Pakistan in troubled waters: La Tribune India

G Parthasarathy

Chancellor, Jammu Central University and Former High Commissioner to Pakistan

Five decades after its surrender in Dhaka, Pakistan observes that Bangladesh, which remained poor due to its exploitation by West Pakistan, is today a dynamic and increasingly prosperous country. Bangladesh, with a population of 160 million, now competes with the booming economies of its Southeast Asian neighbors. Its economy has grown at 6% per year for the past two decades. Even during the Covid challenge, it is expected to register growth of 6.8% in 2021 and 7.2% in 2022, according to the Asian Development Bank (AfDB). Pakistan, on the other hand, is a massive recipient of foreign allocations. It recorded an average growth rate of around 3.5% in the years leading up to the pandemic.

Bangladesh is also far ahead of Pakistan in human development indicators, such as education and literacy for women. With foreign exchange reserves of $ 45 billion, Bangladesh provided Sri Lanka with $ 200 million under a currency swap deal. Bangladesh is ahead of Pakistan economically, even though it has spared no effort in caring for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has difficult relations with virtually all of its neighbors, including India and Afghanistan. Pakistan has also aroused Iranian discontent for its cross-border support for disgruntled elements in Iran. Pakistan has become a virtual international “basket”, feverishly seeking financial “aid” from international institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank, the ADB and its “all-weather friend” China. Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have generously helped solve Pakistan’s economic problems, have recently had doubts about aid to Pakistan.

Pakistan’s economic hardship has grown rapidly in recent years. Its total external debt rose from $ 44.35 billion in 2013 to $ 90.12 billion in April 2021. Interestingly, Pakistan’s debt repayments to China fell 9.3 percent in a recent past of 27.4% in 2021. These are official figures, which do not necessarily reflect the true position on Pakistan’s growing debts to China. The real costs will be significantly higher when the $ 65 billion CPEC, connecting Gilgit-Baltistan to PoK at Gwadar Port in Balochistan, fully takes shape. This “corridor” can be of great benefit to China. Its usefulness to Pakistan is questionable, however, especially given the enormous cost of debts Pakistan will have to repay to China.

Gwadar is now practically a Chinese port. It is only a matter of time before the Chinese take full control of the port. They even now have a dominant say over who enters and leaves the port. Gwadar is on its way to becoming a major strategic naval base for China. This becomes inevitable as China completes its wide range of projects under the CPEC, which will eventually link Gilgit-Baltistan to the Arabian Sea at Gwadar. It is very likely that with Pakistan borrowing more than it can repay, Gwadar will become a replica of the Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka which was built with Chinese “help”. Hambantota is now virtually owned by China.

The foundations of CPEC were laid in 2013, when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Pakistan. The project became more controversial after Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa was appointed chairman. He and his family are said to have a colorful record of their assets abroad. Saudi Arabia, which was planning to invest $ 10 billion in the port of Gwadar, has now pulled out and has indicated that the money will be invested in Karachi. Saudi Arabia knows that China will invest $ 25 billion in Riyadh’s main rival / adversary, Iran, located near Gwadar.

While one might have expected a sense of caution in Pakistan’s dealings with the Americans, Imran Khan and his loyalists have gone mad criticizing and embarrassing the Biden administration. Pakistani media also turned ballistic, saying the United States had been “firmly” informed that Pakistan would not provide any base in its territory for US drones to be deployed for action in Afghanistan. There were separate meetings between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and CIA Director William Burns, along with their Pakistani counterparts, and Chief of the army, General Bajwa. Additionally, widespread publicity was given to Imran’s decision to deny a meeting request from the visiting CIA director.

The Pakistani military, which has sought to maintain good relations with the United States, would wonder what is going on, as virtually all visiting Americans invariably pay homage to General Bajwa, who is understandably concerned about instability and unrest in Afghanistan. Pakistan will focus fully on developments in Afghanistan following the US withdrawal. The Taliban are determined to rule Afghanistan. They are not ready to share power. The Taliban will, however, meet growing resistance as it approaches Kabul. They will also meet strong resistance in non-Pashtun regions. While Pakistan supports its proteges, it will have to beware of unrest in its Pashtun border areas with Afghanistan. Iran would be reluctantly drawn into the conflict.

India would be well advised to stay clear of any direct involvement in the raging civil war, while keeping in touch with its friends in Afghanistan. There can be no meaningful relationship with a government headed by Imran Khan. However, we must keep our “return” lines of communication open with Pakistan. India should also ensure that Pakistan does not drop out of the Financial Action Task Force, especially given its continued support for leaders of terrorist groups. Moreover, the architects of the terrorist attacks on our Parliament and Mumbai – Maulana Masood Azhar and Hafiz Mohammed Saeed – mysteriously disappeared, just before the FATF meeting.

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