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Pakistan Reader# 367, 25 July 2022

Geo-economics and Pakistan: A critique

Geo-economic aspirations of Pakistan against the backdrop of geo-politics of South Asia

Ankit Singh

On 21 July, Javid Hussain had written for an editorial in the Dawn titled ‘Defining Geo-economics’. The application and interpretation of geo-economics was discussed in the geographical and historical landscape of Pakistan. The author went on to draw a corollary of an EU-like set-up in the region around Pakistan for the future ahead. However, the author stressed that the hegemonic aspiration of India in South Asia would act as a spoiler and tried to offer an alternative.

 

What is geo-economics? 
Geo-economics is a modern world concept, as the world is constituted, it is a spatial imagination among the imagined communities of nation-states in their space-time journeys. Geo-economics develops on the shared vision of futures, whereby instead of monopoly or one-sided prosperity, economic complementarities nudge nation states to maximise their prosperity in international trade and other means of interstate economic cooperation. The principles of high national savings, higher investment rates, resilient and competitive science and technology research and concerted efforts towards human resource development are conducive in enhancing connectivity and prosperity.

However, there are nuances in accepting a formal definition of geo-economics. When one ascribes to just economic parameters like national savings and research, one inevitably ignores other aspects like history, watershed patterns, climate and cultural affinities as reinforcing factors in the economic integration of a geographical region. 

Lastly, geo-politics always trumps geo-economics, as author also affirms to it. Therefore, geo-economics needs to be made suitable and adaptable for geopolitical discourse to ensure maximum benefits with minimum risks.

What is geo-economics for Pakistan?
Pakistan’s first-ever national security policy puts its economy, demography and security as three guiding pillars of the national security objectives of the country. In March 2022, during the Islamabad Security Dialogue, Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa in his speech put forth a peaceful and prosperous South and West Asia as the goal of Pakistan to enable shared regional prosperity. The author maintains that geo-economics needs to be void of hegemonic designs. And instead of just imagining an economic integration with South Asia, he leads the readers in exploring the possibilities of Pakistan’s integration with Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, the Central Asian states and Azerbaijan. 

On 22 July, during a third meeting of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) joint working group, both sides affirmed welcoming any third country joining CPEC for mutually beneficial cooperation, that statement was made in the context of the extension of CPEC to Afghanistan.

Why is Pakistan looking towards West Asia?
For Pakistan to maximise its geographical positioning, Pakistan should instead orient itself in westward expansion. There is no country like India in the west of Pakistan, hence it wouldn’t need to shield its economy against the economic clout of a hegemon like India. The author contends that Pakistan should go for rapid economic growth as China has done since 1980. This would help Pakistan in leveraging its strategic location to develop trade, economic and transportation links with regional countries. The westward expansion of trade and people link for Pakistan is preferred by the author to facilitate a more efficient allocation of resources, enhanced productivity through increased competition and the economies of large-scale production, and lower prices.

The author is also critical of the South Asia connectivity paradigm under an institution like SAARC. On top of this, the author is also critical of religious and cultural divergences between India and Pakistan. The author adds that the caste system in India which prevents vertical social mobility is also a barrier to economic integration in South Asia. 

What is the author's take on Pakistan's developmental aspirations?
Javid Hussain is not presenting a new alternative, the grand strategy for Pakistan had begun before its independence. The stalwarts of the Pakistan movement had a common desire to wriggle themselves free from the sphere of influence of the baniya (Indian) psyche/economic thinking, which still runs deep in the masses today. After independence, the reshaping of geographical orientation began with the imposition of one language and then lingered in politics and economic domains. Meghnad Desai and Dharma Kumar in their seminal work titled ‘The Cambridge Economic History of India’, recorded in Chapter IX, that the newly created Pakistan opted for import substitution rather than keeping up export-led growth, which was an efficient case in the Eastern wing. Over the year until 1971, the disparity ratio, in terms of per capita GDP, kept on increasing which costed dear to Pakistan. Therefore, the problem is perhaps contextualised in current times. 

Discarding the huge size of India is impossible, yet that remains the geographical reality and expecting an equal footing through protection and security guarantee is like revisiting globalization after the dissolution of the USSR. Nation states are witnessing deglobalization now, therefore anything ideal along economic connectivity is bound to face more problems rather than a careful approach. As far as the argument of social mobility goes, mobility is even more restricted in Pakistan as has been researched by various scholars on the elites in Pakistan. Affiliation to tribe and community is also a strong binding factor which predates any citizenry, people hold fast to their customs. The fragmentation in Pakistan is also recognizable to an extent.

This is where Hussain is more comfortable with the westward outlook, which has been the aspiration of leaders in Pakistan to levitate all along the oil boom in the Gulf and now the natural gas boom in central Asia. However, for Pakistan to follow the Chinese growth model could have been given more word weight. Chinese expansion was in manufacturing and then later to services, it was rather a gap which China filled in the late twentieth century. What and where should Pakistan fill the gap when most nations are looking inward for self-reliance, in the mid-twenty-first century has not been pondered upon. 

References
Javid Hussain, “Defining geo-economics,” Dawn, 21 July 2022
Bose, S. R. (1983). The Pakistan Economy Since Indepedence (1947-70). In M. Desai, & D. Kumar, The Cambridge economic history of India (p. 998). London: Cambridge University Press

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