The trends in the global politics indicate that the year 2016 would witness a new format of strategic competition between/among the Great Powers. The regional brawls give rise to proxy wars entailing regional and global instability. The volatility in the strategic environment would encourage both qualitative and quantitative buildup of the military arsenals of the nations. The lesser probability of horizontal nuclear proliferation would not cease the vertical proliferation of nuclear weapons. Almost all the nuclear weapon states would continue modernization of their nuclear arsenals.
The transnational terrorist syndicate would continue haunting the national security of the nations. The global consensus against the menace of terrorism would not be able to combat effectively and eliminate completely the terrorist groups and their sanctuaries located in both developed and developing states. The focus would remain on the killing of terrorists instead of adequately addressing the causes of terrorism. Nonetheless, the political and strategic competition among the leading actors of the international politics would not thwart the processes of economic cooperation.
The drift towards multi-polarity in the global setting is increasing the complexity in Pakistan’s strategic environment. Today, therefore, the successful pursuit of national interest is a demanding task for Islamabad. Notwithstanding, the year 2016 is having immense political and economic opportunities for Pakistan. The cashing of these external opportunities requires political stability, rule of law and above all internally secure, and peaceful, environment. The interplay between the internal and external policies necessitates being mindful of both international and regional developments.
Washington, Moscow and Beijing would remain the key actors on the global political and strategic chessboard. Therefore, the professional foreign policy-makers give priority to maintaining cordial relations with these nations. Realistically, the destabilization in the Great Powers’ relations cannot be ruled out in the near future. Therefore, the vigilant decision-makers ought to be remained cognizant of events that are having potential to stabilize, or destabilize, the Great Powers’ relations. It is because the shift in their bilateral relations directly affects the regional strategic environments and necessitates immediate responses from the regional actors.
Islamabad has succeeded in cultivating and sustaining better relations with Washington, Moscow and Beijing in the recent years. Today, Obama Administration commends Pakistan’s operation Zarb-e-Azb. Instead of repeating the mantra of ‘do-more’ it is closely working with Islamabad for reconciliation in Afghanistan. On January 11, 2016, Pakistan hosted first quadrilateral steering committee meeting on reconciliation in Afghanistan in Islamabad. The representatives of United States, Afghanistan, China and Pakistan participated in the meeting to restart a stalled dialogue process between the Government of Afghanistan and Afghan Taliban to end the strife in Afghanistan.
Moscow and Beijing facilitated Pakistan’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2015. The former also agreed to sell sophisticated military hardware to Pakistan. On August 19, 2015, Islamabad signed an agreement with the Russian Federation to purchase four MI-35 ‘Hind’ attack helicopters. Indeed, it’s a major foreign policy accomplishment. Moscow, historically, had been reluctant to sell military hardware to Pakistan due to the opposition of its ally – India.
Pakistan and China have, intelligently and systematically, institutionalized their strategic partnership since decades. Today, Islamabad is reaping the benefits of this partnership. Beijing is also cognizant of the vitality of strategic partnership’s sustainability for the pursuits of its interests in the transforming global strategic environment. The trends indicate that both nations would energetically-cum-practically continue to bolster their strategic partnership. In April 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping signed 51 Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) and announced $46 billion investment in Pakistan. Simultaneously, Government of Pakistan has endlessly been endeavouring to materialize the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The CPEC seems essential for President Xi Jinping’s ‘One Belt-One Road’ vision and also imperative for Pakistan’s economic growth.
The preceding discussion generates optimism about Pakistan’s relations with the Great Powers. However, a few developments in the international environment are not ignorable for a realistic foreign and strategic policy. On January 12, 2016, the US President Barack Obama stated in his State of the Union address: “instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world – in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in parts of Central America, Africa and Asia. Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks; others will fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.” President Obama’s observation about Pakistan’s future is debatable. Pakistan’s Armed Forces have restored the writ of the state in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Consequently, the local and transnational terrorist groups’ sanctuaries were demolished and a large number of terrorists were killed. Some of them succeeded in escaping from the area and settling in the neighbouring Afghanistan. Moreover, the political stability and nearly 80% decrease of terrorist activities has generated a favourable environment for the Foreign Direct Investment in Pakistan. Precisely, the sustainability of political and economic stability falsifies the negativity about Pakistan’s future.
Russian Federation’s occupation of Crimea in March 2014 introduced a destabilizing variable in the European strategic environment. Ukraine, being a partner of the NATO, had expected military assistance from the United States and its like-minded states. In reality, Article 5 of NATO’s charter only permits collective security arrangements for members of the alliance. Partners of the NATO are not qualified for the military assistance in crisis or war. Though the NATO countries avoided overt military assistance to Ukraine, yet they immensely supported diplomatically and economically to Kiev. They levied punishing economic sanctions against the Russian Federation. The United States and Europeans’ support to Ukraine alarmed Moscow. President Putin announced to revamp Russian national security policy. He also ordered to induct 46 intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2015 to upgrade Russian offensive punch.
The developments in the Middle East, especially the protracted civil war in Syria and rise of Islamic State or Daesh have increased mistrust between Moscow and Washington. Consequently, the former increased its invest in “preparing civil defences” and “mobilization,” including industrial mobilization as part of its national security strategy. It was reported that the civil defence was an essential part of Soviet war preparations designed to minimize losses and ensure overall victory in a nuclear standoff with the US and its allies. The current Russia’s National Security Strategy (a fundamental document of strategic planning) reveals that Kremlin seriously sees an imminent threat of armed conflict with the US and its allies. The US is allegedly threatening Russia in the West, in the East and in the Arctic.
Beijing had also revamped its Asia-Pacific strategy during the recent years. In the economic sphere it has embarked on major initiatives such as ‘One Belt-One Road’ and ‘Maritime Silk Route’ (an expansive initiative to build up land and maritime trade routes) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. These epitomize Beijing’s efforts to reshape Asia’s financial architecture. The economic vision of China is advantageous for Pakistan.
Importantly, China has been endeavouring to reshape Asia’s security structure. It has adopted an assertive diplomacy in Southeast Asia, which might result into a China-Vietnam or China-Philippines standoff in the South China Sea. Such a standoff could entangle the US in the regional conflict. China’s newly created bases on the disputed Spratly Islands undermine Japan’s strategic interests. Beijing is also vocal about its right to monitor the navigation operations in the South China Sea, which is not in line with the US stance on upholding international norms and laws. Moreover, today, Asia-Pacific region is a geostrategic priority for the United States. Obama administration’s pivot or rebalance strategy in Asia-Pacific was designed in 2011-12 to contain China. Precisely, the conflict between Washington and Beijing would be detrimental for Pakistan’s global agenda.
Islamabad cannot ignore the developments in its neighbourhood, especially in the Middle East, Persian/Arabian Gulf, Afghanistan and India. The Middle East, today, is suffering from the perilous wave of sectarian conflicts. The current wave is dangerous because the states in the region seem incapable to manage it. Certainly, the political and economic stability in the neighbourhood is imperative for Pakistan’s national security, economic prosperity and societal harmony.
Iran’s clout in the regional and international politics has increased after Tehran’s historic nuclear deal with global powers on July 14, 2015. The deal curbed its nuclear ambitions but failed to desist Tehran from the development and testing of ballistic missiles. Tehran’s compliance with its obligations under nuclear accord entailed the United States and the European Union lifting off the sanctions on January 16, 2016. The end of sanctions would not only boost country’s economy but also encourage Tehran to play an assertive role in the Arabian/Persian Gulf region. Both these developments would not directly undermine Pakistan’s national interest. The diplomatic standoff between Riyadh and Tehran is very much disturbing for Islamabad. Therefore, Islamabad launched a mediation effort to end the standoff between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The United States and India’s strategic partnership and India’s military doctrine transformation entailing armed forces’ modernization has increased the significance of nuclear weapons in Pakistan’s defensive arrangements. New Delhi and Islamabad have qualitatively and quantitatively improved their respective nuclear arsenals. The vertical proliferation of nuclear weapons has not destabilized the regional strategic environment. Nevertheless, India’s missile defence would be a most serious future threat to the South Asian strategic stability.
Since decades India has been working on the missile defence system. Scientifically speaking, New Delhi’s missile defence systems’ research and development is not reliable. It may not provide India an effective shield against Pakistan’s nuclear missiles. Even if the system cannot reliably intercept ballistic missiles after they are launched, the missile defence deployments could trigger a regional arms’ race.
Afghanistan’s situation has not improved in 2015. The increasing anarchy in Afghanistan is not only questioning the effectiveness of the elected Unity Government led by President Ghani; it is equally alarming for the neighbouring states, especially Pakistan. Central Asia is becoming an increasingly important region for Pakistan’s energy demands and trading market. Islamabad’s clout in Central Asia would definitely grow in 2016 due to the work on CPEC, CASA-1000, TAPI etc. Certainly, stability in Afghanistan is vital for connectivity with Central Asian states.
To conclude, despite the likely political and strategic realignments between/among the Great Powers, upward surge in conventional and nuclear weaponry; 2016 would be a year of immense political and economic opportunities for Pakistan.
The writer is Director and Associate Professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He contributes for print and electronic media regularly. [email protected]
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