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Unprecedented Challenges for Pakistan and the China-Pakistan Partnership


Liu Zongyi

Currently, the world is in a period of turbulence and transformation. Profound changes, unseen in a century, are accelerating their evolution, and the international balance of power is undergoing significant adjustments.

Measures taken by dominant powers in the international system to maintain their hegemonic position, including containment, suppression, and sanctions, have increased significantly. The COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 has had a far-reaching impact. The anti-globalization trend is rising, unilateralism and protectionism are increasing significantly, and the world economy is recovering weakly.

Regional conflicts and turbulence are frequent, and global issues such as climate change are intensifying. Some countries intentionally provoke geopolitical tensions and conflicts, trigger an arms race, promote the “decoupling” of the economy and technology, and attempt to pull the world back to the Cold War era of ideological opposition. Changes in the world, our times, and history are unfolding today in ways like never before. This challenges almost all countries, and Pakistan is no exception.

Pakistan has faced several serious crises in the past two years, like severe floods and debt crisis. These two major crises are attributed to external factors such as climate change, Federal Reserve bank rate hikes, and changes in the international economic environment, along with factors related to poor domestic governance. Simultaneously, these two major crises are closely linked to Pakistan’s other significant internal and external challenges.

Domestic political struggles and geopolitical challenges cause instability. The shortcomings in Pakistan’s political system, the long-term instability of the political situation, and the resulting weak economic and social governance capabilities are important reasons for the severe consequences of floods and the frequent occurrence of debt crises.

China and Pakistan share an all-weather strategic cooperative partnership. The two countries have supported each other. In the face of serious natural disasters and a debt crisis in Pakistan, China has made every effort to provide assistance. However, with a population of over 200 million, Pakistan cannot have its long-term survival and development covered solely by China, which can only help with temporary difficulties.

As an all-weather strategic partner, China initially aimed to boost Pakistan’s economic development and poverty reduction by constructing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). However, during the CPEC construction, as an observer, I noticed that many domestic problems in Pakistan can only be addressed through the unity of the Pakistani people, political parties, and political forces.

Firstly, Pakistan’s military, political parties, and judicial sector should collaboratively improve the political system through full consultation to achieve long-term stability in the domestic political situation.

For a considerable period, the intense struggle between the army and the civilian government, as well as among various parties, has persisted. The downfall of Imran Khan has not only heightened the contradictions between the army and the civilian government but has also exposed fractures within the army. Due to continuous political strife and prolonged neglect of economic challenges, Pakistan’s national strength has weakened.

Pakistan’s GDP is only 1/10 of India’s and significantly lags behind Bangladesh’s. The development of Pakistan’s domestic politics will shape the country’s future. The political forces of Pakistan should consider the survival of the country and the nation as their responsibility, promote political reform, and achieve political stability. Pakistan’s prime minister, army chief, and chief justice constitute the “troika” in Pakistan’s current politics, and they bear a particularly important responsibility in this regard.

Secondly, the political forces in Pakistan should reach a consensus on economic development and promote economic reform. The reason Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in economic development since the 1990s is that the main political forces in Bangladesh reached a consensus on economic opening and reform. Even changes in government do not affect the continuity of economic policies. To promote economic development in Pakistan, necessary reforms are essential. Vested interest groups should make appropriate concessions to expand the economic pie and achieve greater development results and benefits in the future.

Pakistan’s infrastructure is lagging, the government’s governance capacity is weak, economic policies are challenging to implement, power plants struggle to collect electricity charges, and the vested interest group’s tax payment rate is low. Additionally, many assets are transferred overseas, contributing to a low domestic investment rate that needs to be changed.

China will continue to vigorously promote the advancement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), actively engage in industrial cooperation with Pakistan, and help Pakistan build advantageous industries. However, China is concerned that project and personnel safety may not be effectively guaranteed during this process. Economic reform and development will reduce the occurrence of terrorism in Pakistan to some extent.

Finally, China actively supports the transformation of Pakistan’s national development strategy. Faced with the geopolitical strategic competition between China and the United States, the Pakistani military does not want to take sides and hopes to simultaneously improve relations with China and the United States.

Due to the significant gap between Pakistan and India, coupled with domestic political turmoil and economic depression, Pakistan finds itself unable to compete with India in South Asia with the traditional “strategic equivalence” attitude. It has no choice but to seek a way to coexist with India. Pakistan’s support for the Taliban’s recapture of power not only places a heavy burden on itself but also stimulates domestic rebel forces such as TTP, even prompting India to intensify efforts to undermine Pakistan’s stability. In this context, the Pakistani side proposed a national development strategy of replacing geopolitical competition with geo-economic cooperation, but it has been unable to carry out specific plans due to the unstable domestic political situation.

China should actively support the transformation of Pakistan’s national development strategy; however, Pakistan should also recognize its situation because, in its weakness, only actively seeking internal change can promote the transformation of the external situation. The construction of CPEC is almost the only way for Pakistan to transform from geopolitics to geo-economics.

*The author is a Senior Fellow and Secretary-General of China and South Asia Center, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS).

**The opinions in this article are the author’s own and may not represent the views of The Diplomatic Insight. The organization does not endorse or assume responsibility for the content.

The Diplomatic Insight, Pakistan's premier Public Diplomacy Magazine, has been at the forefront of promoting Peace Through Informed Dialogue since its inception in 2009. With both print and electronic versions, this decade-old media house is offering research, analysis, and public diplomacy outreach to clients in Pakistan and across the globe. TDI is now offering Amazon Kindle Self Publishing Services to diplomats, ambassadors, political leaders, academicians, and other civil society leaders to be the next best-seller authors. With access to 11 global markets and the option to translate your work into 11 languages, you can reach up to 300 million readers worldwide and unlock your personal and country branding.

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