COMMENT: A tale of triplets —Shahab Usto - Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pakistan’s utmost priority should be to follow the Chinese model: shun external engagements and turn inwards to focus only on economic, social and human development. Remember, we have missed the bus twice

Independent Pakistan, India and China were born at almost the same time, inherited the same decrepit state structures, and shared the same trajectory of international wars and civil strife. But they do not share the same present. China is the fastest growing economy. India is catching up fast with it. But Pakistan lags far behind both.

As it is, China (closely followed by India) is all set to dominate the Asia-Pacific region, if not the world. The US-led West is jittery. Stuck in a financial crisis, the West has lost faith in its economic philosophy based on unregulated markets. “The teachers are in trouble,” as one Chinese minister put it, referring to the ideologues of the failing Anglo-Saxon corporate and financial models.

Yet neither China nor India has crossed the bridge yet. China remains deeply mired in an uneven urban-rural socio-economic divide. The vast rural population remains neglected. Indeed, the forcible sale of private lands to foreign companies is one of the ‘main sources’ of the provinces’ revenues, causing much public discontent. The use of a coercive apparatus and clamping press censorship, including the shutting down of the global social networks, Google, Twitter and Facebook, are not unusual.

Moreover, the question what political shape will the existing ‘one-country-two-system’ communist China take in future still remains to be answered. The Chinese leadership is wary. It does not want to upset the applecart by opening the ‘democratic question’ now because that would entail a restructuring of the power base, supplanting the existing leadership — the party apparatchik and military establishment — with a new class of social, economic and political entrepreneurs. Hence, China has put on hold both its democratic and external agenda, particularly its claim on Taiwan. Instead, it is consolidating its enormous social and economic gains and mending fences with its long-time foes India and Japan.

Similarly, India is also caught in its own labyrinth of problems: secessionist movements, ideological terrorism, epidemics of corruption, caste and social segregation, and a widespread and bloody Maoist insurgency. However, unlike China, India has not contained its foreign policy ambitions. It is picking a bone with all its neighbours — China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. True, much of this regional and international conflict is the legacy of a messy colonial exit.

But then China has also had territorial and political disputes with its neighbours — Japan, Russia, Korea, Taiwan (read the US), Pakistan and India — that are rooted in the colonial past. Yet, China has long forsaken military solutions as means for conducting foreign policy. China had its last war in 1979, and that with its once protégé, Vietnam. Since then China has invested in social and economic development. Sino-Indian trade is soon to touch the $ 60 billion mark, though the two countries had a war in 1962 and continue to have territorial claims against each other. On the other hand, India continues to have hot, cold and proxy wars in the region, in particular with Pakistan. As a result, this nuclear-armed region has led to and in turn received more impetus from the rise of religious and ideological terrorism.

But having said that, it should also be reckoned that India has matured its political, economic and judicial institutions to a degree that it remains constantly in a developmental mode, notwithstanding its myriad internal and external conflicts. During the last two decades the Indian economy has grown on average by 7-9 percent, more than 300 million people have been lifted from abject poverty, and the pace of foreign investment and transfer of technology to India is soon to overtake that of China. No wonder the US and the other world players are courting India with trade, nuclear and political concessions.

The irony is that, unlike China and India, Pakistan has neither forsaken its loaded security and foreign policy agendas, nor built the matching political and economic institutions to sustain them. Constantly driven by the fear of a rising India, it has been increasingly focused on maintaining a balance of power in the region by enhancing its strategic and conventional weapon capabilities.

The Pakistani elites continue to be neglectful. They are wilfully oblivious to the basic requisites of modern statecraft: economic viability and sound political institutions. They refuse to read into the lessons of the extinction of the USSR and Yugoslavia, an EU bedevilled by the financially-troubled Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and even Italy; a recession-ridden Japan which is losing its global and regional influence; and the rising international clout of India and China.

But they can best learn from the example of the US, our ultimate ‘role model’. With barely two percent growth, nine percent unemployment, an aging population and a debt burden upwards of $ 14,000 billion, the US is proving right Paul Kennedy’s premonition: it is a falling and declining power. President Obama attributes the current US travails to the Bush administration’s misguided foreign and economic policies, particularly the Iraq war and the liberal tax cuts to rich Americans. Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, in their bestseller The Three Trillion War, have exposed the huge ‘hidden costs’ of the Iraq war.

But as compared to the giant US (GDP $ 14.4 trillion), Pakistan is a small country ($ 175bn GDP). Its indicators are even worse: two percent growth, six percent deficit, 17 percent inflation, 20 percent unemployment, 60 percent of budget spent on debt and defence, and 40 percent energy shortfall. Pakistan’s utmost priority should be to follow the Chinese model: shun external engagements and turn inwards to focus only on economic, social and human development.

Remember, we have missed the bus twice. Caught in an Indo-Pak arms and nuclear race, we missed the 1990s when much of the developing world was reaping the initial benefits of globalisation. We also missed the 2000-8 opportunity, being dragged into this war on terror while the US and the EU outsourced their industrial production, technologies and services to, and imported value-added goods and human resources, from China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, India, Bangladesh and many others.

As it is, we will still be engaged in one or the other internal, regional or international conflicts while the Asia-Pacific region will have turned into a burgeoning bastion of human resources, economies of scale, consumer markets and financial centres. But, sadly, that also would bring an end to this tale of the triplets. Then, a new tale of the twins — India and China — will dominate the narrative.

The writer is a lawyer and academic. He can be reached at

Source :\04\26\story_26-4-2011_pg3_2

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