In order to prosper and emerge on the world map with dignity, what does a country need? Our handpicked torch bearers of the country’s future, need to be able to run in the right direction with a meaningful vision. The trusted leadership, in whose hands we have placed the fate of this nation, must act as visionaries with clearly defined foreign policy goal posts whilst sporting carefully designed economic undertones.
In short, we need an economic vision guided by the ‘uncommon’ common sense. Unfortunately the doctrines that our political machinery operates with, is, restricted to a shelf life of a month, sometimes 6 months or the most farsighted ones propose one that can last till their party’s tenure.
In the not so ideal world, a plausible ideology would be one that has a perspective of at least ten to twenty years. Our leaders need to plant seeds for an economic vision which will bear fruit in the next three or four decades to come. These short lived, self serving; quick wins are shallow and ineffective.
While developing something more long term, we must acknowledge and accept certain facts. Pakistan is ridden with security threats of serious nature. There is always the danger of infiltration from Afghanistan and their ongoing internal conflicts. Our relations with Uncle Sam are based on love-hate mood swings. Our ties with India are infested with tensions that far outweigh the probability of cooperation. Europe, in particular, the Western World’s shine has been dulled due to their economic crises, ongoing recession and compression in the purchasing power of people. The Middle East has had its share of stagnation that its economy has experienced in addition to the Arab Spring that has affected that part of the geography. However the good news is, which has always been a reality; our key geographic location, which is both enviable and offers a world of opportunities if we are to capitalise on it with an ounce of intellect.
The economic policy architects must collaborate with the foreign policy gurus to chalk out an intertwined approach based on a three pronged strategy directed to specific areas with a laser focus. Thus far, we have been harping about the ‘Look East Policy’(LEP). Indeed the Asian region seems to be the most promising amidst chaos of terrorism, economic meltdown and strained political ties. However, our LEP is literally all over the place. We don’t even know where to focus. Which countries to really foster ties with and on what grounds should these relations be deepened. Is it North East Asia we are aiming at or Southeast Asia we are vying for? Eastern region in itself is massive. We have been singing and dancing to the jingles of China but these slogans seem to be so hollow if the actual outcomes are evaluated. Indeed China has been our friend for good and bad times and we have ‘tried’ to make efforts to develop this special friendship to everlasting bonds but China itself is so spread out.
Our efforts would pay off with manifold returns if we were to narrow down on enchanting China. This is largely due to its saturation as a market. People Republic of China should not be the only place where our economic gurus must focus on, instead this region itself needs to be broken down. If we look at North East Asia, attention needs to be directed to Mainland China, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea. These countries have immense potential in terms of possible areas to explore as untapped markets. It is an important destination for our export consumption. Hong Kong is our 4th largest trading partner in this region and there is sizable room to take this relationship further. Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea are Pakistan’s underutilised investment partners and we desperately need to pursue a more active diplomatic strategy in this region.
The Newly Industrialised Countries of South East Asia i.e. Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand have emerged as Asian tigers through a twofold approach. They have largely relied on investments into their countries and have used export as an engine of growth. Back in the 90’s we rhetorically wished to emulate and become the Asian tigers but eventually ended becoming a tiger with its tail between the legs. Now we are witnessing emergence of a new region in South East Asia commonly referred to as Mekong delta or the Golden Triangle comprising, nations such as Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, these countries offer immense opportunities for Pakistan as export destination. However to date no concrete steps have been taken to promote economic ties amongst these countries. Fortunately Pakistan doesn’t have an image issue in this region which is something that needs to be taken full advantage of. The activities which can be pursued very fruitfully would be establishing joint ventures, transfer of technology, educational projects. Pakistan can form alliances on so many fronts including tourism. Attracting people from the North and South East to visit, exchange of teachers to each others’ universities.
The second pronged approach is to focus on Central Asian Republics (CARs). Since the early 90’s we have been harping on the bonds of common heritage which sounds more of an empty rhetoric. The only slogans we have been relying on are the cultural and religious ties which seem to be fading away over time. If we analyse critically, there has been next to no trade promotion in the region. The Afghan war indeed has a significant role to play in the negligible trade ties. However, the opportunities are aplenty and need to be exploited. There are sea routes to take, land routes to explore and areas of mutual cooperation to be established. Sadly enough, we don’t even have our financial institutions operating in the CAR region and likewise, they don’t have any representation of their banks in our country. The mutual investment figures are shameful and so underutilised. In the recent past there has been some development and talks regarding security and military cooperation which is certainly some sign of improvement, however, what is needed is investment which has inherent attributes of multiplication for many years to come such as education, technology, infrastructure, transport etc. After China, Turkey is the biggest player in the CAR market. It has invested $8 billion in energy, infrastructure and construction projects. Pakistan can play an integral role in offering banking expertise to this region as it can act as a critical trade corridor for the region along with Afghanistan given that Iran has aligned its interests with Russia. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, have a combined GDP of $207 billion and a population of approx 66 million, which is a lucrative market for Pakistan’s exports as well as investments. By 2010 CARs combined imports stood above $50 million with a potential to grow further at this stage today.
The third pronged approach our wise leadership must adopt is to focus on Africa. We need to learn from our Chinese friends, they have adopted an open policy towards Africa, building stadiums, roads and undertaking construction projects some of them on gratis basis. They strengthened their foothold in the region economically, a positive invasion with far reaching benefits. China developed its ties with West African states as well as East Africa gaining traction in the region. In the mid 90’s it restructured its policy towards Africa by hosting a meeting, encouraging all its African envoys to promote bilateral trade ties at priority. India, which is the second largest emerging world economy, was not behind either in following suit. The Indian diaspora in East and West Africa treaded on the same enlightened path reaching out to Africa. Where do we stand in comparison? We are nowhere. It is estimated that Pakistan caters to around 90 % of South Africa’s cement requirements, which clearly means that demand can be created for our other products and services in the country. The volume of South African imports at present is approximately $106 billion and if Pakistan gets 20 % share in its imports then Pakistani exports volume can more than double in the region.
Political ties alone will not get us far; it is the economic relations which build credibility, harnesses loyalties and engages partners at a regional level. We must take a renewed assessment of our existing situation and map the way forward by combining our foreign and economic policy with a solid vision underlying our actions.