From Geo-politics to Geo-economics: Pakistan’s Strategic Shift?


Pakistan's priorities have shifted from geo-political to geo-economic, says  Qureshi - Pakistan - DAWN.COM

Pakistan’s priorities have shifted from geo-political to geo-economic, says Qureshi


by Khawaja Dawood Tariq    18 March 2021

Something seems changed in Islamabad. Multiple statements have been made by Pakistani civilian and military leadership that manifests this change. Quite recently, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister has asserted that “Pakistan has shifted its priorities from geo-politics to geo-economics.” This statement should be taken in the context of recent developments in the region. Likewise, Pakistan and India have released a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to observing the bilateral ceasefire agreement of 2003. This reaffirmation becomes more significant in the context of the completion of two years of the Pulwama-Balakot crisis of 2019. Furthermore, regarding the Afghan issue and prospects of its peaceful settlement, Pakistan’s Military official spokesperson has stated that it is not the Afghanistan of the ’90s. These statements, if analyzed, hint towards certain policy and priority shifts. Why the need for the shift in priorities? What could be the reasons that have compelled the Pakistani leadership to deliberate such changes in policy statements? And would the policy shift translate into a change in substance?

In February 2021, the Pakistani Army Chief said “it is time to extend a hand of peace in all directions.” The later joint statement issued by the militaries of both countries to ensure the observation of the 2003 ceasefire agreement can be considered a practical manifestation of the Chief’s statement at least from Pakistan’s perspective. At the same time, this might be perceived by many as an exit from Pakistan’s stated policy of not engaging with India until it restored the status quo in Kashmir. Modi government has been adamant that any dialogue with Pakistan would be based on addressing the issue of terrorism. Likewise, a shift in Indian policy can be observed as well at least for the time being. New Delhi is engaging Pakistan on other issues while the cross border terrorism blame game is set aside. The flexibility shown by both states does reflect that a credible mechanism has been established which can espouse mutual concerns.

The hand of peace was not only extended to India alone. There is a visible shift in Pakistan’s Afghan policy too. Pakistan has been calling on all stakeholders to engage and develop a framework for the peaceful future of Afghanistan. Pakistan used pretty much all of its good offices to bring the Taliban to the table and ensured a propitious environment for the Doha agreement. Even then the US and Afghan leadership have been demanding that Pakistan exert more pressure on the Taliban to ensure the success of the intra-Afghan dialogue. However, there is a limit to what Pakistan can do; all of its efforts are meant for ensuring long-lasting peace in the region while safeguarding its national interests. In this regard, a significant statement came from the Pakistan military’s spokesperson that “It’s impossible for the Taliban to recapture Kabul and that Pakistan would support them. It isn’t going to happen.” This is nothing short of a policy statement and it more or less reflects a strategic shift in Pakistan’s security policy.

It does make one wonder what is behind the shift in Pakistan’s priorities. What made an inherent security state reconsider its policies? Certain aspects could perhaps explain the necessity for the change in Pakistan’s priorities. The deteriorating economic condition of the country is one of the foremost factors. Since a strong economy is a prerequisite for attaining wide-ranging national interests and national security. In this regard, Pakistan’s willingness to engage in dialogue with India shows its commitment towards regional peace and stability. This would likely allow Pakistan to focus on economic prosperity which already is very much affected by the outbreak of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Similarly, Pakistan has been at war with internal and external adversaries for the last two decades. The economic loss of this cannot be compounded. It has lost decades of social and industrial development. It has to borrow more money just to repay the earlier loans, add to that the serious threats to its security; which ‘compels’ Pakistan to spend a significant budget for its national security and defence. During the last few years, while being on the FATF grey list has further exuberated this situation. Pakistan cannot sustain its economy and ultimately ensure its national security without addressing its disconnectedness with the international political economy.

DG ISPR’s presser was a signal to the Taliban and must be seen in the wider regional context. One of the core reasons Pakistan needs a friendly regime in Kabul is to deter and counter New Delhi’s designs against Islamabad. Pakistan cannot allow the presence of hostile adversaries on both its eastern and western borders anymore. It just cannot afford to. Pakistan has long maintained Indian involvement in the terror-related insurgency. It also maintains that India is actively sabotaging peace and development in Baluchistan through its consulates and massive network of operatives that are based in Afghanistan. For Pakistan to change its line with the Taliban to create political space for other groups, they seems to have been provided with a verifiable mechanism to ensure and guarantee that the Afghan soil would not be used as a base camp to sabotage peace and development in Pakistan.

On Pakistan’s end, this makes total sense. Pakistan is already very close to achieving FATF-mandated targets. These demands include; dismantling money laundering and terror financing infrastructure among others from the country. While Pakistan has successfully achieved major targets, it is incumbent that the same rules should be applied to other countries in region including India as well. Achieving these targets would further provide Pakistan with much-needed access to the international economic system.

Similarly, Pakistan and India are neighbors, and whether they like it or not one can’t change their neighbors. There seems to be a realization in New Delhi’s serious strategic circles that India doesn’t have the capacity to fight two-front war. Its conflict with Pakistan stands in the way of its global aspirations. Regardless of this, any substantial progress in the Indo-Pak stalemate would be a legacy-defining moment for Prime Minister Modi. He appears to have already eclipsed every prime minister in Indian history probably except Jawaharlal Nehru in defining his domestic legacy. An Indo-Pak peace agreement would be the feather in his cap.

While Pakistan is offering a hand of peace to the region, it is incumbent on the regional powers and other stakeholders to reciprocate.  It must be understood that this shift to geo-economics is in Pakistan’s national interest. Pakistan’s national security and core national interests are contingent on economic stability. It requires peace and regional connectivity to stabilize its economy and ultimately ensure its national security.

The writer is Senior Research Fellow at Strategic Vision Institute. He can be reached at @dtarriq.