Pakistan in the New Geopolitics of Asia

Pakistani experts convene to analyse major regional and global dynamics at play and provide strategies on how the country can manage geopolitical challenges.

Pakistan is geographically located in a region long plagued with political instability. Having Afghanistan and Iran, which are both largely isolated from the international system, on its western border and a challenging relationship with India to its east, Pakistan must meander through difficult terrain. Coupled with this is the intensifying competition between the US and China, Pakistan’s northern neighbour. Ensuring stability within the country, strengthening its economy and working towards peace in the region are key to achieve its development goals and navigating the turbulence.

To find the best strategies to achieve these aims, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Pakistan Office and the FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia convened a diverse group of Pakistani decision-makers, thought leaders, academics, journalists and civil society leaders for a strategy and foresight lab facilitated by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Executive Education. Over two days, the participants analysed the complexity and tensions between the different stakeholders, envisioned what an inclusive and sustainable future could look like for Pakistan and devise concrete strategies on how to get to that vision.  

Current state of play

The increasing geopolitical tensions between major powers such as the United States, China, and Russia has led to mounting concerns about Pakistan being forced to choose a side. The geostrategic location of Pakistan holds it back because of it’s tense relationships with neighbouring countries as well as the prolonged instability in the region. Despite these threats, many participants expressed that development partnership projects such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, despite certain drawback, could be a step in the right direction.

Pakistan must also overcome many internal obstacles and build towards economic resilience. These current challenges include, among other things, a weak education system, slow technological advancements, and democratic institutions that need strengthening. Apart from these social and economic matters, Pakistan is also facing a critical ecological threat. As recent floods show, Pakistan has to bear the burdens of global climate change, and consequently, it has to learn to mitigate the impacts on its food and water security.

Emerging trends and visions of the future

In the face of global and regional (geo-)political reconfigurations, Pakistan must strengthen its foreign diplomacy and seek for good relations with its neighbouring countries. Internally, it must work towards achieving political stability, social equality and strengthening national institutions.   Many participants view Pakistan as a potential regional connectivity hub and centre for innovation in the future. To achieve this, Pakistan needs to find ways to develop its technology industry by reforming its education sector and harnessing its youthful population.

Pakistan has been and will continue to be deeply affected by the consequences of climate change. However, there is an opportunity for the country to better manage the climate crisis through sustainable infrastructure and agricultural development while harnessing its existing nuclear power capabilities to achieve energy independence.

Strategic options and policy recommendations

Reflecting on the discussions above, the participants explored policy options and came up with several strategic recommendations. They developed broad internal and external policy recommendations and strategies to help the country navigate the transition between the present and their future vision of Pakistan. Invariably there emerged large number of domestic and foreign policy priorities. Some of these include:

1. Improving political stability through strengthening democracy and institutional reforms: Stabilizing the country’s internal politics is a key priority. Participants opined that resolution of issues between the military and the government is an important path towards that. This in turn can provide confidence for foreign investments and bring in much needed capital. It has to go alongside with better governance focused on transparency and strengthening of the judiciary and the rule of law.

2. Increased regional connectivity and diversification of regional and international partners: The isolation of Afghanistan and Iran from the world economy led by the US has created major economic problems in those countries which will not be ideal for Pakistan given its current economic situation. Participants stated that Pakistan has large potential in being a regional connectivity hub for Central Asian countries as it has access to the sea and can become the regional trade hub for the region. Being a neighbour to China, Pakistan will have to walk a tight balancing act and resolve many challenges but the aspiration is that it can serve as a hub for Chinese trade into the region and increase connectivity to Central Asia and the Middle East. With improved regional connectivity, participants would also like to see the region become more peaceful and have fewer conflicts.

3. Managing superpower rivalry and strengthening bilateral relations: Managing and balancing the relationship between US and China will be important for Pakistan as it is reliant on China for its economic ties and does not want to antagonize the US. To balance the relationship, Pakistan will have to maintain dialogue and expand areas for engagement with both countries.

Event summary compiled by Dinkim Sailo, Senior Programme Manager, FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia and Supasuta Kowithanont, Intern, FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia.

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