Pakistan’s geographical location: a curse or a blessing in disguise?
In the contemporary affairs there are two things that determine a country’s geostrategic and geopolitical importance. Either you are a great production market or a much greater consumption-based market, as is the case of China, India and Afghanistan. The latter being an energy-abundant country, and the others lacking in that. But what if you fit in neither of the category? Instead, you are that natural bridge or a choke point that connects these huge markets.
Stuck between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, whether you call it a curse or a blessing in disguise, here comes the category of one of its kind with Pakistan holding the crown of being a junction point between the resource-efficient and resource-deficient countries in the South Asian region.
During the past twenty years, this region has been a centre for the greater political foreplay for power. Whether it was the US’s containment policy of the USSR, or keeping up with the aftermath of 9/11, Pakistan’s role was significant. Confronting such global issues like energy crises and terrorism, Pakistan’s foreign policy strategy has always been at the mercy of its geography-geography acting as the mother of strategy.
The United States has two main interests in the region: business and security. As in the late 1980s when the USSR was targeted, currently, it is China that is under the US’s radar following its Pivot-Asia strategy, to tackle the economic dominance of China with a policy of confronting some and cooperating with others for the greater US interest. Bordering China on its northern side, Pakistan automatically comes under the great strain of choosing sides in the international for a keeping in view its economic and geopolitical interests.
Economic security and political stability could be considered as two sides of the coin. But no matter which side turns up, both represents a win-win situation. Likewise, physical and strategic security demands economic security as well. In the world where the arms race and the economic growth rates have been targeted, Pakistan lacks primarily because of its poor economic performance, with a mere $312 billion economy (amounts to a mere 0.5 percent of the world economy). There is a further expectation of slowdown according to the State Bank of Pakistan’s estimates for FY-19; Pakistan could be considered far behind as compared to the huge economies, ranging from $15.4 trillion to 3.16 trillion, of its neighbouring countries, China and India, respectively. In terms of economic sovereignty, Pakistan has always been categorised as a total dependent market due to financial constraints; no wonder, why it has always stood at the receiving end of the wrath of geopolitical and geo-economics dilemmas.
Due to its geographical location, Pakistan has been a great ally to the US in its war against terrorism. But the current power struggle and the rise of China as an economic power has changed the uni-polar world into a bi-polar world. In 2015, China surpassed the US in terms of crude oil import, making it a top destination of exports for various countries, including both Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Whether it was the US’s containment policy of the USSR, or keeping up with the aftermath of 9/11, Pakistan’s role was significant
On the other hand, India’s growing influence in Afghanistan, and its new strategic deal with the US under the ‘Indo-Pacific strategy’, and with China on the northern borders of Pakistan, and the great friendship between the two, has put such a great constraint on Pakistan, keeping in view its economic and geopolitical interests in the region, specifically, the greater gains that Pakistan is entitled to due to CPEC.
Stephen P. Cohen states, “While history has been unkind with Pakistan, its geography has been its greatest benefit.” Pakistan is located at the proximity of great powers, with the USSR, one of world’s most powerful countries in its neighbourhood, along with China. Any alliance among world powers enhances Pakistan’s significance. Pakistan is also a gateway to the oil-rich countries of Central Asia and the Middle East, from Iran to Saudi Arabia. After the decline of the USSR, politics of oil with Pakistan at the centre started with a greater leverage in terms of its influence on shipment of oil. Pakistan has a great potential of becoming a transit economy on account of its strategic location. Afghanistan being a country emerging from ashes also depends on Pakistan for transit.
For the rapidly growing Chinese economy, Pakistan also offers the opportunity of the shortest route of 2,500 kilometres through the Gwadar port, as compared to China’s own part, which is 4,500 kilometres away from Xinjiang. For the Central Asian countries, Pakistan provides the shortest route of 2,600 kilometres as compared to Iran and Turkey that offer 4,500kilometres and 5,000kilometres, respectively.
Furthermore, Pakistan is the only direct link between China and the Middle East, and if properly functional, Pakistan could greatly capitalise on that through better diplomatic ties with Arabs and CARs. There is a speculation that oil and energy resources of the world would soon become the focus of the world attention. However, for exports to and from CARs to materialise, a stable Afghanistan is a must.
In Afghanistan, Pakistan has been a great stakeholder and a major non-NATO ally of the US in the war against terrorism, although the relationship between the two countries has faced a setback after the harsh stance of the Trump administration on Pakistan’s efforts. Despite that, Pakistan was again a major player in the recent US-Taliban peace deals. Some American think tanks, on multiple occasions, have highlighted the huge role of Pakistan, and that winning the war against terrorism can never be possible without the assistance of Pakistan.
The geographical location, hence, has played its role, both as a curse and as a blessing, at times, but despite that, Pakistan needs to redefine its stance in the international community more vigorously, tilted towards its own national interests. Although financial constraints put Pakistan in a difficult position, but through a more active foreign policy, which the current government is focusing on, there exist many opportunities for further development. For instance, in case of CPEC, greater transparency should be put on the agenda, along with full cooperation on both sides. While in the case of the US-Taliban peace deal, Pakistan should not get involved too less or too more. Pakistan should focus on putting forward its own terms for its role as a mediator.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.