Pakistan runs the risk of falling into a debt trap with China's multi-billion dollar infrastructure investment, especially as a volatile security situation and tensions with neighbours threatens the economic viability of such projects, says Husain Haqqani, Islamabad's former envoy to the US.
In an interview with IANS, he said Pakistan, which has been using religion as an instrument of foreign policy, needed to shift its focus more to geo-economics rather than geo-politics and mend its ties with its neighbours, including India and Afghanistan, for the betterment of its own people.
He said Pakistan's love for conflict had cost its "somewhat a myopic foreign policy" dearly and now "ran the risk of greater international isolation unless Islamabad changes its outlook".
"Has it really brought any benefit to Pakistan? Economically, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has thrown up some opportunities -- but again, they are infrastructure projects. A port is useful when ships come there. A road is useful when trucks move on it," said Haqqani, one of the sharp-witted veterans of Pakistani politics who served as its ambassador in Washington from 2008 to 2011 when the ties between the two countries started souring amid tension and mistrust.
He said economic activities on these projects would only be possible when the security situation turns peaceful and "if these projects do not become economically viable, then Pakistan will face a debt trap".
Haqqani, 61, an author of four books including the latest, "Reimagining Pakistan", is better known for a controversial memo he as the Ambassador in Washington allegedly wrote, roughly a week after Osama Bin Laden was killed in a US raid, to the then US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen.
The memo, seeking US help to rein in the powerful Pakistani military, created a political storm in Islamabad and forced Haqqani to quit. He returned to Pakistan in 2011, only to leave the country a year later and has never been there again.
His latest book, published by Harper Collins, calls for "a bold re-conceptualisation" of Pakistan and dissects its origins and current failings, with suggestions for reconsidering its ideology, and identifies a new national purpose greater than the rivalry with India.
"Pakistan limited its foreign policy options by wanting parity with India, resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Even with the US, Pakistan's interaction has been always about getting economic aid and military assistance -- and leverage in relation to India," Haqqani told IANS.
Haqqani suggested that Pakistan needed to focus on the economy more than what its political and military leadership describes as an unfinished business of the subcontinent's partition.
"Pakistan has to stop thinking only in terms of geo-strategic interests. It should start also thinking in terms of geo-economics... so that it is (not) seen by the rest of world as a problem. Right now, the Pakistani view of Pakistan and the rest of the world's view of Pakistan are... too far apart."
He said Kashmir is a dipute, but both Pakistan and India needed to work together to give an opportunity to people of the state on both sides to have a more normal life than they have had.
"Pakistan's role has not benefitted people of Kashmir, even though Pakistan champions the cause of its self-determination. I think, from Pakistan's point of view, it would make sense to start saying that we want better relations with India before we can resolve any disputes and then give an opportunity to the people of Kashmir to have a better life irrespective of who is administrating their territory right now.
"Indian needs to make sure that its attitude towards Kashmiris is not punitive but rather one of respect and accommodation. Instead of trying to impose the will of the central government on Kashmir, the representatives of people of Jammu and Kashmir should be allowed to work towards improvement of life in Kashmir. It should be genuine representation."
He said religion as an instrument of foreign policy has had some usefulness for Pakistan until a few years ago.
"But now (even Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia and Iran) look at their own interest and say it is all good to be brothers in Islam, but it is even better to have strong economic ties and economic relations.
"Pakistan must reimagine the foundation of its national identity and stop seeing itself as an ideological nation. Pakistan must start thinking of itself as a functional state. Some 95 per cent of Pakistan's population comprises people who are born after the partition. We are Pakistanis by birth -- and people who are born with a certain citizenship and nationality do not need an ideology to have that citizenship and nationality."
(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>)
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