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The Middle East Situation: How Should Pakistan Respond? By Kashif Mirza

Byadmin

Apr 15, 2024

The writer is an

economist, anchor,

analyst and the

President of All

 Pakistan Private

Schools’ Federation

president@Pakistan

privateschools.com

Pakistan is watching with deep concern the ongoing developments in the Middle East. For months, Pakistan has underlined the necessity of international efforts to prevent the expansion of hostilities in the region and for a ceasefire in Gaza. Pakistan’s foreign office expressed deep concern over the escalation of hostilities in the Middle East following Iran’s retaliatory strikes against Israel, urging all parties to exercise utmost restraint and work toward de-escalation of tensions. The statement comes in response to Iran launching a swarm of explosive drones and firing missiles at Israel in its first-ever direct attack on Israeli territory, risking a major escalation in the Middle East. Israel’s military said more than 100 drones were launched from Iran, with security sources in Iraq and Jordan reporting dozens seen flying overhead and US officials saying the American military had shot some down. Iran launched the missiles and drone attacks against Israel for what it said was a retaliatory attack against an Israeli strike on its Damascus consulate on April 1 that killed seven Revolutionary Guards officers, including two senior commanders. These incidents also underline the grave implications in cases where the UN Security Council is unable to fulfil its responsibilities of maintaining international peace and security. The Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, now in its seventh month, has driven up tensions in the region, spreading to fronts with Lebanon and Syria and drawing long-range fire at Israeli targets from as far away as Yemen and Iraq. Pakistan, which does not accept Israel as a sovereign state and also doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Israel, has urged the international community to intervene and impose a ceasefire in the Middle East. For decades, Pakistan has called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, based on internationally agreed parameters. Although Pakistan took a cautious approach to the Israel-Gaza War, Islamabad has consistently demanded a separate homeland for the Palestinians by their wishes, with Al Quds Al Sharif as its capital. It is now critically urgent to stabilize the situation and restore peace. But for Pakistan, this situation calls for reforms in its internal as well as external policies to be able to effectively respond to the challenges engendered by the crisis in the Middle East. These reforms are much needed as the crisis in the Middle East is unlikely to abate in the near future. Political instability will continue to evade the region. The GAZA war is likely to turn into protracted conflicts, with increasingly catastrophic humanitarian consequences. Iran and GCC states will continue to support opposing camps in various theatres of conflict in the region, which would keep their relations estranged or even hostile. As is obvious, much of Pakistan’s predicament stems from its economic problems. Though lately Pakistan’s economy has shown some signs of improvement, it is still not out of the woods. One of the major structural problems afflicting Pakistan‟s economy is its heavy dependence on external sources especially on U.S. – foreign aid and remittances. The economy thus remains vulnerable to external shocks, and Pakistani policymakers are too well aware of this fact. The present crisis should bring home the message for Pakistani policymakers that with too heavy economic dependence on other states or multilateral institutions, the country will always find it challenging to adopt an independent course of action in its foreign relations, particularly when doing so could run afoul of the interests of its donors or more wealthy and powerful partners. A strong and vibrant economy is the basis of independent foreign policy for any nation, and Pakistan is no exception to it. All efforts must therefore be directed towards the goal of a strong economy. Pakistan needs to give special policy attention to the issue of the Middle East with the change in the geo-political and geo-economic situation. Pakistan also needs to rethink the basis of its relations with states, including the Muslim states. The Middle East has been in flux ever since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Things deteriorated further in the wake of the Arab Spring. Both of these developments were hoped to usher in an era of democratic openness in the Middle East. They have, however, brought in their wake only political instability and war, though they did succeed in toppling some deeply entrenched dictatorships.

The fallout of the crisis in the Middle East has spawned several policy challenges for Pakistan vis-à- vis its relations with the Middle East: the growing threat of sectarianism, violent extremism and terror, domestic polarization and threats to its economic development. Tackling these challenges necessitates the country revisit its foreign as well as domestic policies. The crisis in the Middle East has only added to the problems of the Palestinians. As the entire Middle Eastern region was caught in political mayhem, violence and sectarian tensions, the international community’s attention deviated away from the plight of Palestinians and towards the crisis in other parts of the oil-rich region. The Arab regimes, which had historically been championing the Palestinian cause, became entangled in their own problems, practically leaving the Palestinians on their own in the face of Israeli atrocities. This situation poses a serious challenge for Pakistan where the people have always held the Palestinian cause close to their heart. Any large-scale Israeli atrocities against innocent Palestinians, which seem all the more likely given the Arab regimes’ apathy towards the Palestine issue, can further radicalise Pakistani Muslims. Since the early 1970s, religion has become the basis of Pakistan‟s relations with the Muslim world, particularly the oil-rich GCC states. And, no doubt, the strategy yielded considerable dividends in the form of jobs for millions of Pakistanis, billions of dollars of remittances, huge financial aid and diplomatic support at international fora. But the strategy had its downside as well: sectarian violence and radicalisation are largely the upshot of the same strategy. Pakistan’s own success in building and maintaining exemplary ties with China and Russia – can serve as another good example of friendly and mutually beneficial bilateral ties between two states having different religious and cultural values, but shared strategic and economic interests. Pakistan should not be a part of any cold war and should also have a candid dialogue with friendly Muslim states, especially Iran and Saudi Arabia, over the issue. Pakistan should also support a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia so that Muslim states’ resources are utilised for the betterment of their masses instead of financing their mutual wars. In the present Strategic Studies and geo-strategic environment, it would serve Pakistan‟ ‘s interests well if it focused also on building and capitalising on its internal strengths such as the competitiveness of its economy and skilled workforce. It can learn from India’s success in improving its relations with several Muslim states, including the GCC members. And, last but not least, Pakistan should also focus on building capacities of its internal security apparatus to enable them to deal with an increasing array of threats challenging its domestic security. It should use the recent economic window of opportunity afforded by the remittances bonanza, CPEC-related investment and overall economic progress to better train and equip organisations dealing with internal security challenges. The country should aggressively explore new foreign markets for its workers to enhance and diversify its remittance portfolio. This should also help cushion against the negative effects of a drastic decrease in remittances from a particular region due to political instability or economic slowdown. Domestically, Pakistan should develop transparent mechanisms to provide overseas Pakistanis with investment opportunities so that they have something to bank on if they have to return. This is particularly crucial for Pakistani workers in the GCC countries who, unlike their counterparts in North America and Western Europe, cannot acquire citizenship of the host countries, and thus have to return to Pakistan at some point in time.

In a shifting global landscape, Pakistan must navigate its course with prudence, seeking stability and strategic advantage, while preserving its core interests.

Israel’s war on Gaza on the pretext of annihilating Hamas has not only led to the massacre of thousands of ordinary Palestinians, it has also (expectedly) generated ripples in the geostrategic continuum. What was planned as a localised ‘war of attrition’ has, knowingly or otherwise, graduated to a phenomenon that plays out on a regional theatre level involving multiple countries. The Israel-Palestine conflict has effectively divided the world into two camps, leaving little room for alternative choices. This situation essentially rekindles the geopolitical map reminiscent of the Cold War era, with most nations adhering to their traditional positions on the Israel-Palestine issue. Since there are significant interests at stake with major international players involved in the conflict, Pakistan’s decision-makers have chosen a more diplomatic approach, realizing the potential consequences of using inflammatory rhetoric or acting hastily. For Pakistan, the spectrum of possibilities appeared such: as balancing ties between China and the United States, seeking guidance from the Kingdom’s Middle East policy; taking a clear stand on the Ukraine and Gaza wars, and also aligning with the US and the West. These courses of action held the potential to assist Pakistan in addressing its economic challenges and securing a comfortable position among major regional and global powers. Arguably, Pakistani decision-makers do not want to see Pakistan end up in a situation similar to that in the Russia-Ukraine war. However, recent events in the Middle East have significantly altered these options. It is crucial to note that the Pakistani population continues to oppose the idea of normalizing relations with Israel. Pakistan maintained a balance to ensure the security of its broader political and diplomatic interests. Economic crisis and long-term foreign policy goals are seen keeping Islamabad cautious. As much of Pakistan’s predicament stems from its economic problems. Though lately Pakistan’s economy has shown some signs of improvement, it is still not out of the woods. One of the major structural problems afflicting Pakistan’s economy is its heavy dependence on external sources – foreign aid and remittances. The economy thus remains vulnerable to external shocks, and Pakistani policymakers are too well aware of this fact. The present crisis should bring home the message for Pakistani policymakers that with too heavy economic dependence on other states or multilateral institutions, the country will always find it challenging to adopt an independent course of action in its foreign relations, particularly when doing so could run afoul of the interests of its donors or more wealthy and powerful partners. A strong and vibrant economy is the basis of independent foreign policy for any nation, and Pakistan is no exception to it. All efforts must therefore be directed towards the goal of a strong economy. Pakistan also needs to rethink the basis of its relations with states, including the Muslim states. Pakistan should also support a rapprochement between Muslim states’ so that their resources are utilised for the betterment of their masses instead of financing their mutual wars. In a shifting global landscape, Pakistan must navigate its course with prudence, seeking stability and strategic advantage where possible, while preserving its core interests.

By admin

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