In a world that is deeply divided on the basis of economic interests, geostrategic considerations, nationalism, religion and superpower rivalry, Pakistan is fortunate to have a deep trust-based relationship with China. This is one country with which our national interests are fully congruent and have remained consistent for more than five decades. More importantly, the relationship has acquired greater significance in the light of Pakistan’s domestic and external challenges. And to Pakistan’s good luck over the years China has accelerated into becoming a global powerhouse at an astounding pace and leads the world in several significant sectors as housing, textiles, construction of dams, modern railway systems, use of internet and lately catching up on robotics and space technology.
Besides, China has spread its assistance to more than 60 countries through One Belt One Road projects. But the specific Pakistan programme — CPEC — is the leading one in terms of Chinese government’s priorities and execution. Pakistan’s expectations from the project are high and are a central component of its foreign and economic policy. The onus of its progress would very much depend on how efficiently Pakistan would manage these projects. But what is even more important is that this reliance does not turn into long-term dependence. More significantly, the value of this relationship will be further enhanced if Pakistan in the process learns of the specific attributes that contributed to China’s phenomenal progress. For instance, how they have dealt with their past adversaries — India, Vietnam and earlier with erstwhile Soviet Union — to create a peaceful environment for economic and social development; and what sort of economic, political and social incentives were provided to the people that they were so highly motivated in the reconstruction of a transformed China.
Of course, it would not be possible to adapt to their techniques of progress as the systems are different but still there are many areas where there are fewer barriers for learning from their experience and creating our own strategy for development.
For instance, China’s progress like that of South Korea and other countries has depended on a huge investment in education. Their literacy rate is 100% whereas that of Pakistan in 2017 was 58% according to our Economic Survey. To expect that Pakistan could genuinely progress with millions of its people constituting over 40% of the adult population illiterate would be wishful thinking. Moreover, the quality of education leaves much to be desired. The standard of science and technology and of engineering institutions will have to be upgraded as a top priority to be able to compete and stay relevant in the highly competitive global and regional environment.
What is less known that Chinese leadership has used its bureaucracy brilliantly. The relationship between the political leadership and bureaucracy is close and they work in harmony. In contrast, the present government in Pakistan has yet to develop a balanced relationship with them. It has become a norm to shuttle civil servants around indiscriminately losing their trust and reducing their efficiency. So far what we are seeing is that they are living in constant fear of getting into trouble for taking decisions even if they are based purely on merit and with best of intentions.
Having served as secretary defence production and after retirement as member of Ad hoc Public Accounts Committee, I have closely observed the performance of our civil servants, which by and large, is commendable. The government should desist from manipulating them politically and create a working environment wherein they are trusted so as to actualise their full potential. They are clearly one of the important pillars for bringing about change.
In order to boost the economy the government should respect foreign and local investors and provide them profit opportunities. This is the only incentive that works. The Chinese have learnt that lesson and has brought trillions of dollars of investment in China. With inward-looking attitude, over cautious institutions and intelligence vetting taking months, how do we expect that major global groups or regional countries would be inclined to invest?
Creating a peaceful environment is necessary to attract local and foreign investment. This is one policy that the Chinese have pursued with great success. Notwithstanding that with President Trump’s economic nationalism and unilateral policies, Chinese efforts at promoting globalisation and cooperation with the United States have suffered a temporary setback.
Interestingly, the Chinese government has been fully supportive of Pakistan’s efforts at improving relations with its neighbours especially India, Afghanistan and the United States. For it understands its value in the context of Pakistan’s overall prosperity.
Pakistan’s foreign policy especially aims at also maintaining cordial relations with major regional powers, Muslim countries and its neighbours. Britain and Japan are major donors in the social sector. Japan has been supporting Pakistan’s stable and sustainable growth since 1952.
It goes to the credit of the PTI government that in addition to strengthening Pakistan’s relations with China, it has made serious moves at improving relations with India, Afghanistan and the United States. The recent opening of the border for Sikh pilgrims is a good initiative and places Indian hawkish forces on the defensive. It is unfortunate that due to the militarised approach, scant progress has been made so far. Hopefully, the recent initiative of the US to engage with the Taliban leadership would give traction to the peace process. These efforts are backed by Pakistan and China. President Trump’s entire focus on Afghanistan, in any case, places Pakistan’s relationship on the outcome of the Afghan conflict and presumed role in it. The United States’ other major concern is China’s deep and expanding collaboration with Pakistan in CPEC that it finds difficult to digest.
The remarkable aspect of our relationship with China is that they are building our institutional capacity and above all holding our hand at a time when the country faces innumerable challenges. This is truly a unique understanding and the most robust relationship that we have experienced in our 71 years of engaging with major powers.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2018.