East or West? The balancing act is getting difficult

There are times in the history of nations when the golden rules of policies and strategies may become difficult to follow. Pakistan unfortunately seems to be passing through one such bad patch. Gurus of foreign policy keep telling us that always keep a balance in relationships while dealing with big powers, don’t fall in the lap of one to the chagrin of other, keep the options open, it is never black or white, it is not a zero-sum game. But one loud threatening question, ‘You are with us or against us?’, puts aside what all we learnt from Morgenthau, Henry Kissinger and other International Relations professors and practitioners. Such is the time when the background knowledge of Political Science, International Relations, Art of Negotiations, Fundamentals of Strategy, How to Play Poker and Chess along with the robustness of heart and mind comes handy. This is also the time for introspection and realising the gaps in one person’s or few persons’ potentials who ought to take momentous decisions under great constraints. It is this time that the situation must be immediately either handed over or discussed with the specialists of all the subjects mentioned above. Not an easy task, but fortunately our Foreign Office senior personnel are trained and groomed to make cogent recommendations. Such times demand a robust democratic environment, stable economy and mature institutionalised decision-making mechanisms.
But what if before raising such difficult questions the Great Power ensures softening of the ground by propping up a dictator, tying down the economy with the shackles of FATF, IMF, WB etc., engineering internal and external security threats, and leaves no option but to make us move in their desired direction. This may be a conjecture or a fact, but enough indicators exist for the people to make up their minds. Now let us come back to the main theme choices available to our political leadership and other institutions.
No Escape from US and the West
Some analysts were duped into believing that the US after exiting from Afghanistan was no more interested in the region. This false belief was reinforced by some American pronouncements initially but soon their interests in Afghanistan, Central Asia and also Pakistan became obvious. So, Uncle Sam is back in Pakistan with all its machinations. Two books, ‘Deadly Embrace’ by Bruce Riedel and ‘No Exit from Pakistan’ by Daniel Markey say it all.
And how could they leave Pakistan, when they need to stem the Chinese economic and political strides in Central, West and South Asia and keep propping India as a bulwark against China in the Region. So, they don’t want Pakistan to continue as an irritant for India. The US also has strong reservations about Pakistan’s role in forcing them to abandon the military campaign in Afghanistan. They would never allow the present Taliban regime to peacefully keep strengthening their political hold in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s predicament is that nearly all our economic, political and social activities are deeply embedded in US, West Europe and Middle East. And these regions are so closely knit with each other that either we embrace them all or lose them collectively. We definitely cannot afford that. Moreover, the influence of this block along with India can rub our nose through FATF, IMF, WB, WTO etc. The present precarious economic situation makes our independent decision-making ability close to zero. So those who profess, that presently, for Pakistan there is no moving away from the Western Block are logically and factually correct.
Even if we are aware that US has always used and abandoned Pakistan at their sweet will, we can’t do a dime about it. The problem remained manageable as long as America kept allowing us or was unable to block us completely, to cultivate economic, military and political ties and interactions with China. Hats off to our Foreign Office that kept a fine balance, and managed our own interests very well. But it may be difficult from here onwards if not impossible. Because presently all our core interests, CPEC, relations with China, Russia, Afghanistan, Iran, and the CARs run counter to American Interests in the region. We may be goaded to go soft on Kashmir and nurture good relations with India to remove any distractions from their common enemy China. Some undercurrents indicating inclination towards recognition of Israel can also be easily discerned, to ease up tensions in Middle East. We may again be in a situation to answer that difficult question, “You are with us or against us?”
Prospects of Moving towards the East?
At the global level the competition between the US and its allies and China-Russia group is on and gaining momentum with each passing week. The US has already engaged reluctant Russia militarily in the Ukraine conflict and intends on bleeding Russia economically, politically and militarily, with the main brunt being faced by hapless Ukrainians. American efforts to precipitate a military engagements with China in the Indo-Pacific by raking up the Taiwan issue has temporarily failed. But they are not likely to relent and are expected to make more serious provocations in the near future, before China becomes militarily formidable. The Chinese are following their own timelines and would be content to keep assisting Russia to keep the US and West engaged in Ukraine. While this military muscle flexing is still on, the Russo-Chinese grouping is trying hard to make a dent in the World Economic Order in a way that they may escape the hegemony of petro-dollars and unilateral sanctions.
This effort to modify the regime of the dollar and at least partially replace it by other means augurs well with most of the debt ridden and sanctioned poor and developing countries. But it is going to take some time. And as this politico-economic conflict rages without any final outcome, this interim period has put many a nations across the globe in an economic turmoil with far reaching political ramifications. Pakistan is clearly one of the leading victims of this environment and our choices of tilting towards the East have to be seen in this context. Big powers are expanding their political and economic influences by various policies and strategies. In an endeavour to avoid a direct clash with the US, China is not in a mood to salvage its allies and partners (except May be Russia) from the debilitating impact of the impending economic and political turmoil. The cases of Srilanka and Pakistan say it all.
Geography and history must never be forgotten while employing geopolitics. China, India, Iran, Afghanistan, CARs, Russia and Middle East are all within our geographical vicinity and this is a huge region with nearly half the world’s population and about a third of the global wealth if not more. Nurturing good relations with all of them can open wide economic and political vistas and it is not difficult at all, except probably for the intransigence of India. China, the emerging new superpower has an excellent history of relations with Pakistan. And now as they are expanding their economic influence all around. This is the best time to stick around with them. Antagonising China to appease the US would be a monumental blunder under the changing global environment. The US-Pak history of relations has been chequered and with high and low spikes—highly unreliable to put it bluntly. Though for superpowers, geography may be less relevant, but the distance of the American mainland should be a factor for us to consider during comparative studies.
The Silver Lining
Now, for the decision makers there are some glowing pointers to guide them through tumultuous indeterminant times. Within Western Europe, Germany and to an extent France are not happy with the American hubristic behaviour. Turkey has also shown its resistance to certain US dictates. Their leadership and public is openly exhibiting their abhorrence to Uncle Sam’s Global hegemonic policies. Saudi Arabia, the leader of ME Muslims has shown annoyance more than once on certain American remarks. They are cultivating economic relations with Russia and China. Qatar is already showing positive overtures towards Iran and Afghanistan. Even India has defied few expectations of their new strategic ally America, openly professing and pursuing their own national interests. Now all this means that we have a good chance of escaping the gravity of magical trance so aptly woven around us by the US, mainly by pushing us in the present vortex of economic meltdown. We may have to face a big socio economic shock while changing our orientation more towards the east without breaking away from Middle East and some parts of Europe, however it will enable us in the long run to ultimately sail into less choppy waters by embracing Iran, Afghanistan, CARs, China, Russia, Turkey etc. India will remain a wild card that may also mellow down if we successfully build our dream around CPEC and BRI countries.
No antagonistic behaviour towards US is being suggested, as we can ill afford any such overt gesture, however our efforts of shifting the foreign policy orientation will not be taken kindly. That we will have to bear as a tyranny of the times we are passing through. What has been painted and suggested is just a raw and dotted outline of prevailing scenario and own opportunities. This definitely needs to be refined in debates in more aware circles of academics of IR, practitioners of foreign policy and strategists. Only a humble contribution as a teaser idea has been floated.

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