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Coping with the new normal

M. Ziauddin

Editorial by: M.Ziauddin

To our rude shock, we suddenly find our friends are not as friendly and at the same time the belligerence of our enemy number one even more warlike. Therefore, the sooner we recognize the process of normalization of relations between Israel and Arab countries as Middle East’s new normal and India’s aggressive wooing of the Arab world as an existential threat to our very existence, the less problematic it would be for Pakistan to ward off the dangers being posed, as a result, to our sovereignty.

Lately, our relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) have been traversing from good to bad and then finally to worse. The immediate provocation seems to have been provided largely by our emotional outburst at what we thought to be OIC’s insensitive response to the unilateral assimilation of India Held Kashmir into the Indian Union on August 5, 2019. React- ing, Riyadh demanded we repay part of a loan Pakistan had taken from the kingdom. The promised oil facility has also been cancelled. In the past such responses from Riyadh were unthinkable. Also, KSA has cancelled a proposed $20b investment for setting up a refinery in Gwader. Likewise, the UAE has stopped issuing work and visit visas to Pakistanis presumably costing us some 800-1000 jobs on a daily basis which are likely to go to the Indians who continue to be welcomed into the Emirates. Last year the Saudis perhaps seemingly wary of seeing the formation of a bloc including Pakistan, Malaysia, Iran and Turkey lest it challenges Arab ‘leadership’ of the Muslim world successfully pressured Pakistan to stay away from a summit in Malaysia that Riyadh saw emerging as an alternative to the OIC. And that our parliament did not permit our Army to join the KSA/UAE military campaign against Yemen in 2015 too had caused a slow burn in the two countries against Pakistan.

Ominously, at this very juncture, India is being seen expand- ing its footprint in the region. Prime Minister Modi has visited the region eight times since 2014, going to UAE three times and to KSA twice. Saudi Arabia is investing $42 billion in setting up a refinery in India. Bilateral trade between the two amounts to $27 billion. Both KSA and UAE have held joint naval exercises with India. KSA has signed two important agreements with India, one a Strategic Partnership Council and the other a Joint Committee for defence cooperation under which KSA officers would be provided training by India. And to top it all, for the first time ever India’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Manoj Mukund Naravane visited the UAE and KSA recently. Meanwhile, a deadly network of terrorism built by India’s premier spy agency, the RAW has been uncovered recently. This clandestine network is said to have been working over the last 15 or so years to destabilize Pakistan, especially disrupting the CPEC and defusing the on-going freedom struggle in India assimilated Kashmir.

Pakistanis have a special regard for the KSA as the custodian of Islam’s holiest cities and the Kingdom currently hosts over a million Pakistani workers who send home approximately $6billion annually while our workers in UAE remit annually around $5b. So, going forward, Pakistan should, by all means, work towards improving and strengthening the bilateral relationship with KSA and UAE. However, this should not come at the cost of our sovereignty; this country must remain free to make decisions regarding foreign policy (like recognizing or not recognizing Israel) that are in its best interests. This should be sorted out when the Saudi foreign minister visits Pakistan next month.

Moreover, we must focus more on building lasting foreign relations on the basis of economic interdependence rather than being known as a country whose only endowment is its Army and which is available to friends on rent. We must lessen at the earliest our dependence on ‘free lunches’ from friends who are no more as friendly and try to stand on our own two feet, no matter how feeble, so that no one is able to exploit our weaknesses, the biggest one being the Kash- mir dispute. Modern slaves are not in chains; they are in debt. That is the kind of slavery Pakistan has been suffering from all these over seven decades of its existence. And we must unchain ourselves from this slavery at the earliest. The best way to do it is by acquiring knowledge economy and helping in the process our predominantly youthful population in learning the skills needed to modernize our economy, discarding at the same time the so-called Washington consensus and the failed theory of ‘trickle-down’.

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