the world into rival camps, with regions and even countries split in two. Today, similar cleavages are developing; with each revisionist power seeking its own sphere of influence separate from the larger U.S. backed global order. Potential of Russia reasserting control over parts of Former Soviet Union, China gaining control over maritime commerce in the western Pacific and dominating land lines of communications connecting Asia with Europe, Iran’s control on the oil reserves of the Persian Gulf, and Pakistan being a formidable hurdle as Strategic ally of China ensuring failure of Indian hegemonic design despite booster by America and allies are considered formidable strategic challenges to American Singular Super Power Status.

Although so far USA has been successful to quite an extent in capitalizing on the inherent competing interests of her competitors despite cooperation in some areas, yet contemporary containment will involve three separate regional initiatives, implemented in coordination i.e. ideology, economy and military. As for ideology, Russia has completely abandoned communism and China partially, Iran’s potential appeal of its ideology is largely limited primarily to its Shiite minority and Pakistan presents relatively moderate Islamic ideology despite presence of small ultra orthodox minority termed extremists. Nevertheless, conflicts in Middle East have helped America to effectively divide Muslim World into two distinct blocks divided on sectarian bases i.e. Saudi led Sunni and Iran led Shiite block with ominous seeds of mutual destruction sowed, saplings of which have already been used cleverly since British colonial rule for divide and rule and still remains a major fault line for many Muslim countries including Pakistan. So far, none of the contemporary American competitors possesses the Soviet Union’s fearsome military capabilities. Russia is a shrunken version of its older self militarily, and Iran lacks formidable modern military forces. China’s economic growth may ultimately allow it to match the United States in all strategic dimensions and pose a true peer threat, but to date, Beijing is concentrating on developing forces to exclude the United States from the Western Pacific, not to project power globally. Lastly, the Soviet Union was largely detached from the U.S.-centred global economy during the Cold War; whereas today’s emerging powers are very much a part of it. Russia and Iran have relatively small economies and export mostly energy, but China has the world’s second-largest economy, with deep, wide, and growing connections to countries everywhere. Pakistan’s economy

Now coming to options for Pakistan in such a complex Great Game posing innumerable challenges to smaller states. Pakistan more than any other country is faced with a heap of tribulations due to 40 years long conflicts on its Western Borders, unresolved disputes with India for the last seven decades despite fighting four wars, countless foreign proxies hitting on internal front, and current political, economic, ideological and military challenges imposed on it as a derivative of the same big players’ game as discussed above. Therefore, Pakistan will also have to focus on the three main pillars of the continued great game i.e. ideology, economy and military capability. On the ideological and religious front, the Government of Pakistan will have to harness the extremists groups of all hue and colour with iron hand and then help them to rehabilitate in the mainstream society through a sustained strategy; this is one area where many international actors are likely to lend a helping hand. Since foes of Pakistan invest a lot on sowing the seeds of discord by lavish incentives to enemies within for exploitation of our sectarian, ethnic, greed and poverty linked fault lines; therefore, all dimensions need a comprehensive strategy rather than patchy knee jerk responses. Fool proof protection of minorities’ right, investment in tourism by technocrats led task force, and interfaith harmony reintroduced at education and religious institutions will go a long way in restoring normalcy in our society so badly mottled due to role in so called Afghan Jihad of 1979. Pakistan’s real image as a modern and moderate society needs to be reinstated on priority to earn due respect among the comity of nations.

Fragile economy has remained Pakistan’s Achilles heel ever since inception. Due to parasitical rampant corruption by a well known gang of political and bureaucratic elite and because of poor governance caused by no fear of the law; the new government in Pakistan from day one was put on a weaker start with almost US $ 95 billion foreign debt and tremendous pressure from IMF for loan interest payback, and to implement hasher economic measures to put further pressure on the public rather than on the plundering elite. Indian manoeuvred FATF trap was added salt to the wound. The contemporary government in Pakistan won the general elections in 2018 basically on the pledge to deliver justice, bring back plundered money from abroad, get rid of IMF/ World Bank shackles by making the country loan free; easy said than done as has been witnessed in the last 8 months, adding to the public frustration. Unusual circumstances demand out of box solutions. The government may initiate new legislation, consider judicial reforms, fulfill deficiencies of courts and judges, ensure apolitical competent judges in the courts and ensure law abiding well qualified lawyers for the courts duly supported by honest police investigation system…..a long haul indeed but remains an imperative. While putting all that in to motion will take considerable time which is surely beyond public patience. Moreover, the government’s expectations to deliver on its promises during its five years tenure through the same old most corrupted systems tantamount to hoping against the hope and the earlier government resorts to exercising the available Saudi Crown Prince MBS, Chinese, Turkish or Malaysian model to recover the looted public money and rid the country of corrupt mafias, better for the government, the people and the state; no holds barred. IMF forecast about Pakistan’s poor economic outlook notwithstanding, PM khan must ensure an immediate economic Task Force in place under the Finance Minster to generate a lot of economic activity in the country for creation of jobs, preparation of skilled manpower for employment home and abroad and for effective control on inflation. Austerity adopted and putting an end to plunder itself is an achievement by the incumbent government, but bringing around satisfactory economic indicators will need much more actions on war footings. Careful purge of politicized bureaucracy is also imperative for effective implementation of government policies and instructions. The real sovereignty lies in economic independence and mutually beneficial interdependence. Foreign Direct Investments by some friendly countries are encouraging though, yet government may consider asking China through well prepared strategic dialogue for converting CPEC related loans into investment under BOT or any other suitable internationally recognized formula.

Finally, the military capabilities. In spite of hostile propaganda, with divine providence Pakistan Armed Forces have been able to attain multi-tiered nuclear deterrence with 2nd/ 3rd strike capability and formidable conventional capability to thwart any misadventure against Pakistan as recently witnessed by the nation. The war hardened Armed Forces have successfully defeated the menace of terrorism that was compounded by hostile proxies launched from three directions. The nation and Armed Forces have paid a very heavy human and economic cost for this success that must be consolidated by hardening Eastern, Western and Southern borders. Pakistan must work headlong to form or be be part of a formidable Defence Alliance including China, Russia and friendly Muslim countries to deter and defeat any aggression…united we stand, divided we fall. Pakistan Armed Forces must also remain extremely vigilant in identifying the covert proxies and their invested agents within and outside the country who must be eliminated ruthlessly. Nothing should be kept dearer than national interest, sovereignty and integrity. Last but not the least, winning the wars of narratives is as important as winning the real battles and war. Alhamdulillah, ISPR, duly supported by national print, electronic and social media has played their roles with due diligence and maturity during the recent and ongoing escalation along the line of control by India. However, battle of narratives is a continuous effort and we must not become complacent at any time. The incumbent government of Pakistan under energetic PM Khan need to deliver promised results quickly and visibly without wilting under any internal or external pressure from sponsors of corrupt elite due to their investment abroad or investments on them from overseas. When macro problems are addressed, the micro issues are quite prone to be ironed out with much lesser efforts.

10th April, 2019


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