Ian Chappel feels safe. Do you?

If you haven’t seen it, you have probably been in a coma. Ian Chappel said that he felt safer in Pakistan than in England. It was a statement that has been broadcast and re-broadcast and printed and shared over and over again. Why? Because it fits the narrative that the state wants to project and the narrative that we want to hear. But is it true?

Obviously Ian Chappel is not a state mouthpiece, but his actual statement has been taken out of context. Here is what he actually said:

“We have only been here for a few days… we are probably safer in Islamabad than we are in England at the moment”

Why ‘at the moment’? Because at the moment, England was experiencing tension following another terrorist attack. It was not a statement about the security of Pakistan, but the momentary insecurity felt in England.

Making the point even further, let us look at what else is happening at the same time as we are celebrating being ‘safer than England’.

In a breaking development, the state is now saying that the Chinese teachers murdered by ISIS were ‘preaching‘. Authorities have not said what they were allegedly ‘preaching’, but the message is clear that after terming the reports as fake news designed to humiliate the armed forces, now the state is blaming the victims for their own killings.

Is Pakistan safer than England? Who am I to answer this question? Instead let us ask Ian Chappel.

Or maybe we can ask the 38,500 Pakistanis who applied for asylum in UK last year what they think.


The gateway of Asian trade

Spice routeLong before the west’s industrial revolution converted Saudi Arabia into the global center of energy production, Mecca was already a wealthy and bustling international city. Obviously it was not oil that provided this importance to the city at that time, but rather it was the city’s position as a gateway to international trade that provided its wealth. Today, too many of our analysts are focused on finding a Pakistani resource that can be tapped like Saudi oil when the answer to our economic woes may be further back in history.

It is well known that the current economic situation is not sustainable. Not only the tax scheme needs to be reformed, but more generally we need to expand our economic base. An article in the World Politics Review notes that Pakistan is naturally positioned to be a hub for economic activity in Asia.

These economic arrangements not only predispose the country to militarism, but are also financially untenable. Fewer than 2 million people in a country of 190 million pay taxes. Power shortages cripple businesses and lead to circular debt, displacing the cost of electricity subsidies. Pakistan faces a 350 percent increase in energy demand by 2030, but lacks the finances to undertake major energy projects alone. This military-heavy economy only survives thanks to the lifeline of American aid, which is locked in by Washington’s fears of Pakistan’s implosion.

To build themselves up as a viable alternative, Pakistan’s middle class businesses need sustainable economic growth driven by reliable sources of energy and open markets for Pakistani products. To achieve that, Pakistan must reconnect economically to the rest of the region. Meanwhile, India, which seeks access to Central Asian energy supplies and more-efficient distribution networks for food staples, would also profit from integration, as would Afghans and Kashmiris, whose isolated economies need connectivity to flourish.

Actually, this can provide benefits far beyond improving the economy only. Hosting trade routes between Iran and India, for example, would actually strengthen our security vis-a-vis India without requiring a single rocket.

Iran-Pakistan-India Map

The main proposed projects for regional integration — the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) and Trans-Afghan natural gas pipelines — would improve India’s energy access and give Pakistan $200 million a year in transit fees, but they also have a strategic dimension: These projects as well as other Central Asian trade would flow from the region’s northwest, putting Pakistan “upstream” of India. This would give Islamabad economic leverage over and increase its confidence vis-à-vis New Delhi — and it would do so in a way that is less volatile than increasing Pakistan’s military arsenal.

The National Assembly approved an increased defence budget earlier this year when this very arms race is actually making us less secure. We are spending every last rupee to keep up with India’s massive defence spending when the reality is we do not have the resources to do this.

The problem for Pakistan is that there is very little it can do to effectively counter an operational Indian BMD shield. The absence of both resources and indigenous capabilities to develop its own missile-defense system renders Islamabad’s responses obsolete. But more ominous for Pakistan is the fact that an operational Indian anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capability would effectively provide New Delhi with an assured second-strike capability.

This does not mean that we cannot be secure against Indian hegemony, it just means that we need to look for more ways of establishing our security that fit within our natural means. In other words, if we want to be “strong”, we need to think “smart”. Our nuclear arsenal is massive – the fourth largest in the world. We have mastered the art of death – it’s time that we focus on the art of life.

According to the website EconomyCheck.com.pk, serving as a trade route between China and the Middle East, Pakistan could boost GDP by 2 percent or more.

China-Middle East trade is worth $172 billion today. It will exceed $2 trillion by 2030. If even 5% of Middle East trade flows through Pakistan, it will boost transit receipts collected by government by 2% of GDP per annum.

Combine this with the economic boom that would result from being a transit for Iranian energy and the impact becomes enormous. Claiming our natural role as the gateway of Asian trade will give a better position vis-a-vis not only India but vis-a-vis America also. In order for this to happen, however, we must stop the trend of isolationist thinking and participate openly in the world community.

The US-China Model

I was struck last night when I checked Dawn‘s website for any updates on yesterday’s bombings and saw the following headlines next to each other: ‘Suicide bombs in two Pakistan cities kill 12’ and ‘Pakistan warns against India nuclear support’. It was like seeing it there in black and white the two national priorities, one working against the other to hold back progress.

Pakistan is under attack by jihadi militants. Yesterday’s bombings – one of which carried out by a teenager – were carried out against Pakistani citizens in Karachi and Lahore. Responsibility for the attacks was immediately claimed by Taliban. It is an act of war on the nation.

On the other hand there is India which we continue to battle in a ‘cold war’ of our own. Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Pakistan to Geneva Zamir Akram yesterday warned the international community on bringing India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and other bodies that allow trade in nuclear material. In the meantime, onions sit rotting at the border as a monument to the lack of constructive dialogue between our nations.

Years of misguided policies of ‘strategic depth’ have left us with enemies on both borders – one attacking us with suicide bombers, the other a looming threat of nuclear annihilation. We need a new strategy.

Dr Maleeha LodhiAmbassador Maleeha Lodhi describes the US-China relationship in The News yesterday as one of careful balance of interests between two nuclear superpowers

Why can’t we have the same with India?

The usual excuse is that India cannot be trusted and we must be careful never to sell out our country. In India, the same accusation is made about us. As neighboring countries, this is an impasse that we have to overcome. We cannot change geography and move to the other side of the world, and even if we could, would it make a difference? China and the US are on opposite sides of the world and still they are obsessed with each other.

The difference between our relationship with India and American relationship with China is that the US and China have figured out a way to work through their differences, despite those differences being much greater than ours and India’s.

Pakistan and India are both essentially parliamentary democracies with capitalist economies. We both share a common history, and we are geographically, linguistically, and culturally close also. We differ in our majority religions, but there are Hindus in Pakistan and Muslims in India also.

US President Obama and Chinese President Hu JintaoCompare this to the US and China which exist on opposite ends of the Earth and have no common history. Linguistically the two nation’s area also worlds apart – Americans speaking English, a stress language, while the Chinese language is tonal. Americans are very religious and predominantly Christian while Chinese government is officially atheist, though the dominant religion of the people if Buddhism.

Despite these differences, the US and China have found a way to be mutually beneficial partners. That doesn’t mean that either country sells out its interests, either. According to Ambassador Lodhi, both the US and China stand behind their own national interests while using their shared interests as a starting point for identifying ways to cooperate and move forward.

The question raised for the future of Sino-American relations is how economic interdependence will be balanced with issues of contention on which both sides have firm positions. Writing before President Hu’s visit, Henry Kissinger, the architect of the opening of US relations with China, warned against self-fulfilling prophesies on both sides by those who emphasised conflict rather than cooperation.

“Conflict is not inherent in a nation’s rise and Sino-US relations need not take that turn.” Pointing out that on most issues the two countries have been adequately cooperating, Kissinger suggested that what they lacked was an overarching concept for that cooperation. This he said was hard to come by in a globalised world that imposes a multiplicity of new tasks at a moment of political, economic and technological transformation. Kissinger saw reconciling the two countries self-perception of their exceptionalism as the “deepest challenge” of Chinese-American relations.

Pakistan and India governments need to study and approach our relations from this model. With a $1.5 trillion economy, India is a market that Pakistani businesses should have access to. India is also a stable country, unlike our neighbor to the West. While we will continue to make sure our Eastern border is secure, increasing trust base on mutual security would allow us to put more resources to work securing the border with Afghanistan where most of the trouble is. Like the US and China, the greater our economic connections with India, the less we’ll have to worry about Indian aggression.

We have followed a model of mutual suspicion and isolation for sixty years. The results have been near disaster. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Pakistan and India are not the only two nations with both differences and commonalities in their interests. It’s time we stop focusing on the differences and start using our common interests as a place to build a new future.

Rethinking India

Cyril Almeida’s column today is worth reading and thinking about for a while. This passage in particular struck me as something to read more than once…

To anyone who hasn’t lived and breathed the feinbild of India as the enemy for decades, as all generals have, the problem is straightforward: the conception of India as an incorrigible, recidivist foe who can never be trusted in matters big and small has hurt us in the past, and, given the present trajectories of the two countries, will hurt us even more in the future.

To give but a simple example: at present, as we have done before, we are looking to faraway America and its proxies, the international financial institutions, to keep the economy on life support; yet, right next door we have a country obsessed with economic growth and still we keep shut the door to trade (Indian non-tariff barriers notwithstanding) — a door that could lead to other, strategic benefits.

If we continue this culture of suspicion and distrust, constant tension and harsh words with our neighbor to the East – what are the benefits…and what are the costs?