Nawaz Sharif’s trip to US convinces us of one thing: PM & his cabal are out of ideas and simply going through motions
At the end, it was a rather routine trip with no major announcements or deals. The prime minister came, shook hands, stood for photo ops, read his carefully worded (and written) lines, and went back home. For what it’s worth, the recently concluded trip by Nawaz Sharif to the United States only convinces us of one thing: the prime minister and his cabal are out of ideas and simply going through the motions.
Yes, we got a deal to purchase eight more F-16s, issued a joint statement with President Obama that had the usual lines, and handed over the much-hyped but seldom analysed dossier about sinister acts by our neighbour in the east. But what was lacking from this trip was evidence that Pakistan is looking to expand the contours of its relationship with the United States. Security has defined this relationship for decades, and despite all that has changed in the world, security continues to be the bedrock of this love-hate relationship. Whatever either side wants to say about this being a strategic and special partnership, the fact of the matter is that the relationship at best is transactional and revolves around weapons.
When India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the United States, there was a buzz around. He had vowed to shock and awe India’s economy, and his visit was seen as a means to reinvigorate trade and business with the United States. Thrown into the mix was the possibility that India could be an ally as Washington seeks to control a more imposing Chinese military and foreign policy. Deals were signed, massive events were held, and elites in Delhi and Washington were excited about the future of India-US relations.
No such feeling exists in Washington and Islamabad. It has been decided that Pakistan will put all its eggs in the Chinese basket, and with China’s economy grounding to a halt, it would be best if the architects of this policy came up with a plan B. According to a recent estimate by McKinsey, China’s debt-to-GDP ratio is close to 300 per cent. Compare this to Japan’s which hovers around 230 per cent, and the United States’, which is close to 100 per cent. Others have speculated that while the official GDP growth in China is 6.9 per cent, the more realistic number is lower. The question that economists are debating does not revolve on how fast China will grow, but whether its ruling party can manage a ‘soft landing’ and prevent a major economic crisis that usually occurs when economies binging on a diet loaded with debt come to a grinding halt.
This exposure to China has hurt economies across the globe: Brazil, Chile, Indonesia, Australia, Canada all are undergoing economic slowdowns and currency depreciations. Tied to the Chinese economy and its insatiable demand for commodities, they had unimaginable growth in the last few years. Now, as the Chinese growth story comes to an end, they are all struggling. In these case studies lie valuable lessons for policymakers in Islamabad, and they would serve us well by paying heed. Yes, China is planning to invest a lot of money into Pakistan, but if China slows down, then the return on Chinese investment will be lower. Pakistan needs to look towards other markets as well and policymakers should implement measures to boost our trade with the world.
It is no surprise that our foreign policy has become so neutered in recent years. After all, the prime minister has been unable to find a foreign minister in his cabinet since coming to power! Such has been the ridiculousness of the situation that it is the army chief that is leading the charge, embarking on tours such as the recently concluded trip to Ankara, and in essence doing the work that falls under the purview of the foreign ministry.
One wonders why the PML-N, the largest political party in parliament, is unable to find a capable person to run the foreign ministry. Pakistan is facing conflicts on both the eastern and the western borders, its allies in the Gulf have demanded that it come to their aid in Yemen, and there are rumours of a potential coalition against the Islamic State (IS) for which we might contribute forces. All of this is happening while our foreign ministry is without a minister!
On a side note, the recent earthquake in Pakistan’s northern areas is beyond tragic. Extremism, violence, earthquakes and floods have uprooted millions in the last decade. An inefficient government, corruption, and a lack of forward-looking vision have further compounded problems. The recent statement by Wafaq-ul-Madaris-e-Arabia that this was a “warning” from God can well be understood. Families have been devastated and to stipulate that this devastation is the wrath of the Creator is akin to rubbing salt on the wounds of the grieving families. These people are victims, not perpetrators of crimes that need divine punishment!
We have known for decades that the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates are colliding with each other, and this increased friction will continue to cause such disasters. The solution to this problem lies not in scaremongering, but in instituting reforms that deliver earthquake-proof housing and effective disaster-response capabilities to the people of the region. The question we should be asking is: are we better equipped to handle such disasters compared to 10 years ago, when a catastrophic earthquake flattened entire towns? The answer is no, and it is not God, but our own selves, that is preventing us from minimising the impact of such disasters.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2015.
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