THE geopolitical calculus in Pakistan’s immediate neighbourhood is clearly changing, and those who formulate this country’s foreign policy must plan now to ensure we are comfortably placed to take political and economic advantage of the emerging scenario.
Over the past few days, reports have emerged of a 25-year strategic bilateral deal involving China and Iran being hammered out between the two sides; the deal is said to cover both economic and military aspects.
Moreover, relations between the US and China seem to be going into a deep freeze, with some talking of a new ‘cold war’ between Washington and Beijing. The US has ordered the Chinese consulate in Houston to close in order to “protect American intellectual property”, with China slamming the move as “outrageous”. Moreover, on a recent trip to the UK, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for building a “global coalition” against the People’s Republic.
Considering Pakistan shares borders with both Iran and China, and has had a long, chequered relationship with the US, Islamabad will need to play its cards right to protect national interests on the highly treacherous international chessboard.
The Iran-China deal — said to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars — offers an opportunity to Pakistan. While Pakistan enjoys cordial relations with China, this can be a good occasion to improve relations with Iran. China seeks to build a 21st-century Silk Road in the form of the Belt and Road Initiative, envisioning a global network of trade routes emanating from Beijing. It is in this context that it seeks to cement a deal with Iran, while CPEC is also a product of the same strategic thinking.
On the other hand, Tehran — struggling to stay afloat under crushing US-led sanctions — will gladly accept foreign investment, as well as a chance to sell its oil and gas. Pakistan can play a positive role in this budding relationship, with a chance at becoming a key conduit in an energy and trade corridor linking the Eurasian hinterland to South Asian and Gulf ports.
But there is a catch. As stated above, the US is in a combative mood vis-à-vis China, while Iran has been Washington’s bête noire for over four decades. America has already spoken in unflattering terms about CPEC, while it is widely believed India has backed out of Iranian projects in order to avoid enraging Washington.
To take advantage of regional developments, Pakistan will need some deft diplomacy. Regional integration can help this country and its neighbours economically and politically if proper planning is done. The US must be told that while Pakistan values its relationship with America, Islamabad cannot isolate itself regionally by alienating neighbours with whom Washington does not get on.
India should also weigh its options; does it want to chase the fantasy of becoming a US ‘strategic partner’? Or would it rather live in peace and prosperity with its neighbours?
JOURNALIST Matiullah Jan has survived another scare. Though back with his family now, his abduction on Tuesday in broad daylight in the heart of the capital underscores the terrible insecurities of life in this country. The air is rife with speculation that Mr Jan, who is a vocal critic of the establishment, had been picked up by certain security agencies. There is also a theory that he had been whisked away on account of some personal enmity. But, in light of the frequent harassment of the media by the powers that be, the former assumption clearly carries more weight. Indeed, Mr Jan’s detention period could have been far longer had the anger and concern over his abduction not been so great. Journalists, both individually and through their associations in Pakistan and abroad, politicians, diplomats, legal experts and civil society at large were appalled by the incident that occurred at a time when Mr Jan is facing contempt proceedings in court. What also appears to have been a crucial factor in his return are the close-circuit cameras that captured the images of mysterious figures trying to nab their target outside a school building. The footage showed that Mr Jan resisted before he was overpowered and driven away.
Mr Jan has had close shaves before. In an earlier instance, his car had come under attack. Then, as now, civil society demanded action against those who seemingly were out to threaten the outspoken journalist. Then, as now, the verdict against Mr Jan was that he had taken an adventurous route to distinguish himself — a mode of reporting that verges on the accusatory. It was a course most dare not tread which make the acts by those who do all the more conspicuous. Any advice for showing more restraint went unheeded. Mr Jan has lived dangerously in a country that is known for its overly sensitive custodians and very tough conditions for journalists. There is a promise, however, in the calls for getting to the bottom of the matter. The demand for the truth and for exposing those who harass the media are growing more incessant with each incident, and seem to have a greater purpose and vigour about them. There is no running away from the job of digging up new information. The task is easier to undertake when efforts by individual journalists are backed by unity in the ranks of all media personnel.
WITH the passing of Sister Ruth Lewis, who succumbed to complications caused by Covid-19 on Monday, our country has lost yet another luminary to this unrelenting pandemic. The loss of the septuagenarian nun is all the more acute for some of Karachi’s most marginalised, the community of people with disabilities for whom Darul Sukoon represents a sanctuary from a cruel and unwelcoming world. Since it was founded 51 years ago by the sisters of the Franciscan Missionaries of Christ the King, Sister Ruth had dedicated her life to the centre’s mission to provide refuge to and uplift the lives of children and the elderly abandoned by family and society alike. To generations of children with disabilities, she was a mother figure. Even in her final days, Sister Ruth tended to their needs with selflessness and compassion, caring for the 21 children who have been quarantined with Covid-19 until she herself tested positive for the virus earlier this month.
In announcing her tragic demise, the centre acknowledged the Sindh government’s support in not only covering Sister Ruth’s hospitalisation expenses, but also providing Darul Sukoon with funds, supplies and assistance to set up a quarantine facility on the premises — as it should. Where public services are lacking, our governments have an obligation to support the private initiatives that are filling the void. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are all dependent on each other, even on those whose humanity we rarely tend to acknowledge. Then there are those few who, like Sister Ruth, always knew this fact, and who thus toil without consideration for recognition or remuneration in service of the most vulnerable. We must do better to model our society and state along their examples, and never take for granted the sacrifices of those who rushed to the front lines, as well as those who were always there. Sister Ruth represented the finest among us. The whole nation owes her a huge debt of gratitude.