Kick starting economic development in the country by launching mega development projects was the main focus of PML N’s election slogans before 2013 general elections and the party used to refer to some of its past record. Unlike the Cold War era when unreasonable notions like “security is development” could be adopted as state policy in the polarized international polity, “developmentalism” became the most popular strategy in the post Cold War Third World. So there were lots of expectations from the Nawaz Sharif’s government in this regard. But there are some real problems. First and foremost is the paucity of financial resources. Pakistan’s tax revenue as percentage of the GDP is very low 9.8 percent as compared to 19.8 in India, 27.4 in China and 34.9 in Turkey). Due to widespread insecurity caused by the serious challenges of extremism and terrorism the country could not attract much direct international investment. How can one blame the foreign investors to be shy of investing where no international cricket team is willing to play? The “scripted” political squabbles leading to instability in the country are yet another obstacle. But the ruling party’s own limitations like a lack of transparency, obsession with metro bus and confining its focus to the Punjab also creates complications.
The excitement generated by the proposed 46 billion dollars Chinese investment in Pakistan is understandable. It is expected to kick start the building of important infrastructure, promote industrial growth and develop energy resources, areas vital for the future prosperity. For Pakistan, a country that has seen capital flight, brain drain and a negative image abroad because of extremism and terrorism in the recent years, it will be a dream come true in terms of jettisoning the entire Cold War baggage. It will be important for Pakistan to expect once again to be known for exporting high quality cotton (which it did up till the 1970s) and so many other things instead of being famous for exporting terrorism after the 1980s.
The proposed Pak-China Economic Corridor can substantially stimulate economic development internally and can also integrate Pakistan in the processes of socio economic development on regional and international level. It can be a game changer for encouraging more foreign investment in a country that has been up until recently shunned by international investors on the basis of its uncertain future. The bold Chinese initiative can change the minds of the other investors and can generate a healthy competition leading to a win-win situation for all sides. It goes without saying that the proposed economic corridor and other initiatives are also of immense strategic significance for China herself in boosting her access to regional and international markets and raw materials as a rising world power.
All this sounds very good. But if historical experience is any thing to go by peace and stability are prerequisites for sustainable socio economic development everywhere. It not only saves precious financial resources for investment in development but also keeps safe whatever is built in economic development from getting destroyed in the armed conflict. Now this is some thing not available to Pakistan on at least three levels. First this is a fact that people of Pakistan, their armed forces and security personnel have valiantly fought and given heroic sacrifices in war on terror. But unfortunately it is also a fact that Pakistan as a state and society has so far failed to consistently fight and decisively eliminate terror in the country. After the Peshawar tragedy on December 16, 2014 some positive changes were recorded. For example, unlike the past practice when some of the major parties disowned war on terror and even stood for appeasement of terrorism, almost all the political parties came around for the first time to recognize the fact that ‘yes this is our war’. Similarly all arms of the state made public pronouncements to the effect that no distinction will be made between “good” and “bad” Taliban in future and all terrorists will equally face wrath of the state. It was also made clear that proscribed organization will not be allowed to function under other names. Apart from expressing a resolve to take on terrorists of all hues, long-term reforms were also promised. Hence the nationally approved twenty points National Action Plan (NAP), some initial actions and the hope that after long last Pakistan has risen to decisively defeat terrorism… but as usual the crackdown cracked up before it could effectively crackdown. The interior ministry is not any more in the driving seat and the effective implementation of NAP is not visible. The proscribed organizations are at times more active than legally registered bodies in taking out processions and the “good Taliban” are still enjoying generosity of the state. Suicide attacks are taking place as the factories producing the suicide bombers are still in production. Operation Zarb-e-Azb has destroyed important terror infrastructure in FATA but terror ideologues and masterminds particularly in the Punjab feel safe. The murder of innocent Ismailis in Karachi on May 13 has demonstrated the capacity of terrorists to hit soft targets and melt away. The law that was to punish those who would take up arms against the state using the name of religion or sect has yet to show its teeth. Consequently hate speech is rampant. All this hardly constitutes a conducive atmosphere for development. Remember the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) promised by US that evaporated in thin air!
Second, Pakistan has yet to improve her relationship with the neighbors to an extent where it can concentrate its resources solely on economic development, as we can’t live in isolation. It is true that the neighbors also have some responsibility in improving mutual relationship but we have to critically review our own foreign policy particularly where it becomes hostage to “non-state” actors.
Finally regional cooperation is of decisive significance for development, but unfortunately South Asia is lagging behind in this regard. The Cold War and its zero sum games are over. Europe, East Asia and the American continent are good examples. Islands of development are not viable even in the case of big powers. It’s a historical requirement and we have to be rational and overcome some of our biases. We can learn from China if not from Europe in starting trade with neighboring countries pending the resolution of disputes.
The writer is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.