Geo-economic “gateway Pakistan” – Ikram Sehgal

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A new era of geopolitical and geo-economics development is unfolding in front of our eyes. As an interconnected economic and cultural region Eurasia had existed from the time of the historical Silk Road from about 13 century BCtill the 15centuryAD, not only as a trade route but facilitating a free exchange of people and ideas,resulting in a mixing of cultures. This is resurfacing in front of our eyes. Different opinions exist about why this long Eurasian connection was broken, and even the memory of it seemed to vanish, the formation of the Russian and British Empires and the competition for dominance between them played an important part.

The groundwork for the Russian Empire was laid by Tsar Ivan III (1462–1505), the territory of the Russian state tripled during his rule and the dominance of the Golden Horde was broken. When the scientific revolution in western Europe created the technical means for maritime navigation in the 15th century trade routes started relocating from traditional continental ways to the seas and oceans. Britishers, Spanish, Dutch and others started to explore and colonize the world through maritime routes. Founded in 1600 AD the British East India Company won the race for colonial domination by creating a British-Indian colony in the South Asian subcontinent. Further extension of their conquest towards Central Asia and western China was stopped by rival Russia, the WakhanCorridor created by the British even today signals the hostile position between the two colonial powers that not only cut off the ancient trade route but the cultural, historical and intellectual connections between the now adversely dominated territories were forgotten and even denied.

Because Russia’s access to the sea in the north remainedfrozen for several centuries starting with Czar Peter I, Russia has always looked south to warm water access. Beyond the Black Sea they had to contend with the Ottoman Empire to gain access to the Mediterranean Sea. The other possible route was a land route to the Indian Ocean. Thus was born the so-called “Great Game” between Russia and the British from the 17thto the 20thcenturiesfor the control of the nations. The “spy versus spy”contest in the region for more thantwo centuries culminated in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Even without Pakistan, Eurasia can be the gateway towards Eurasia and to some extent South East Asia, that door can only be unlocked if India ceases its belligerence both overt and covert

The vision of Eurasia – which never died down all together has resurged and taken practical form with the break-down of the colonial empires of Russia and Britain during the second half of the 20th century and the breakup of the bipolar and -for a short period – monopolar world order that had come into existence as a result of WW II the new emerging(or re-emerging) power, China, has taken the lead in Eurasia’s resurgence breaking down the hostile borders between southern and central Asia and reconnect it to Europe. China’s grand foreign economic, political and cultural strategy, BRI,is mostly based on economic factors.An economic corridor connecting landlocked western China with the Indian Ocean CPEC is an important part of BRI. Both together with other parts of BRI will re-establish Eurasia with all the splendour it once had. Its full realization will certainly take time; itis expected to, directly and indirectly, affect 70% of the world’s population and 55% of the domestic national production (GNP) of the world.

To quote extracts from my article “An Eurasian identity” of Nov 12, 2020, “BRIand its principal component, CPEC has brought into focus ECO. Established in 1985 to substitute the US/UK-inspired Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) comprising Iran, Pakistan and Turkey as the economic arm of the anti-communist Baghdad Pact succeeded by the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) was expanded in 1992 to include seven new members i.e. Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Republic of Uzbekistan. Twice the size of EU, the world’s most successful region grouping, ECO occupies 8m sqkms of area with a population of 440 million (2013 figures), making 6.20% of total global population. Bordered in proximity by Russia, China, the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Basin. ECO’s total trade was US$688 billion in 2015 with the combined GDP of around US$1.96 bn, the average GDP per capita was US$ 4300. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows reached $37.7 billion in 2015. As the initiator of the BRI initiative China will certainly commit (and depend) much more to ECO. With CPEC, China helps Pakistan overcome its economic problems andRussia has become an entirely new partner,” unquote.

To quote my article “Eurasian Unification Is Holding Sway” of Nov 27, 2020, “On October 6, 2020, less than five years of its opening, the 10.000th train crossed the border. With records this year being broken in terms of freight volume, it proves BRI is not a concept anymore but a functional reality from the east of Asia to the west of Europe and the territories in between. CPEC will be an enormous force-multiplier north to south, connecting China and Central Asia to Middle East and North Africa through Pakistan”, unquote.

CPEC makes Pakistan a vital geo-economic pivot for the region. With its extensions into Central Asia and Afghanistan CPEC will economically reunite the old Silk Road regions with Pakistan as its lynchpin. On mainline Asia Gwadar together with its sister hub of Chabahar in Iran is connecting the Middle and Near East to the project, a future vision maybe but its contours are evolving in front of our eyes. Many difficulties lie ahead before such a daring vision can become reality. On the Eurasian side, peace in Afghanistan is the need of the hour and an indispensable condition for Pakistan. After decades of errors it will take time and patience to undothe past Afghanistan policy.Fortunately, boththe government and military in Pakistan are now firmly aligned in actively engaging to promoting peace in our neighbouring country.

The central point of contention preventing fruition of the Eurasian vision isthe rivalry between the Arab states and Iran. Notwithstanding strong religious connotations this conflictis an underlying struggle for power and pre-eminence, promoted by the US and Israel through the ancient political tool of ‘divide and rule’. The aspiration for power and leadership of the Arab states, based mainly on their wealth of oil resources, is waning with the diminishing oil price and the impending danger of climate change that promotes alternative and renewable sources of energy worldwide. In addition, the medieval dynastic political system of most Arab states slows down their political and economic reformation. Pakistan with its traditionally closer relation with Arab states – based on religious sensibility of the ruling elite and financial necessity of an unbalanced budget – needs urgently to review this foreign policy imbalance. With Arab oil affluence waning the evolving new power relation has to be taken into consideration. Iran is Pakistan’s immediate neighbour that closely connects to us historically. The full impact of CPEC cannot be reached without full cooperation with Iran. Coordination with Chabahar and an Afghan peace need to be strengthened and extended.

Mainly because of BRI the time of world leaders, global or even regional powers dominating others is vanishing and a multipolar world is in the making. The fact of the matter is that even without Pakistan,Eurasia can be the gateway towards Eurasiaand to some extent South East Asia, that door can only be unlocked if India ceases its belligerence both overt and covert.India’s ambitions and animosity are holding the land-locked entire east west trade hostage. The way towards multipolarity and Eurasia is inexorable. CPEC makes Pakistan an integral part of the BRI process, only a change of Indian mindset to join the CPEC bandwagon will force-multiply economic progress in the region and adjacent lands.

Our economy and our population have a unique chance to partake in the economic, political and cultural development that is going to be initiated by CPEC and BRI. CPEC has the potential to transform Pakistani economy to a new level and by default promote Pakistan’s political role in the region. Parts of this are already seen in the new appreciation that Pakistan has received for its role in promoting peace negotiations in Afghanistan, but much more can be achieved. International relations, usually conceptualized in a hegemonistic power framework creating fear of domination of Pakistan by China,needs to be reviewed. A new understanding of the future of global relations towards a multipolar world needs to be developed and propagated in schools, universities and media. The Chinese political principle as can be seen in the structure of new organisations like Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) envisions cooperation and coexistence as the main principle of globalization. Based on the Chinese philosophical idea of ‘Tianxia’ meaning ‘all under one sky’, a new regional and global network of countries and peoples is envisioned. It is based on coexistence and cooperation and not on domination. The sooner Pakistan understands this the faster we will be able to reach our potential as the regional lynchpin, as geo-economic “Gateway Pakistan” (the writer is a defence and security analyst).