- Allah, Army and America – a triple A rating underpinned the Islamic republic for so long that, for many Pakistani diplomats and army officers, the brave new world that Pakistan now faces is very awkward.
- Pakistan’s decision not to take a part in the Yemen war has gone down poorly in Riyadh.
- The increasing visits from Pakistan’s army chief and PM to Beijing signify a desperate shift towards China as the underwriter-in-chief of Pakistan - replacing America.
The 70-year-old framework that governed Pakistan’s foreign policy is unravelling. Allah, Army and America – a triple A rating underpinned the Islamic republic for so long that, for many Pakistani diplomats and army officers, the brave new world that Pakistan now faces is very awkward.
The fundamental problem with Pakistan is the spillover from Islamic terror - the main superstructure of its foreign policy - seeping deep into its domestic politics. Add to that the increasing allergy the world has to the export of terror from Pakistani soil, and a challenging world confronts Pakistan.
From massacre of its army’s children to using F16s against its own people in at least 20 different operations over the last three years, this spillover is causing Pakistan’s very basis as a state to come under increasing fissiparous pressures.
The Pakistan Army as the bedrock of the Islamic state looks bad killing its own people, its fast-aging, mostly imported equipment makes it more dangerous – as the move to theatre nuclear weapons getting a place in the order of battle plans point out.
Saudi Arabia tightens the purse strings
Pakistan–Saudi Arabia relations are troubled. Nothing will please the terrorists nurtured by Pakistan more than the overthrow of the house of Saud – and getting unbelievers (read American troops) out of Mecca and Medina.
Neither Washington nor Riyadh wants any such outcome. For Pakistan, the new Saudi position – especially the end to unrestricted fund flows -- is turning out to be a major difficulty.
From Islamic seminaries in Karachi to Pakistan’s Army and onto inflation on high street - the impact of lesser Saudi largesse is evident everywhere. Pakistan is reaping the benefit of cheaper oil for its economy but that is undercut by lesser remittances and a fall in direct aid from the house of Saud - which was about $3billion a year between 2010 -2015.
Pakistan’s decision not to take a part in the Yemen war has gone down poorly in Riyadh.
China is no USA
The increasing visits from Pakistan’s army chief and PM to Beijing signify a desperate shift towards China as the underwriter-in-chief of Pakistan - replacing America. Only, as Pakistan is slowly discovering, China is no America.
It is just not that rich, its weapons are second grade and untested in battle (for many weapons Pakistan is either the biggest or only buyer) and its $46 billion commitment for the China-Pakistan economic corridor to revitalize Pakistan from the port of Gwader to the Chinese border looks like a road to nowhere.
On the ground, the first problem is that the project is severely underfunded. China has released only about $400 million of hard cash this past year. In project management terms this will ensure pure cost escalations of 50% for every underfunded dollar.
To Pakistan’s dismay, everything from the cement to the engineers so far used for the project have been Chinese – the fund is tied to Chinese overcapacity - Pakistan has simply no role in it. The three main areas where most of the fund will be spent– Baluchistan, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Kashgar in China are restive with insurgencies.
A large part of the project cost is Pakistan’s security guarantee of which about $200 million have already been spend by Pakistan on providing the security in terms of men and material. The road put differently looks too much in the future.
In terms of foreign aid the US gave Pakistan $7.5 billion from 2010 to 2015 making it the fourth highest recoverer of foreign aid from Washington. In the same period, China donated only $2 billion. The US quantum of aid looks increasingly set to dwindle – already the US has cut $500 million in aid this year with more cuts likely.
The US needs Pakistan less than ever before in its history.
The rise of the Shia – The Iran factor.
For the longest time, Pakistan has had a strategic free run on its long western border as Iran was tied down - first with the war with Iraq and later under US sanctions. Now the Shia republic is rising – and it is making Pakistan restive.
This is with good reason.
From Lebanon to Saudi Arabia - Shia Iran looks after “its people”. The rampant killing of the Shia in Pakistan – that has turned them into a scared second-class citizenry is simply unacceptable to Tehran.
Iran - unlike the accidental entity that is Pakistan - is a civilization state. Its economy is diversified with manufacturing including vehicle making and refineries.
Contrary to perception Iran is not just about oil. At $16,500 per capita in PPP terms it is miles ahead of Pakistan’s PPP of $ 4,800.
Tellingly, skirmishes have begun on the border. In late 2014 an Iranian military man was killed by Pakistan. In August 2016 - six Pakistani police officers were killed by unknown militants in a rocket attack near Iranian border. Iran could yet turn a formidable foe for Pakistan.
The one-horse cart
Pakistan has two things going for it. It has the sixth-largest Army in the world and posses between 160 to 200 nuclear warheads. Yet it is increasingly a pathetic place where even international cricket cannot be played.
The choices apart from competing with an increasingly rich $2 trillion India are getting stark. It would be a mistake to underestimate the ability of Pakistan’s army to hold the country together. However, for its 182 million people, being a North Korea minus the sanctions is about the best they can hope for, going forward.
Last Updated 31, Mar 2018, 6:32 PM