Speakers at a panel discussion agreed that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project presented a real opportunity to the country to galvanise its economy and enable sustained growth and development, if the project is successfully implemented.
They said that in order to do so, Pakistan must maintain internal stability and good governance to make the CPEC a success, as the Chinese are greatly concerned about the implementation mechanisms in Pakistan.
These views were expressed at a panel discussion organised by the Institute for Policy Reforms on Tuesday to review the recent developments in South Asia, Afghanistan, and the Middle East.
Speaking on the occasion, Professor Anatol Lieven, author and policy analyst, said that Pakistan has a real chance to galvanise its economy and enable sustained growth and development based on infrastructure investment from China. Full integration into China’s One Belt One Road holds great promise for the future of Pakistan’s economy and that it will make Pakistan a hub of regional connectivity. However, he said that it is only possible if Pakistan improves its security image.
He said that the recent resurgence of violence in Afghanistan dimmed the prospect of peace in Afghanistan; however, he said it is critical for Pakistan to continue supporting the peace process in that country.
He said that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was quite eager to normalise ties with Pakistan but the legacy of deep mistrust between the two countries always discouraged such efforts.
With respect to relations with India, he suggested enhancement of economic and trade cooperation between the two countries.
He; however, said that unfortunately nationalism was used as a currency to increase hostility between the two countries, which is the main cause of the prevailing mistrust between Pakistan and India.
Lieven said that China and Japan have serious territorial disputes but that does not affect their mutual trade and economic relations, adding that trade ties can survive territorial disputes, but not proxy wars.
He said that the configuration of forces in the two countries precludes a serious attempt at resolving bilateral disputes. There is, however, commitment on both sides not to escalate the issues.
Lieven said that there is need for a quiet dialogue between the intelligence agencies of the two countries, because there are very significant ramifications if another violent attack takes place in India. He shared the widely held belief, not limited to Pakistan, that India may be supporting some of the activities of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). He said this is a particularly dangerous strategy because of possible links between the TTP and ISIS.
In the Middle East, he said that Pakistan must not be tangled itself in regional rivalries, and it is essential that Pakistan keeps a balance in its relations with Iran and the Arab countries.
Earlier welcoming the participants, IPR Chairperson Humayun Akhtar Khan, said that of late, the region’s enduring concerns have become more conspicuous. Signs of hope that were visible last year in Afghanistan, especially after the elections, have somewhat dampened. In the Middle East, regional rivalries have exacerbated uncertainties.
He said that security in Afghanistan continues to be a concern, as last year alone, the country lost about 6,000 security personnel to violence. At the same time, the Taliban have gained more territory. Recently, renewed battles have taken place in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s announced spring offensive.
Regarding India, he referred to its continued programme of enhancing defence capability coupled with an active foreign policy and hoped for a more calibrated approach from Pakistan towards India.
Former ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi said that Pakistan is living in a tough neighborhood, as its relations with Afghanistan, Iran and India are at a standstill. While this is not a mess of Pakistan’s making, it can still affect and isolate the country.
He said that dysfunctional systems within Pakistan disable decision-making; hence, there is no meaningful public debate in the country to raise awareness among the people and to develop a cohesive and considered response to the risks faced by the country.
He was critical of the US policy of intervention and said that several countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria are now falling apart due to its short-term policies.
Qazi said that there was a real threat of ISIS gaining a foothold through other extremist organisations in the country. Pakistan can no longer allow any space to extremist and sectarian organisations. He agreed that infrastructure investment under the CPEC was a valuable economic opportunity for Pakistan, if successfully implemented.
Talking about Iran, he said that Pakistan’s policy needs to be balanced. The recently held OIC condemned Iran, and Pakistan was part of the resolution. He said that Pakistan should maintain balance between its ties with Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Former foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar said that there is dire need of a coherent and committed response from Pakistan to India’s active role in the region. However, he said that the incumbent government is not clear on what sort of relationship it wants with India.
He urged that the government and the army have to be on same page, which unfortunately, they are not at present, as can be judged from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recent response on a question about the arrest of the RAW agent, which is in total contradiction to the point of view of the military leadership.
Talking about the CPEC, he regretted that the government had unnecessarily turned the non-controversial mega project into a controversial one by needlessly hiding the exact route plan from the political parties and experts.