Pakistan and a World in Disorder – A Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century

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By Javid Husain

Published by Palgrave Macmillan, New York – 2016

Book Review by M Saeed Khalid

A year before Donald Trump was elected as president of the world’s premier power, a veteran Pakistani diplomat, Javid Husain was mulling over the increasing disorder on the global scene and its repercussions on Pakistan. The world appeared to have moved away from the optimistic scenarios of a new rule based order after the end of the cold war. The lofty ideals of an international system based on justice, fair play and principles of the UN Charter were receding at an alarming pace.

Events that followed strengthened the view held by Husain and other observers that realpolitik increasingly prevailed upon idealism in the foreign policies of other major world powers. In his book titled “Pakistan and a World in Disorder”, he argues that the certainties of the Cold War were replaced by an unstable and unpredictable global environment.

The collapse of the Soviet bloc emboldened the US. Two aspects were noteworthy. First, to prevent the emergence of a new rival that could pose a threat to it on the level of the Soviet Union. Secondly, after 9/11, the Bush administration announced the doctrine of unilateral and preemptive military action in the face of external threats. Another important development was the retention and subsequent expansion of NATO eastward.

The writer recalls that in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Samuel Huntington had observed that the euphoria at the end of the Cold War had generated an illusion of harmony in the world order, that was “soon dissipated by the multiplication of ethnic conflicts and ‘ethnic cleansing’, the breakdown of law and order, the emergence of a new pattern of alliance and conflict among states, the resurgence of neo-communist and neo-fascist movements, intensification of religious fundamentalism, the end of ‘diplomacy of smiles’ and ‘policy of yes’ in Russia’s relations with the west, the inability of the United Nations and the United States to suppress bloody local conflicts, and the increasing assertiveness of a rising China.”

Javid Husain observes that the present era, marked by the absence of checks and balances of the Cold War, the domination of power over principles, the diminished authority of the UN on issues of war and peace, the rise of new great powers demanding modification of the existing pro-West international system to accommodate their interests, civilization fault lines, the growing number of non-state actors resorting to terrorism, and shifting alliances can be described as “a world in disorder”. Pakistan, he says must understand the nature of this world of the 21st century and its implications to be able to safeguard its security, economic prosperity, and cultural identity.

An important issue raised in the book is the evolving pattern of global power. “ Despite the lead the US currently has over other states in military, economic and cultural terms, the long term trend is towards a multipolar world in the twenty-first century.” The author cites China, Japan, the EU, India, Russia, South Korea, ASEAN, Nigeria, Turkey and South Africa as players “with increasingly important role in international politics in the years to come because of their high economic growth rates and the rapid increase in their military capabilities. There will be a corresponding decline in the overall relative power and influence of the USA, particularly in the second half of the current century.”

Pakistan is conspicuous by its absence from the list of emerging powers cited in the book. In my view, Pakistan has its place along Turkey, Nigeria and South Africa in the growing list of mid-sized powers. As the sixth largest country in population with a strategic location, a recognized military power, a nuclear arsenal, and an active role in the multilateral fora, Pakistan certainly deserves to be included in the list of countries mentioned by the author.

Russia sees a threat to its vital security interests in the eastward expansion of NATO and the EU. Similarly, the US policy of containment of China is a source of concern to Beijing. Russia and China have reacted to these moves by strengthening their own strategic partnership both bilaterally and within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization(SCO). In the Middle East, US policies in favour of forces trying to overthrow Bashar al-Assad of Syria have been opposed by Russia and Iran. The emergence of ISIS, now posing a challenge to the US is related to the mismanagement of the war in Iraq.

Though the US succeeded in downgrading Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, its franchises remain active in other parts of the world. The Afghan Taliban have staged a comeback despite the divisions following the death of their supreme leader, Mulla Umar. These developments, the author says, show that the US is no longer in the position to dictate to the rest of the world unilaterally, a position that it enjoyed briefly in the 1990s and the first few years of this century.

According to the writer, a salient feature of the current international system is the primacy of power politics as against the principles of the UN Charter and international law. The authority of the UN was reduced considerably in the post Cold War period because of the absence of an effective countervailing force.

There is a tendency on the part of the great powers and major regional powers to flout the UN Charter in pursuit of their national interests. By virtue of their preponderance in military, economic and cultural power, the West, despite the emergence of new centres of power, continues to play the most influential role in determining the international agenda. Husain is of the view that in the critically important institutions dealing with issues of international security and economy such as the UN Security Council, the World Bank and the IMF, the Western countries virtually control the decision-making process, and no decision on any important issue is possible without their agreement.

Husain says that the rise of China and other emerging powers will eventually lead to a decline of the West’s relative advantage over other countries in terms of power and influence. That would involve the rewriting of the rules of interstate conduct in political, security and economic fields to accommodate the interests of the emerging powers.

While acknowledging the vast damage caused by terrorism, and agreeing with the need to fight and eliminate the menace of international terrorism, the author rightly asks whether the use of overwhelming force alone is the best way to crush this menace. He goes on to recommend a more sophisticated approach employing military, political, economic and cultural instruments.

The book also refers to the limitations of medium sized powers in a more disorderly world. In the international scenario marked by a weakened UN collective security system and the primacy of power politics, the ultimate guarantor of a country’s security would increasingly be its national power and the collective power of the coalition of its friends.

The military capability, however, must be matched by economic development. Husain feels that ideally, at the early stage of development, a country should assign high priority to the growth of its economic strength because a sound military superstructure can be built only on the solid foundation of economic prowess.

He cites the example of China which under the guidance of Deng Xiaoping, assigned the highest priority to the goal of economic development. That he says should be a model for countries like Pakistan.

Focusing on Pakistan, the former ambassador suggests that the daunting challenges to its internal and external security can be faced successfully only through a comprehensive approach leading to the adoption of a grand strategy.

He pleads that Pakistan’s grand strategy must come to grips with the ground realities in such a manner as would safeguard its legitimate national interests. “This grand strategy should be a well thought mix of political, economic, security and diplomatic policies to meet the challenges confronting it.”

As a China hand, Husain has devoted a chapter to China’s phenomenal rise and the centrality of Pak-China friendship in this country’s foreign policy. Both countries have been a source of support to each other on issues of critical importance to them. There is extensive cooperation between the two countries in the spheres of defence and security. Economic and strategic cooperation has reached new heights with the launch of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor connecting China’s Xinjiang to the port of Gwadar in Pakistan’s province of Balochistan. He is of the view that their time-tested “convergence of interests will remain in effect throughout the twenty-first century.

China’s rise is presaged to pose a big challenge to the US in the Asia-Pacific region but Husain thinks that at the global level, this challenge will take longer – up to half a century – to materialize as China’s economic and military power increases and the gap with the US in scientific and technological advancement narrows down.

The geopolitical scene in Asia would also witness the rise of India as a major power in economic and military fields. India is expected to emerge as the world’s third largest economy behind China and the US by 2030. It has undertaken a vast programme of increasing its defence potential to project power in South and West Asia, the Indian Ocean and particularly as a competitor to China. The US has already accorded an important role to India in its strategy to counter China.

Any effort to formulate a grand strategy for Pakistan should take into account India’s growth as a major regional power and its regional and global strategic goals. The writer says, it is important to know, in particular, whether India wants to have good neighborly relations with Pakistan based on sovereign equality and peaceful settlement of disputes or if it wants to establish its hegemony rejecting offers of peaceful and friendly ties.

The book refers to the observations made by Zbigniew Brzezinski as well as Henry Kissinger with regard to India’s quest for regional hegemony and a major global role. According to Kissinger, India is applying its own version of the Monroe Doctrine in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. The BJP’s victory in 2014 election has accentuated India’s policy of muzzling the Kashmiri freedom struggle while intimidating Pakistan through incessant shelling on the Line of Control.

Husain expresses the view that with the hardening Indian position steeped in Hindutva, Pakistan should maintain its guard while avoiding any adventure (e.g., Kargil) or provocative activity from its side. It should establish a firm grip on the jihadi organizations to prevent them from aggravating tensions between the two countries. Pakistan must, however, avoid a posture of appeasement as that kind of approach towards an expansionist power whets its appetite for more, thereby precipitating the crisis that appeasement was supposed to prevent.

The writer argues that Nawaz Sharif is pursuing an India policy “based on illusions and naivete.” Example: the Pakistan-India joint statement issued at Ufa (Russia) on 10 July, 2015 tilting heavily in favour of the Indian point of view on outstanding bilateral problems and disputes. The text worked out at Ufa was in doldrums just a month later when Pakistan attempted to highlight the Kashmir issue and India exploited the situation to torpedo the NSAs’ meeting envisaged in the joint statement.

India’s strategy to tame Pakistan has political, military, economic and cultural dimensions. In view of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent, India is not in a position to inflict a conclusive military defeat on Pakistan. However, the possibility of limited skirmishes cannot be totally ruled out. Pakistan would also feel the pressure in the face of India’s fast growing economy that would provide greater resources for defence spending. Pakistan will have to spend a larger portion of its smaller economy to maintain the required level of preparedness.

India’s military and economic policies aimed at subduing Pakistan are backed by a cultural onslaught through cinema and a network of terrorists aimed at destabilizing the country through acts of sabotage and violence particularly in Balochistan and Karachi. In sum, Pakistan-India relations are likely to continue to suffer from recurrent periods of tension and strain because of India’s hegemonic designs and outstanding disputes, especially the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author recommends that while maintaining its principled position on Kashmir seeking settlement on the basis of UN resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people, Pakistan should for now, aim at the protection of the human rights of the Kashmiris, through dialogue with India. The final settlement of the dispute should be left to some opportune time in the future when the necessary conditions are available.

Trade with India should be conducted on a level playing field with due regard to Pakistan’s economy.

Hussain is a firm advocate of strengthening Pakistan’s partnership with China and friendly relations with Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia to balance India’s power advantage. Pakistan should also work for greater cooperation with Russia and Central Asia. For regional cooperation and integration, the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) rather than SAARC should be the organization of choice for several reasons.

First, SAARC countries lack the complementarities of economies which can lead to mutually beneficial free trade. Secondly, they are not homogenous in religious and cultural traditions. Thirdly, there are outstanding disputes among the member states, notably between Pakistan and India over Kashmir and the common rivers. For Pakistan, it is the Tehran based Economic Cooperation Organization – grouping Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – that meets the requisites of regional integration.

ECO offers economic complementarities, common cultural heritage and the absence of serious disputes and hegemonic designs among its members. Some of the member states of ECO are major oil and gas exporters while Turkey and Pakistan are large importers of these commodities. Both these countries are textile exporters whereas Iran and other ECO members are textile importers.

The economies of South Asia are on the other hand competitive. Thus the possibilities of increased trade and economic cooperation among the ECO members are far greater than those available within the framework of SAARC. Finally the signing of the Iran nuclear deal should remove sanctions inhibiting trade and economic cooperation between Iran and Pakistan.

Javid Husain may be justified in highlighting ECO’s potential. Its track record is no better than that of the SAARC. His calls to familiarize the member states’ bureaucracies to the great potential of trade among the ECO members will remain unheeded. Where trade opportunities exist, businessmen will rush to benefit provided a level playing field exists. A closer look at tariff and non tariff barriers in the biggest ECO markets like Iran may provide clues to the reasons behind its restricted trade with Pakistan.

A chapter of the book is devoted to the conflict in Afghanistan and its fallout on Pakistan. Husain is critical of Pakistan’s alignment with the Taliban which he calls a great blunder of its foreign policy. The initial mistake was continued even when the international community, including Pakistan’s close friend China, refused to recognize the Taliban government. Sheltering them after the US invasion led to problems with the US and its allies.

According to the writer, Pakistan did comply with the US demands to an extent by preventing Pakistani fighters to take up arms in Afghanistan post 9/11. But that might have led to the tribal backlash in the form of the terror outfit assuming the name of Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan or the TTP that inflicted 50,000 deaths in terror attacks. Eventually, the Pakistani forces had to undertake major operations against the TTP bases in FATA. Flushing the TTP and assorted terror networks out of their hideouts has not fully eliminated their capacity, as seen in recurrent attacks guided from sanctuaries in Afghanistan.

The author suggests that terrorism cannot be defeated by force alone but through a combination that includes political means, including dialogue. As regards to Afghanistan, the only way out of the stalemate is a political settlement between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government which should encompass a role for the former in the political set-up.

As Pakistan’s former envoy to Tehran, Javid Husain lived through the strains in Pak-Iran ties as a result of their divergences over the conflict in Afghanistan since the 1990s. Husain writes that Pakistan’s suggestions for rapprochement between the Afghan Taliban and the Rabbani led government in Kabul were not heeded by Tehran. Later, after the Taliban conquered Kabul and the Northern Alliance was marginalized, Iran approached Pakistan for reconciliation between the warring factions but that was turned down by Pakistan, saying that they could not interfere in another country’s internal affairs.

Pak-Iran relations improved after 9/11 and the US-led invasion, resulting in the ouster of the Taliban regime in Kabul. Trade also picked up and the two countries concluded an accord for building a gas pipeline. The upturn was, however, marred by sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme, preventing further progress on the gas project and a drastic reduction in trade.

The book views the leaders of both Iran and Pakistan as lacking in vision to strengthen political and economic cooperation between the two neighbours. He cites efforts by India to scuttle Pak-Iran ties. It should, however, be noted that the relations between Pakistan and Iran are marred by other factors. After the fall of the Shah in 1979, Iran had turbulent relations with the West, particularly the US, while Pakistan remained in the US camp. Further, Pak-Iran interests do not always match. The latest episode began with the civil war in Yemen. Pakistan remains neutral but is courted by the Saudi-led Gulf group to raise a pan-Islamic force to counter terrorism, an initiative that is watched by Iran with great suspicion.

Returning to the problems arising from the lack of a grand national strategy, the author concedes that at its inception, Pakistan was confronted with a very difficult and hostile security environment as India used all kinds of pressure tactics to make life hard for the new nation. Afghanistan also adopted an unfriendly posture through claims on territory and by supporting the slogan of Pakhtunistan. The policy makers had to make difficult choices to safeguard Pakistan’s independence, security, territorial integrity, and economic well being.

Serious security threats forced Pakistan to allocate a high proportion of its resources to the defence sector, leading to a shortage of resources for economic development. In the long run it is a nation’s economic and technological strength that provides the foundation for its military strength and determines its relative position in the comity of nations. Husain has cited Paul Kennedy’s argument that all of the major shifts in the world’s military power balances have followed alterations in the productive balances and in the rising and falling of the various empires and states. Victory has always gone to the side with the greatest material resources.

The writer affirms that an economically weak and technologically backward country cannot hope to achieve a great power status or even safeguard its security in the long run in the face of serious threats. Over time, Pakistan was severely constrained by the disequilibrium between its economic development and growing defence expenditure.

Repeated military takeovers resulted in a quasi permanent domination of the generals in foreign policy formulation on critical issues such as Kashmir and Afghanistan. There was also an element of adventurism and risky policies, leading to strategic overstretch and national exhaustion.

Pakistan’s excessive dependence on foreign economic and military assistance and its status as a client state of the US have narrowed down the nation’s foreign policy options and restricted its maneuverability in the management of foreign affairs.

Husain says that military means and economic strength are essential elements of national security and defence against external aggression. But there is a third element of national security – internal political stability, cohesion and the unity of a nation. Pakistan’s dismemberment in 1971 provides a classic example of internal divisions leading to a military defeat.

Pakistan has suffered enormously from the pursuit of a national security policy that focused almost exclusively on the military dimension to the neglect of other components. This approach resulted in a flawed foreign policy and the primary cause of its internal and external problems. It also resulted in the disrupt of the democratic process and weakening of institutions. Destabilization occurred through repeated spells of military rule.

The book makes no reference to the inadequacies of the country’s political class or the rapacious character of the private sector that thrived on an array of facilities. The two groups failed to ensure the provision of essential financial resources to the state to meet its developmental and defence needs. Successive governments, in an effort to overcome Pakistan’s financial constraints, resorted to the begging bowl.

Lamentably, Pakistan’s major political parties have dishonored politics as a vocation, by using power to amass fortunes. The business community and industrial tycoons have done their bit of damage by denying the state of its due revenues. Massive corruption by the democratically elected rulers rattles the army leadership. This is not to say that many generals and other commanders of the forces did not indulge in great financial malpractices. The point to ponder is whether our democratic leaders have tarnished the system by failing to rise to the challenge of delivering good governance.

The second point missing from the narrative is whether Pakistan had choices other than joining the western camp in mustering a deterrent force to India’s openly hostile posture toward Pakistan after independence.

In the concluding chapter titled ‘A Grand Strategy for Pakistan’ Husain reiterates that the country is faced with a world in disorder in the twenty-first century. It is a world that is increasingly governed by power politics rather than the UN Charter or international law on vital issues of peace and security. The world is passing through a period of transition from a unipolar moment towards multipolarity.

Russia’s resurgence under President Putin as seen in Moscow’s resistance to the further eastward expansion of NATO and the EU, and the growing strategic partnership between China and Russia offer new opportunities for safeguarding Pakistan’s national interests.

According to Husain, the linchpin of Pakistan’s grand strategy should be that of assigning top priority to the goal of rapid economic growth. This would require a single-minded focus on and maximum allocation of resources to the task of economic development. In order to move in that direction, we need peace in our neighbourhood. That, in turn, would need the pursuance of a low risk and non-adventurist foreign policy to avoid a major conflict. Over ambitious foreign policy goals should be avoided so as not to fall into strategic overdrive and exhaustion in which we are caught at present.

While pursuing a policy of peace and dialogue with India, we should remain firm on our national interests. We should adopt a long term strategy for the settlement of the Kashmir dispute instead of rushing into an agreement that we may regret later. Finally, we should pursue a policy of noninterference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs in coordination with Iran, Turkey, China and other neighboring countries. In parallel, we should facilitate intra-afghan dialogue aimed at reconciliation and a fair settlement.

The grand strategy has an important internal component to be achieved through successfully tackling the menace of terrorism and religious extremism. Husain concludes that a grand strategy on the suggested lines may not produce immediate results but it certainly would enable Pakistan to avoid a major disaster if it continues with its current haphazard policies. The recommended grand strategy should in the long run enable us to realize our considered foreign policy goals and objectives.

Pakistan and a World in Disorder is a valuable addition to the literature on Pakistan’s foreign policy as it is probably the first systematic effort to identify the pitfalls of overdependence on military strength at the cost of the vital and pressing mission of the country’s economic development. Indeed Pakistan’s economy, though showing signs of revival, is marked by growing military expenditure at a time of declining exports, foreign remittances and foreign exchange reserves.

Javid Husain’s book is a timely reminder to reappraise and redirect Pakistan’s national strategy to successfully meet the challenges of economic development while maintaining a credible deterrence in the face of an insecure regional and global security environment.