JTransformation has always been a permanent feature of international politics. Given globalization, a change in any part of the world quickly reverberates around the world. As societies and economies emerged from the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, war and dislocation reared its head.
The inextricable nature of geopolitics and geoeconomics makes international politics more difficult for some nations than for others. Border disputes are particularly important for countries like Pakistan.
On the one hand, Pakistan urgently needs to improve its economy and the standard of living of its people. This requires following the geo-economic agenda and integrating one’s economy with other regional economies. On the other hand, it must improve its links with world powers and major regional players.
The situation calls for the development of a comprehensive plan. The country faces external as well as internal threats.
At the global level, the US-China relationship has become the structuring rivalry of the international system. For countries like Pakistan, the emergence of defense and security alliances in the region and the role of these two powers will constitute a major challenge. Add to that the challenge of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Russia. The visit sent mixed signals in an already confusing geopolitical environment. Alongside these two great rivalries, tensions are resurfacing between China and India and, to a lesser extent, between Egypt and Ethiopia.
In 2021, the United States not only maintained its security commitments in the Asia-Pacific region, but also strengthened them through a security partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom under the AUKUS alliance. In the second decade of the 21st century, the new collaboration in the Indo-Pacific between Washington and Canberra, but also with Delhi and Tokyo, gave new life to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD).
China’s growing military assertiveness is reflected in a 6.8% increase in defense spending over 2020 and reports of hypersonic weapons testing. As geopolitical tensions rise, the arms race could intensify, especially in outer space. The test of a hypersonic glider vehicle and an anti-satellite test by Russia that landed over a thousand pieces of debris are indications of things to come.
Amid these developments, Pakistan needs to pay more attention to how the rivalry spills over into other areas like cybersecurity, e-commerce, trade, sports and geoeconomics.
The tectonic plates of regional politics began to shift for Pakistan when the United States withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban took Kabul in 2021. This transformation in the country’s backyard was staggering. This proved many political and defense pundits wrong. Pakistan now faces a new uncertainty.
In addition to the emerging political and strategic scenario on its western border, a humanitarian crisis is looming in terms of acute food insecurity, depletion of medical facilities and an influx of new refugees from Afghanistan. All of this will have direct socio-political and economic ramifications for Pakistan.
On the eastern front, Pakistan has been hot on its heels politically and diplomatically since India changed the status of occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
On the southwestern border, Iran continues to be a rogue state for the United States and its regional allies. Navigating the murky waters of Saudi-Iranian animosity has been an ongoing headache for Pakistan. Drone attacks on oil refinery sites in the United Arab Emirates by the Yemeni Houthis and further escalation of tensions between regional competitors have taken the rivalry to a new level.
Against the backdrop of Hybrid War, uncertain economic recovery, pandemic, worsening climate change threats and volatile energy markets, Pakistan has launched its National Security Policy 2021. The objective of this policy is to diversify its approach and its strategy in the face of these multifaceted challenges.
In 2022, expect more assertiveness, fueled by diplomatic activism.
The Indo-Pacific region is becoming a key area of contestation. The emergence of QUAD and AUKUS (Australia, USA and UK) has significantly changed the security scenario in the region. To adapt to these alliances and keep its strategic autonomy intact, Pakistan will have to make a careful choice between aligning itself with one side or the other or remaining neutral.
In 2022, Pakistan must navigate the pandemic with its debt-ridden economy, quell remnants of Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP), expand new Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and regain its economic power.
A cohesive roadmap for action is needed to lead the nation toward achieving its national security goals and the National Vision 2025.
The author is an Islamabad-based advocacy worker