Momentous strategic, economic and political developments are radically transforming the global security environment. At the strategic level, China’s phenomenal rise is perhaps the most important development. But the importance of a re-assertive Russia and India’s hegemonic designs in South Asia also needs to be recognized. Science and technology are playing the driving role in accelerating economic growth in the current knowledge-based world. In the political field, different ideas and ideologies are competing for finding an ideal balance between the individual’s liberty and the social responsibility in the organization of the state. This inexorable process of change has far reaching repercussions for Pakistan and the rest of the world. It is critically important, therefore, to understand the forces which are driving this process at the regional and global levels otherwise Pakistan would be overtaken by events and would be unable to safeguard its vital national interests.
China’s rapid rise over the past three and a half decades has changed the world both economically and strategically. Its estimated GDP in nominal terms was $ 12.00 trillion in 2015 as against $ 19.00 trillion for the US during the same period. However, it has already overtaken the US economy in terms of GDP in PPP terms. Even in nominal terms, its GDP would exceed that of the US before the end of the next decade. China’s fast economic growth combined with the rapid economic growth of India, Indonesia and South Korea, and the presence of other large economies like Japan and Australia in Asia are shifting the world center of gravity to the Asia-Pacific region. This is particularly so because the growth of the Asian economies has been companied by rapid rise in their military expenditures and strength. In recognition of these developments, the US has decided to rebalance its forces in favor of the Asia-Pacific region. Further, in pursuance of its policy of containment of China, it is in the process of strengthening its alliances with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia besides building up India as a major power of the 21st century.
The US and its European allies are also maintaining pressure on Russia for the expansion of NATO and EU in those Eastern European areas which were traditionally part of the Russian sphere of influence or “near abroad”. This move is being resisted by Russia as reflected by the crises in Georgia and the more recent one in Ukraine. Inevitably the foregoing developments in Asia and Eastern Europe are forcing China and Russia into a close strategic partnership to resist, what they see, American expansionism. Russia has also taken the initiative of intervening militarily in support of the Bashar al-Asad government in Syria in partnership with Iran to send a message of strategic defiance to the US.
In South Asia and the Indian Ocean region, the rapid growth of India’s economic power and military strength combined with its well-known hegemonic designs in the area have serious implications for China and for Pakistan’s security, political independence and economic autonomy. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s current political leadership, most of its civilian bureaucracy, and a section of its intelligentsia are abysmally ignorant of the threat that India’s economic rise and military build-up pose to Pakistan’s national interests. Pakistan’s current political leadership, in pursuit of the legitimate goal of peaceful neighbourhood, has adopted a policy of appeasement of India which can only encourage New Delhi’s hegemonic designs to Pakistan’s detriment.
Instead, Pakistan must pursue a non-adventurist, non-provocative and low risk policy in dealing with India while maintaining a firm position on safeguarding our national interests. Our India policy should be buttressed by rapid build-up of our economic strength through a program of far reaching economic reforms, the maintenance of a credible security deterrent at the lowest level of armed forces and armaments, the strengthening of strategic partnership with China, and improvement of friendly relations with Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Central Asian Republics and Russia. Obviously, we must maintain and, where possible, even enhance our existing friendly relations with the US and West European countries. Further, because of fundamental political, economic and strategic divergences between Pakistan and India, SAARC can only be a vehicle for promoting cooperation between them on a level playing field in such fields as trade, river water management, trans-border crime control, etc. It is not the right organization for Pakistan for regional economic integration. For this purpose, Pakistan should try the Economic Cooperation Organisation with whose members it has much greater political, economic and cultural convergences.
Pakistan’s Achilles heel currently is the poor performance of its economy. During the past two decades, India, its regional adversary, has outperformed it by a wide margin. Even in 2015, India’s GDP growth rate was 7.5 % as against a dismal figure of 4.8% for Pakistan. This is shameful to put it mildly. The main reason for this deplorable performance is gross mismanagement of the economy by the PML(N) governments at the federal and provincial (Punjab) levels. It has failed to raise the nation’s saving rate without which our dependence on foreign loans will aggravate, carry out taxation reforms with the objective of increasing substantially the tax-to-GDP ratio from the current low level of 9% without which the government’s fiscal deficits and indebtedness will assume dangerous proportions, and raise significantly the investment-to-GDP ratio without which we would continue to have low GDP growth rates. Rapid growth of Pakistan’s economy is not only an essential condition for raising the standard of living of its people but also for ensuring its long-term security vis-à-vis India.
Another flaw in the economic policies of the current PML(N) governments at the federal and provincial levels is the low priority that in practical terms they have assigned to education despite their rhetoric. Without a high literacy percentage and high quality education with special focus on sciences and technology, one cannot visualize a self-sustaining process of rapid economic development in the present knowledge-driven world. Unfortunately, no Pakistani government, whether civilian or military, has assigned the high priority to education that it deserves. As against the norm of the minimum allocation of 4% of GDP to education recommended by UNESCO, we have never, historically speaking, allocated more than 2% of GDP to education. This dismal state of affairs has continued under the present PML-N governments. It just shows that they have no comprehension of the requirements of the process of economic development or of the benefits of universal coverage of the right type of education. To overcome this flaw, they must take urgent steps to widen the coverage and raise the quality of education. The allocation of resources to the education sector must be raised, as rapidly as possible, to at least 6% of GDP.
At the ideological level, the world is witnessing a continued battle of ideas and ideologies for an ideal state which protects individual’s liberty and welfare while ensuring social justice, stability and progress. Pakistan cannot remain immune from the ongoing ideological competition. A battle is also going on right now for the soul of Pakistan with the objective of finding the right answers to the ideological challenges of our times. It is incumbent upon our scholars and intelligentsia to come up with answers to these challenges keeping in view our cultural traditions and the compulsions of progress and enlightenment. While so doing, we must reject the forces of obscurantism, retrogression, religious extremism and terrorism.