At the onset of 2022, we view the ups and downs of 2021, future opportunities and the upcoming challenges.
The fatal COVID pandemic and its implications continued during 2021, proving it to be yet another tumultuous year for the entire globe which remained dominated by human security issues. The economic slowdown, inflation, food security, social unrest and health scare were some of the few dominant factors of the past year. The coming year seems to be not much different either.
Pakistan was no more different than other states in the region. It was already grappling with the severe implications of COVID when the untimely withdrawal of the U.S. forces left 40 million Afghans high and dry, which opened a human catastrophe due to the severe winter and food shortage. This necessitated an extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers hosted by Pakistan. As in the past, Pakistan, being the neighboring country, had to face triple dilemma in the form of catering for its internal issues, the situation in Afghanistan and Indian bellicosity. Though Pakistan took these challenges head-on, the likelihood of these transferring into 2022 pose severe constraints and grave implications for the country.
In the realm of military security, the daunting issues of the volatile Line of Control (LOC) all along the Indian border due to the Kashmir conflict, and continued intrusion into Pakistan by the non-state actors and homegrown remnants of terrorist outfits would continue to persist in the coming year. The human security issues of energy crisis, slower economy, inflation, food security and falling living standards would also dominate in the year 2022. Therefore, this essay discusses the challenges and responses that Pakistan would face/adopt to sail through successfully for yet another eventful year.
In terms of internal security, the situation has improved and the situation is fast coming into full normalcy. The government and several institutions have taken initiatives to promote the soft image within and outside the country through tourism, sports, festivals and visits of foreign dignitaries.
Military Security and Responses
Pakistan is situated at the critical juncture of regional geopolitics connected with South, Central and West Asia. Happenings in these sub-regions would always impact Pakistan in one way or the other. The issue of Jammu and Kashmir between Pakistan and India would continue to pose a severe challenge to Pakistan through the active LOC, intrusions, and propaganda. Pakistan needs to be vigilant with full defence preparedness on the borders and expose Indian disinformation/fake news through international fora, and electronic and social media. Pakistan does not want a war with India, but it has to maintain a credible minimum deterrence to offset Indian military misadventures.
CPEC is an opportunity not to be missed and despite the obstacles, it must be implemented in true spirit and culminate in a logical conclusion. Luckily, Pakistan is blessed with enormous natural resources in Balochistan and offshore energy reserves and oceanic trade, which must be exploited to the optimum.
The catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan poses yet another military and non-military security challenge. Pakistan has shown its concern by hosting the 17th OIC Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Islamabad (December 18-19, 2021), which adopted a number of steps, including to establish an OIC humanitarian fund, to start a food security program, urging to de-freeze the Afghan financial assets and the appointment of a permanent OIC representative on Afghanistan – Ambassador Tariq Ali Bakheet – to monitor/coordinate the situation continuously, but the bulk of the burden has to be borne by Pakistan. The persistent deteriorating situation can lead to massive social unrest and loosen the control of the government which can give birth to more NSAs and renewed terrorist activities in the region, especially in Pakistan. Though the interim government in Afghanistan has pledged not to allow its territory to be used against any country, yet the Indian sleeping agents and sympathizers could get the chance to restart their activities against Pakistan.
In terms of internal security, the situation has improved and is fast coming into full normalcy. The government and several institutions have taken initiatives to promote the soft image within and outside the country through tourism, sports, festivals and visits of foreign dignitaries. However, vigilance, alertness and a cautious approach must continue along with creating an atmosphere of social forbearance, religious tolerance and adaptability to modernity in the society.
Moreover, in the global arena, there are some probable military conflicts in the making; NATO-Russia over Ukraine, U.S.-China over Taiwan/South China Sea, and heightened confrontation between Israel and Iran. The last two may have a bearing on Pakistan, with China and Iran being neighbors, and would require prudence and foresightedness. Though Pakistan has shown strict neutrality in similar situations in the past, but a guarded response is always desirable for the pursuance of its own national security interests.
Human Security and Responses
The scares of COVID in the form of different variants would continue to haunt Pakistan. Pakistan’s successful implementation of a smart lockdown worked well to mitigate its severe implications. Both at the government and public levels, there is a need for a strict implementation of COVID related standard operating procedures (SOPs) and to live in a ‘new normal’ environment. The government and public should not lower its guard on the caution and control policy for the safety and health of every citizen. The awareness has to be maintained and upgraded periodically. Pakistan has to invest massively in the health sector to cater for the unknown future scenarios as well. Government, organizations and individuals must adopt a health insurance system to be well-prepared for these eventualities.
The government has started to construct around 10 large dams such as Mohmand Dam, Diamer-Bhasha Dam, Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower project, Balakot Hydropower project, etc., which would double the electricity generation and enhance water reserves.
There is a huge potential with fertile land and hardworking farmers to harness the available resources and put the country back to production. The government also needs to focus its priority to revisit its agriculture policy to benefit all the stakeholders.
The most challenging task is the economic slowdown and high inflation, probably a corollary of the COVID pandemic. Pakistan’s external debt reaching an all time high ($127 billion), the loan-package by International Monetary Fund (IMF) with severe conditionalities and loan by friendly Arab Gulf States and China has put the country into severe economic and financial crisis. This has resulted in inflation and extreme poverty and its fast-reaching trickle-down effects on the common Pakistani has made living very difficult. This situation has further compounded due to permeated corruption, non-existent income-tax culture, lavish spending during social functions, and negative saving trends. These economic/financial difficulties restrict the effective maneuverability of the government in its internal and external dealings.
CPEC is an opportunity not to be missed and despite the obstacles, it must be implemented in true spirit and culminate in a logical conclusion. Luckily, Pakistan is blessed with enormous natural resources in Balochistan and offshore energy reserves and oceanic trade, which must be exploited to the optimum. The offshore trial exploration has given positive signals and Pakistan can enormously overcome its energy crisis and weak economy. Pakistan must also go for the ‘Blue Economy’, to utilize the untapped wealth of its offshore Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which is spread over an area of approximately 290,000 sq kms. Offshore facilities such as shipbreaking, docking facilities, repair/maintenance facilities etc., along with the fast developing Gwadar deep seaport being brought into operation can lead to handsome revenue generation. It is estimated that ‘oceanic trade’ and ‘blue economy’ strategy can generate billons of additional revenues.
Pakistan is also under heavy trade deficit due to shortage of energy, food security and water scarcity for a very long time. The huge difference between supply and demand has compelled the government to import oil and LNG with huge foreign exchange. The country is more reliant on oil and gas instead of hydel; the energy mix is 48% gas, 33% oil and only 11% hydel. This crisis is considered to be the largest single drain on the country’s economy. These issues have resulted in hard economic conditions, decreased buying capacity and difficult choices for the government. These can be mitigated by conserving energy and putting up an efficient public transport system by the government all over Pakistan. Besides, Iran is already exporting 100MW of electricity into Balochistan and is ready to increase it to 1000MW. The Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline can provide 30% relief to Pakistan in energy supplies but is being stalled for a long time due to the pressure from many states. The IP gas pipeline should be converted into IPC (Iran-Pakistan-China) gas pipeline to offset the external pressures and making it more viable. Likewise, the hydel power production should be increased by establishing small and large dams. The government has started to construct around 10 large dams such as Mohmand Dam, Diamer-Bhasha Dam, Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower project, Balakot Hydropower project, etc., which would double the electricity generation and enhance water reserves. However, there is a need to construct small dams which can meet the local demands without huge finances. Moreover, a huge quantity of rainfall and glacier water is wasted and goes into the sea due to the lack of reservoirs in the country. These can be utilized though the construction of medium and small dams locally, mainly for storage and irrigation.
The strong Pakistani nation is described to be ‘one of the most resilient nations’ in the world. It has withstood many challenges and crises in the past with flying colors; defeating terrorism, hosting over 3 million Afghans, severe earthquakes and floods.
Pakistan is known to be an agriculture country, which accounts to 30% of its GDP through food production. However, over the years, the country has witnessed food shortage due to illegal smuggling, shifting priorities of the landowners (as they have shifted to real-estate and industries), and lack of proper policies. This has resulted in huge spending ($3.12 billion) on buying wheat, sugar and edible oil to bridge the gap in food production. According to the World Bank, Pakistan imports goods worth $50 billion as against $24 billion exports – a huge trade deficit that squeezes the economy further. Surprisingly, there are many landowners in the provincial and national assemblies but there is a lack of effective agriculture policies in the making. Recently, the government has accorded priority to the construction industry and infrastructure development that has affected the agriculture sector manyfold. It is predicted that if the current trends continue, agriculture would totally vanish, and the country may witness severe food crisis in the coming years.
There are a number of steps to be taken at the government, landowners and individual levels. Pakistan is blessed with many rivers having excellent canal/irrigation systems that facilitate the agriculture sector. The experience of many countries such as China and Canada can be adopted to improve seed quality, effective use of fertilizer and better yield production. All stakeholders must benefit from modern agriculture techniques and better use of farming technology. There is a huge potential with fertile land and hardworking farmers to harness the available resources and put the country back to production. The government also needs to focus its priority to revisit its agriculture policy to benefit all the stakeholders.
The aftereffects of COVID in the social and economic realm have come into effect world-over and Pakistan is no exception. The security matrix has been dominated by the human security issues and is likely to continue in 2022 as well. The strong Pakistani nation is described to be ‘one of the most resilient nations’ in the world. It has withstood many challenges and crises in the past with flying colors; defeating terrorism, hosting over 3 million Afghans, severe earthquakes and floods.
There needs to be critical soul-searching, putting all political and military leadership together to revisit the entire policy spectrum for a comprehensive national security for Pakistan. Global and regional issues would continue to haunt the country with many challenges but opportunities as well. Pakistan has tremendous geoeconomic potential as an energy and trade corridor, abundant untapped resources and offshore maritime possibilities. The decisionmakers have to formulate sound and viable policies to provide direction to the nation who are ready to follow with nationalistic character and zeal.
The writer is Dean of Social Sciences and Humanities at University of Wah.
E-mail: [email protected]
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