Asia is emerging as a new geographical market championed by China and Pakistan is at the cross-roads of this new economic center of gravity and of regional economic connectivity. Former Minister of state and Chairman of Pakistan’s Board of Investment (BoI), Haroon Sharif, believes Pakistan has an edge over other regional countries but it fails in capitalizing on this because it outsources thinking on this either to China or the International Financial Institutions (IFIs). This can happen only if the highest leadership takes the ownership of the process, he said.
Our diplomats are great, but they need to be sitting in Beijing, Kuala Lumpur and Tashkent, rather than sitting in Geneva and New York, said Haroon Sharif while speaking at a quadrilateral conference on Afghanistan, Regional Geo-Politics and Trade connectivity with experts from US, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan, organized by the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) in Islamabad today.
Intizar Khadim, DG Center for Development and Peace Studies (CDPS), told the audience that although Afghanistan lies at the cross-roads of regional connectivity, yet decades of conflict have denied it the chance to benefit from this location.
The problems of Kabul are not exclusive in nature, he cautioned. All regional countries share the risk. As no one can live in isolation, the instability in Afghanistan will have negative spill-over effects across the region if not curtailed, he said.
“I would recommend to the world community not to exclude any country; neither Pakistan, nor Iran, nor India nor Qatar. Incentivize them and utilize their role in the region” Khadim proposed. “We all embark in the same ship. We have the same destination. How we interact with each-other in the ship will determine the course of our voyage,” said Prof.Khadim.
Giving the Chinese perspective, Zhou Shuai, Lecturer at Beijing International Studies University, China, enunciated that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the global vision of infrastructural connectivity and a conception of 21st century multi-polarity. It would not be an exaggeration to state that it is one of the most significant game-changing endeavors ever attempted in the contemporary times.
The economic pull of BRI works as an irresistible magnet to exploit its regional connectivity in stimulating the trade objectives, whether it is furthering bilateral trade with China such as the European Union (EU), Mideast, and African states may naturally be interested in, or in procuring an expedient outlet to the Indian Ocean such as what Russia and the Central Asian republics desire, said Prof.Zhou.
The BRI, worth more than 900 billion USD spread over 20 countries, should be seen as an insurance for regional as well as global economic development, Zhou said.
Zhou also shed some light on the misperceptions about Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). He stated that in contrast to the common perception, China is not the center of BRI; it wishes to provide an economic network where every country is equal. It is open for everyone to join. Secondly, it is purely an economic venture, not one which is security driven, he explained.
While presenting the Pakistani perspective on the regional situation revolving Afghanistan, Ambassador Asif Durrani was of the view that Low hanging fruits like CASA 1000 or TAPI gas pipeline project could translate into a reality only if Afghan leadership could use inter-tribal relations as an underpinning factor to generate consensus on the future of the country. He said Afghanistan at the moment needs simple solutions based in the tribal structures. “In contrast, what is being imposed on Afghans are Harvard styled models that look good in theory but have failed miserably in reality,” Durrani pointed out, adding that current leaders like President Ghani can neither reach out to most of the tribes nor gel with them because he never lived in the country most of his life.
Explaining the US perspective on the regional dynamics and the Afghan war, former US diplomat James Schwemmlein stated that the US has many lessons from its military intervention in Afghanistan, one being that its leverage is now a deteriorating asset; it could have made better deals with the Taliban in the past than it is in any position to do so now. Further, the US has suffered from unclear objectives, which also failed because there was a mismatch in maximalist objectives and available resources.
“I hope that we can form a positive relationship which is favorable to Pakistan, Afghanistan & US’ interests. I hope we talk about market economy, climate change, education, and find more ways to work together”, he concluded, nevertheless.
Is US really serious about harnessing peace in Afghanistan or is it interested in the instability of the country, asked Ambassador Ayaz Wazir, chairing the session. With this he questioned the US motives of first talking to the Taliban and then cancelling the Camp David meeting.
Restoring peace in Afghanistan is certainly in the interest of Pakistan more than anyone else. When peace will begin, economic activities will begin, he affirmed.
Commenting on the security situation in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen (retd) Asif Yasin Malik, while chairing a session, stated that just a few days ago, Afghanistan was on the brink of achieving peace; hence, showing optimism in what has seemed like a stalemate for years. Terrorism is nothing but a state of mind and the Afghans need to challenge this kind of mindset with a singular focus, he stated. Nothing is impossible if the Afghans resolve to solve their issues collectively, he concluded.
He went on to say that now the west is crying over the Belt and Road Initiative (BR) with claims that it is exploiting the region, but what about all the international financial institutions that have been plundering the poor nations since decades? It is just that when an alternative to the western policies is proposed, the west starts to have a problem, underlined the former defense secretary.
Most speakers called the inclusion of China, Russia, Iran and other regional stakeholders instead of excluding them. The US policy of sanctions also drew criticism, with some participants asking as to why should the US sanctions on certain nations be binding on other countries? Russia and China are painted in negative light the moment they challenge this US approach, they said.