Transformation has always been a permanent feature of international politics. Given the globalisation, a change in any part of the world quickly reverberates throughout the world. Just as societies and economies were emerging from the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, war and dislocation have raised their heads.
The inextricable nature of geo-politics and geo-economics makes international politics more challenging for some nations than others. Border conflicts are particularly important for countries like Pakistan.
On the one hand, Pakistan is in a dire need of uplifting its economy and living standards of its people. This requires following the geo-economics agenda and integrating its economy with other regional economies. On the other hand, it must improve its ties with global powers and major regional players.
The situation demands charting out a comprehensive plan. The country must deal with external as well as internal threats.
On the global level, the US–China relationship has become the structuring rivalry of the international system. For countries like Pakistan, emerging defence and security alliances in the region and the role of these two powers is going to be a major challenge. Add to this the challenge of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Russia. The visit sent mixed signals in an already confusing geopolitical environment. Along with these two great rivalries, tensions are resurfacing between China and India and, to a lesser degree, between Egypt and Ethiopia.
In 2021 the US not only maintained its security commitments in the Asia-Pacific region but also strengthened it through a security partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom as part of the AUKUS alliance. In the second decade of the 21st Century, the new collaboration in the Indo-Pacific between Washington and Canberra, but also with Delhi and Tokyo, breathed new life into the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD).
China’s increasing military assertiveness is reflected in a 6.8 percent defence spending increase compared to 2020 and in reports of hypersonic weapons testing. As geo-political tensions grow, the arms race may deepen, particularly in the outer space. The test of a hypersonic glide vehicle and an anti-satellite test by Russia which caused over a thousand pieces of debris to land are an indication of the things to come.
Amid these developments, Pakistan needs to pay more attention to how the rivalry reverberates in other arenas like cyber-security, e-commerce, trade, sports and geo-economics.
The tectonic plates of regional politics started shifting for Pakistan when the US withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban took Kabul in 2021. This transformation in the backyard of the country was astounding. It proved many political and defence pundits wrong. Pakistan is now faced with new uncertainty.
Apart from the emerging political and strategic scenario at its western border, there is looming humanitarian crisis in terms of acute food insecurity, depleting medical facilities and the influx of new refugees from Afghanistan. All these will have direct socio-political and economic ramifications for Pakistan.
On the eastern front, Pakistan has been on its heels politically and diplomatically since India changed the status of the occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
On the south-western border, Iran continues to be a rogue state for the US and its regional allies. Sailing through the troubled waters of Saudi-Iran animosity has been a continuous headache for Pakistan. The drone attacks on oil-refinery sites in the UAE by the Yemeni Houthis and further escalation in tensions between the regional competitors have taken the rivalry to a higher level.
In the backdrop of hybrid warfare, uncertain economic recovery, pandemic, deepening of climate change threats and volatility in the energy markets, Pakistan has pitched its National Security Policy 2021. The aim of the policy is to diversify its approach and strategy in the face of these multifaceted challenges.
In 2022, one should expect more assertiveness, fuelled by diplomatic activism.
The Indo-Pacific region is emerging as a key area of contest. The emergence of the QUAD, and the AUKUS (Australia, US and the UK) has changed the security scenario in the region significantly. In order to adjust to these alliances and keep its strategic autonomy intact, Pakistan will have to make a prudent choice between aligning itself with either side or staying neutral.
In the year 2022, Pakistan has to navigate the pandemic with its debt-ridden economy, clamp down on the remnants of Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP), scale up the new Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and regain its economic strength.
A coherent roadmap for action is needed to lead the nation towards the achievement of its national security goals and the national vision 2025.
The writer is an advocacy officer based in Islamabad