An independent think-tank

Pakistan has huge opportunity in CPEC but ruling elite resists transformation

Islamabad — Speakers at a seminar said that Pakistan should not miss a huge opportunity arising out of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project despite the fact that the country’s ruling elite had strong social and economic links with the West – a reason that hampered progress on the multi-billion dollar programme in the past.

They said that the CPEC project had the potential to trigger modernization in agriculture and industrial sectors of Pakistan but this did not happen because those at the helm of affairs resisted much-needed transformation.

These views were expressed at the seminar on ‘Navigating Challenging Times: US-China Relations and Pakistan’ organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based research and advocacy think tank, here at a local hotel.  The event brought together lawmakers, diplomats, retired military officers, academics, and experts on regional trade and international relations.

The sub-themes of the dialogue included ‘challenges and opportunities for Pakistan in navigating the complexities of the US-China relations’, and ‘role of diplomacy in shaping US-China-Pakistan relations.’ The participants also discussed potential areas of cooperation and collaboration between the US, China, and Pakistan to address challenges and promote mutual understanding.

Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Defence Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed speaking on the occasion as a chief guest said that the future lay in regional economic connectivity and Pakistan had tremendous opportunities in it. “It is all about geo-economics… and we have to open up the borders… and then avoid a new cold war,” he said.

Senator Mushahid, who is also chairman of the Pakistan-China Institute, suggested that Pakistan needed a new charter of foreign policy on national security. “The national security has to be redefined not in terms of military might but with regard to human security, climate change, energy, food security, water scarcity, population and education,” he said.

The senator said that there was a need to understand China’s strategic culture. He added that any new cold war between the US and China would be averted because the latter was not economically weak as was in the case of the former Soviet Union.

He said that the relationship between China and Pakistan was strategically strong. “China needs Pakistan and Pakistan needs China,” he said, adding that it was a convergence of interests.

Former Corps Commander Peshawar Lt Gen (retd) Muhammad Masood Aslam viewed that Beijing itself had strategic interests, which dictated strategic and economic investments in Pakistan. He said that in the wake of US-China rivalry, the former was embracing India as a bulwark against the latter and Islamabad was facing complex challenges while these two great powers had been navigating. He said that this rivalry was directly affecting the geo-political landscape of South Asia, besides the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia.

Aslam urged that economic diplomacy was the need of the hour for Pakistan and this should be the main pillar of its foreign policy. For social and economic development, the country should focus on areas including food security, climate change, health, provision of technology, elimination of terrorism, and poverty alleviation, he said and added, “Our diplomacy has to be totally linked with the economy.”

Political analyst and expert on regional affairs ex-Senator Afrasiab Khattak endorsed the view of other speakers by saying that the problem with Pakistan was its old western connections and economic dependence on the West. He added that the country’s ruling elite had close relations with that part of the world – a reason for resisting its transformation. “CPEC is a great opportunity and Pakistan should not miss it,” he said, suggesting that Islamabad would have to make economic relations with the Middle East, China, and other neighbouring countries as part of this transformation.

Khattak warned of a potential new cold war and said that Pakistan should redefine its relations with other countries. He expressed concerns that western world could use Pakistan against China, adding that militancy structures were still intact within the country.

The seasoned politician underscored that Pakistan needed to change its policies fundamentally and maintain its relations with all neighbouring countries including China, Afghanistan, Iran and even India.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader and former Senator Farhatullah Babar held that Pakistan should genuinely strive to promote regional peace and trade, which were prerequisites for its economic development. “We have to revisit our economic model,” he said, adding that the country had no conducive economic model.

Director PIPS Muhammad Amir Rana remarked that the challenge right now was how Pakistan could make a balance between the US and China and whether Pakistan had to make this balance or not. “The nations change their ways but transformation is always very difficult.”

Rana explained that the US was Pakistan’s old ally and China was its neighbour.” For our political elite, they see benefits of Pakistan’s exports to the US on one side and there is the opportunity of CPEC on the other side, he added. He said that those who controlled businesses in Pakistan got most of their interests in the West and this was one of the critical challenges and a hurdle in the way of transformation.