LAHORE, January 11, 2011 – Keeping aside the sarcasm when discussing the U.S. decision to freeze $850 million in aid to Pakistan, we all should thank President Obama. Irrespective of the intent with which our media is commentating on the news, they are right while dubbing this as ‘Obama’s New Year Gift to Pakistan.’
Pakistan is hesitant to unwrap and open the box out of fear of getting punched by a spring-loaded boxing glove. Even if it leaves us with a few bruises, we as a nation must gather our strengths and be ready to get punched as there seems to be no better way to wake us up.
It is about time that Pakistan realizes its true potential and explores avenues to bring about self-reliance. Unless this country discovers its potential to become self-sufficient, threats to the country’s sovereignty will remain a hot topic of snobs who tête-à-tête in their comfy living rooms and posh bistros; students’ debates at universities; shoppers’ arguments in bustling tea stalls; and politicians’ slogans at assertive political rallies.
Regardless of Obama’s refusal to apologize for the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in the recent NATO airstrike and the excuses made to justify cutting aid, let’s all thank him for his decision to freeze $850 million as it may propel us to look forward, to discovering a Pakistan that is rich with natural resources, home to more than 180 million people, and located at the crossroads of world’s largest economies.
Although there is a lot to write about Pakistan’s potential alone, this particular read only touches upon the country’s incredibly significant position in global politics and economics, and serves as a preamble to various other areas that may be covered in the days to come.
Pakistan has been the hub of the activities of world’s super powers for more than two decades and its impact was reinforced during cold war when it became an ally of US policy of containing USSR. Furthermore, the era particularly after the events of 9/11, witnessed a great leap in Pakistan’s geo-strategic significance. In combination with its role in the US led war against terrorism as a front line state, Pakistan is also in a close proximity to a world power Russia and other rapidly emerging economies such as China and India.
Any alliance among world powers enhances Pakistan’s role as observed during the decade beginning with 9/11. Besides, the US needs Pakistan’s assistance to contain the growing China and volatile Afghanistan, and to benefit from the market of India. In the energy scarce world, Pakistan is located very close to the oil rich belt of Middle Eastern countries starting from Iran and extended to Saudi Arabia. Moreover, China finds its way to Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea through Karakoram Highway connecting China and Pakistan across the Karakoram mountain range.
Given its strategic location, Pakistan has a huge potential to develop its transit economy. Land-locked Afghanistan is now at the phase of reconstruction and requires a trade route through Pakistan. China with its fast economic growth is developing southern provinces as the nearest Chinese port to Xinjiang is 4500 km away, whereas Gwader, a Pakistani port, is only at the distance of 2500 km. Moreover, Pakistan offers Central Asian Regions (CARs) the shortest route of 2600 km as compared to Iran and Turkey.
Gwader port with its deep waters attracts the trade ships of china, CARs and South-East Asian countries. The coastal belt of Balochistan, with the development of coastal highways and motorways, can provide outlet to China’s western provinces to have access to Middle Eastern markets. India is also trading with former Soviets, Afghanistan and Iran without having any transit route through Pakistan. The recent agreement to normalize trade ties between India and Pakistan can further add to Pakistan’s scope for developing its transit economy.
If properly harnessed, these characteristics could provide Pakistan with an opportunity to emerge as a catalyst of international and regional trade rather than becoming recipient of an aid that could vanish as soon as the donors would like it to do so.
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