Omer Zaheer Meer
Strategic decisions by modern states are based on either some principles, agreements, vested national interests or a combination of the above mentioned. A confusion and lack of clarity often results in ruining of opportunities which could otherwise turnaround the situation of a nation. By now, you’d have most likely heard about the conflict in Yemen, a regional dominance affair portrayed as a Shia-Sunni sectarian conflict by the script writers of the new world order for their own vested interests. While a lot has been written on the Yemen conflict in the past few days, a focus on economic prospects of the potential decisions has been somewhat lacking. We’ll address it in this write-up.
Pakistan currently has a vital economic dependency on Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) led Gulf coalition. The aid provided during sanctions and the $ 1.5 billion “gift” to Pakistan during current Government just last year maybe one-offs but the continuous provision of oil on “deferred payment” and employment opportunities for millions of Pakistanis in KSA and the Gulf region are of a permanent nature helping sustain Pakistan’s economy. Similarly, Pakistan share important economic ties with United Arab Emirate (UAE) whose companies often invest in Pakistan, albeit of extremely favourable terms in semi-Government or Government-owned enterprises. Furthermore Pakistan has recently executed an agreement to import LNG from Qatar to meet its energy needs. The Gulf region is amongst major export destinations of Pakistani products. Annual bilateral trade is in billions of dollar. In economic terms there is an unfavourable trade imbalance in the trade ties mainly due to the import of oil by Pakistan. Furthermore, there is a convergence on security interests between Pakistan and most of the Gulf countries baring the issues with UAE regarding conflict of interests of Gawadar port as outlined below.
On the other hand, while there are just a few thousands Pakistani employed in Iran (fifteen to twenty thousands), the strategic position of it being a neighbour of Pakistan has serious implications for nation defence and thereby resultant impact on defence spending and national budget. While the past has glorious examples of Pak-Iran collaboration particularly during the 1965 war with India, it is an unfortunate fact that due to the non-convergence of economic and regional security interests, Iran has lately been in partnership with Pakistan’s arch rival India. The process exacerbated due to the divergence of interests in Afghanistan and peaked with the launch of the Gwadar project which directly threatened Iran’s vital “Chahbahar” port just like it threatened the prospects of UAE ports more importantly Dubai. The result has been direct economic costs for Pakistan due to delays in making port operational due to law and order situation supported by foreign interests as well as increased defence spending further straining the national resources.
Keeping in view of the above, perhaps it is high time that the strategic decision makers in Pakistan list the vital national interests that can be secured from both KSA led Gulf region as well as Iran as well as to what extent it can offer its co-operation in return depending on existing agreements. It is vital that we think realistically respecting the support and co-operation we’ve received from our allies over the years but sans undue emotions. USA has done the services expected of Pakistan for years at extremely lucrative terms; it would therefore not be unfair or unethical for Pakistan to pursue the betterment of its inhabitants while supporting its allies.
Below are some proposals in regarding what Pakistan can offer considering its own issues and limitations:
* Pakistan should focus on its ability play the role of an effective mediator to address the concerns of both Iran and KSA just like it did to bring China and USA closer back in the 1970’s.
* Deploy air support and commanders to lead Gulf forces within their borders (particularly KSA) to ensure effective defence.
* Deploying its own forces within KSA to protect its borders from outside attacks.
* As a last resort conduct targeted air-strikes against local militia on formal request from the Yemen Government and KSA led Gulf coalition on the principle of supporting democratically elected government.
What Pakistan can achieve economically in return may include the following:
* Assurances from both Iran and UAE to stop stirring up trouble in Balochistan resulting in a quicker start of Gwadar project as well as lower spending on counter-terrorism there.
* Membership of important bodies including GCC with economic implications.
* Removal of tariffs on Pakistani imports with preferential treatment.
* Attractive deals to secure reliable LNG, LPG, oil, etc at cheap rates to ensure Pakistan’s growing energy needs are met effectively. Depending on some key factors Pakistan can secure even free supplies for a long period.
* Offering special nationality packages to Pakistanis working in the countries involved, which can positively influence the foreign exchange reserves of the country.
* Writing-off of Pakistan’s debts due towards GCC countries.
* Paying off Pakistan’s other external debts.
This is yet another historic opportunity for Pakistan and it should not be squandered like many in the past. The demands listed above are all very realistic and possible considering the vital role expected of and the possible costs for Pakistan. They’re also much less then what had been taken by the USA for similar services in the past. So if Pakistan is to play the most important role for one of the richest regions in the world, it may as well get due recognition and rewards. After all the law of the nature is such that even brothers working in brothers’ businesses must get rewarded for their work. And what’s better if the rewards are sufficient for one brother while less than what the other was paying to outsiders.