By Syed Zafar Mehdi

‘With declining U.S. influence and ascending Chinese power, a new EuroAsia is emerging’

September 10, 2018

TEHRAN - The new government in Pakistan led by Imran Khan faces challenges on multiple fronts, in combating corruption, rebuilding institutions, fighting extremism and reshaping foreign policy. Khan has in first few weeks reaffirmed his commitment to bring economic reforms on domestic front, and bolster ties with neighboring countries, notably India, China and Iran. His government has charted a new course for itself, in which Pakistan will be less dependent on U.S.

Jan Achakzai is a senior politician, commentator and author based in Pakistan. In an interview with Tehran Times, he says Pakistan and Iran has convergence on many issues and they will highly benefit from mutual cooperation. He adds that with declining U.S. influence and ascending Chinese power, a new EuroAsia is emerging and Pakistan is incrementally pivoting towards EuroAsia.

Following are the excerpts:

Q. The newly-elected government led by Imran Khan faces challenges on multiple fronts, but the main challenge is economy. There have been reports that Pakistan will approach IMF for a bailout although US has objected to it. Can you tell us more about how Pakistan seeks overcome this hurdle?

A. The U.S. objection to Pakistan potentially going to IMF was more political then financial. Pakistan is also a member of IMF and can use the institution as a lender of last resort. Also IMF has a mandate not to let a country go bust where it has loaned billions of dollars. However, Imran Khan led government is trying its level best to raise loans from China and Saudi Arabia in order to avoid going to IMF.

Q. Relations between Pakistan and U.S. are fast deteriorating, which is evident from Washington's cancelation of military aid to Islamabad and statements from Trump and other U.S. officials that Pakistan is the hotbed of militant groups. How do you view these developments?

A. Yes, the anti-Pakistan rhetoric has been ratcheted up by the Trump administration and also it has taken certain measures to arm twist Pakistan. However, the U.S. still needs Pakistan’s help on Afghan reconciliation, logistics support to sustain NATO mission in Afghanistan and use its intelligence leverage in the region against extremists like ISIS and remnants of Al-Qaeda.

U.S. still needs to work with Pakistan for respectable exit from Afghanistan hence will have no option but to engage Pakistan. The U.S, despite all its rhetoric for peace in Afghanistan, has huge trust deficit as if it is really interested in peace in Afghanistan.

Q. Imran Khan led government has backed Tehran's position on the Iran nuclear deal and expressed desire to improve ties with Iran. Last week Iranian FM became the first foreign official to be hosted by Islamabad. How important are Iran and Pakistan to each other?

A. Pakistan and Iran has convergence on many issues and they will highly benefit from mutual cooperation. Pakistan can help Iran in areas including defence, economy, barter trade and can be a conduit for many items that Iran needs. Tehran can provide oil and gas. By linking Chabahar with Gawadar, Iran can enhance people to people contacts via sea, join in special economic zones on zero border with Balochistan/Pakistan. Iran also can benefit from Pakistan’s advanced defence capability. So in many ways, it can circumvent U.S. harsh measures against Pakistan. Both countries can enhance volume of trade to $10 billion in couple of years.

Q. There have been reports that the new government in Islamabad will implement the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline which had been put on the backburner by the previous government. Do you think it can prove significant in solving Pakistan's energy crisis?

A. Certainly, the pipeline project is vital for both countries as producer Iran will benefit and as consumers of oil and gas Islamabad will meet its energy needs. Pakistani policy makers are serious to implement this project. One option is to get Chinese help in construction of the pipeline on Pakistani side and extend it to China as well.

Q. This week China's Foreign Minister also visited Pakistan and held talks with top government functionaries on many issues including the progress on CPEC. Do you think China has now effectively replaced U.S. as Pakistan's all-weather ally?

A. China is a strategic partner and has become Pakistan’s all-weather friend indeed. The U.S. was never a strategic ally of Pakistan and bilateral relations were more transactional in nature so hostage to whimsical disruptions by the lone super power. Besides, declining U.S. influence, ascending Chinese power, a new EuroAsia is emerging in time and space so Islamabad is incrementally pivoting towards EuroAsia.

Q. The new government has faced criticism for forcing a top economic advisor under pressure from far-right groups. Is this what 'Naya Pakistan' will look like?

A. Pakistan has many fault lines not to be allowed to manipulate by vested interests so it needs sectarian and religious harmony. A delicate balance in the constitution of Pakistan has been achieved not to exacerbate this fault line. Since the economist belongs to a minority (Ahmedia) community who call themselves Muslims with some  members questioning the covenant of faith of vast majority of  Muslim population that there will be no prophet after Mohammad (PBUH).

They fear conversion of ordinary Muslims to Ahmedia faith challenging the finality of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) since the community does not agree with the definition of “mosalmaniat” defined in the Constitution. According to Constitution, a professed Muslim should not question the finality of Prophet (PBUH) and if somebody does that he or she to be categorised as non-Muslim minority.  This is why a possible backlash with his appointment would have led to bloodbath so Khan-led government withdrew the economist’s name from the advisory body.

Q. The relations between India and Pakistan are likely to improve with peace overtures made by the new government in Islamabad and also Pakistan's army reportedly reaching out to India. Do you see it happening?

A. Pakistan has always been trying to reach out to India and jumpstart substantive talks on issues of contention but it takes two to tango. India being a much bigger power has always used talks and leverage against Pakistan and sought to keep the status quo believing it serves India’s interest and hurts Pakistan in many ways. So with next year elections looming in India, there is less chance that PM Modi will reciprocate positive overtures of Khan-led government in Pakistan.

Q. The news about the death of Haqqani Network patriarch Jalaluddin Haqqani made headlines few days ago. Do you think it will affect the group’s activities? What has been his legacy?

A. Jalaluddin Haqqani was indisposed since long and his son Sirajuddin Haqqani was leading the Taliban faction in Afghanistan. So his death will unlikely affect the activities of his group within the Taliban conglomerate. His legacy will continue to be relevant and despite all angry noises from the U.S., Washington has to sit with his faction to make peace in Afghanistan after all it was the U.S. that supported and  sponsored him in the first place during the Afghan Jehad.

Leave a Comment

2 + 0 =