A Pakistani HATF-1 ballistic missile clandestinely supplied by China

Pakistan today faces the geopolitical challenge of balancing between the US and China and choosing between Turkey and the Arab world, besides suffering from internal fault lines like the Pashtun, Baloch, and Sindhi movements amidst a highly radicalised society.

To discuss on the future of Pakistan and its impact on geopolitical dynamics, Usanas Foundation and Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) jointly organised an in-house webinar on “Pakistan’s Future: Geopolitical Dilemmas, Economic Woes and Troubling Fault Lines” by bringing together prominent experts on Pakistan from India as well as the world.

The speakers in the event were Deputy Director of Asia Program at Woodrow Wilson Centre, Michael Kugelman; Former Bureau Chief of Reuters and Pakistan expert, Myra MacDonald; geopolitical expert Sushant Sareen; Member of the National Security Advisory Board and VIF consultant, Tilak Devasher; and the Director of Vivekananda International Foundation, Arvind Gupta.

Pakistan is a troubled state, and its geo-strategic location makes it troublesome for the region and the globe. During the recent Islamabad Security Dialogue, General Bajwa’s speech suggested that there is a possibility for new thinking evident in Pakistan’s policymakers. The new thinking aims at making Pakistan a geo-economics’ hub and project its image as a responsible state focussed on development. However the participants were sceptical whether such new line of thinking can be sustained or not as Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir proxy war and its support for the rogue Taliban regime will prevent all possibilities of cutting of ties with the terrorist organisations. Geo-Economic will shift the state narrative from security to development which will not be in the best interests of the Pakistan's army which continues to have a disproportionate control over the state resources.

On the diplomatic front, Pakistan will face new dilemmas and conundrums. Islamabad’s growing proximity with China, Russia and Turkey will alienate the US and the Arab Muslim world.

The experts also suggested that Pakistan’s future will be a lot like its present, at both – domestic and the international sphere. Domestically, let’s take the example of the economy which is severely struggling under the weight of inflation and austerity necessitated by the next IMF package. These problems are created by long-standing problems such as a low tax base, heavy reliance on non-competitive textile exports, and inability to capitalise on a large young population due to lack of education and vocational training. There will also be more challenges in the future, such as a lack of natural resources like water. Pakistan is already water insecure and climate change will only exasperate the situation and the country is also running out of indigenous energy supplies, even with the leeway brought by Chinese investments.

Further, Pakistan is a country that provides an environment that gives rise to extremism, from school textbooks to speeches of religious figures, extremism is everywhere evident. Troubling fault lines in Pashtun Tahafuz movement, Baluchistan freedom movement will continue to threaten Pakistan’s territorial integrity.

Pakistan’s another problem arises from the continuing centrality of Kashmir in its foreign policy. Eminent South Asia experts of the event argued that Pakistan will continue to peruse the Kashmir issue in international forums. The army will continue to cause friction with India because if it seeks out peace with India, it will no longer be able to justify its role and authority. The revocation of article 370 has a brought a sea change in Kashmir’s conflict dynamics. The militancy is dying a slow death. New political leadership is emerging through the recent district development council elections. India’s harsh crack down on terrorist organisations and terror financing has dealt a death blow to the Islamist and terrorist ecosystem in Kashmir.

In Afghanistan, the situation is worsening. Pakistan is supporting Taliban. After Taliban comes to power, situation will further deteriorate, with adverse effect on regional and global geopolitics. And, in the process, Pakistan will also suffer.

Pakistan is a failing state, but it never seems to fail, nor does it succeed. Pakistan’s economy currently only benefits the military and civilian elites, and as long as that continues, they have no incentive to change the status quo. How can the status quo be changed? With democracy? But Pakistan has moved backwards in terms of democracy.

However, Pakistan will have to walk the talk. To follow through its lofty announcements made in the Islamabad Security Dialogue, it will have to bring sweeping political and economic reforms which will have major political and social costs. Hence, it is highly unlikely that Pakistan will undertake them.

One of the speakers explained, “All the problems that exist in Pakistan today have existed for seven decades and are only getting worse. Every time there is a glimmer of hope, it does not take long for it to be dashed. The moment a government in Pakistan comes to power, people begin to pull it down. This is not a normal level of opposition that occurs in other countries. Given the political instability in the country, it is reasonable to assume that the government will undertake serious reforms, but Pakistan does not have the political brain to undertake these reforms”.

He added that Pakistan requires dire reforms in the economy of the country. Some of the reform is being forced upon on Pakistan by the IMF. If Pakistan undergoes IMF reforms, then there will be massive pains that the people will have to suffer, and if they don’t go forward with the reforms, then the economic slide continues. It is very clear from the numbers that Pakistan is entering into a debt trap situation. The majority of the debt is not being used for infrastructure projects, but used to meet the daily needs of the government and that is unsustainable. According to recently revealed numbers, the Chinese have given Pakistan 10-11 billion to allow it to continue functioning. But the main question is – how much more will China be willing to give Pakistan?

This speaker said that Pakistan hopes that CPEC will be their outlet to the world and will allow them to prosper. But the fact remains that China already has multiple outlets to the rest of the world and establishing a link to central Asia will not drastically change the country’s fortunes. There are multiple other access routes to central Asia indicating that CPEC may not even be used by other nations.

Further, with the high spending of Pakistan in terror funding in place of investing in governance, Pakistan also faces the risk of being put on the FATF Blacklist if it is unable to stop terrorist funding. Inflation in Pakistan is also a major issue as according to sources, 80% of Pakistan’s families spend a majority of their income on food. The process of wheat has shot up to manifold in Pakistan in the past two years. Additionally, the average consumer is spending Rs. 66,000 more for electricity than he was 2 years ago. A decade ago, Pakistan faced emergencies in terms of water, electricity, and education. Today, these problems have only grown to the level of disasters. Pakistan uses 95% of its water resources to run one of the world’s most inefficient irrigation networks leading to a severe shortage of water. In the sector of education, 50% of Pakistan’s children do not attend primary schools and for those that do, there are massive dropouts. The percentage of dropouts increases in higher standards. What this means is that in an increasingly technological world, Pakistan is setting itself up for failure.