Pakistan at the Crossroads

 

Beyond its shores, Pakistan’s fair name has unfortunately become synonymous with terrorism of the Islamic variety. Its reputation has, over the years, taken so much of a hit that even President Obama has recently referred to it as a ‘disastrously dysfunctional country’. Though most of us remain in defiant denial, the unpalatable fact is that the rising tide of radicalism and religious exclusivity that continues to envelop us in its embrace since the early nineteen eighties has forced its way unhindered into the national consciousness.

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CPEC – Maritime Opportunities for Pakistan

 

CPEC has been variously referred to as an earth-shattering development and as a game changer. It is that of course, though it may be worth noting that far more important than conceiving and executing a project is the ability to make it work. CPEC after all is all about connectivity, a connection that is as strong as the weakest link in the chain. So not only is it vital for all the connecting links to be equally vibrant so as to afford mutual support, but that the unified whole should be able to better the lives of all those who come in contact with it in one way or another.

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Tapping Pakistan’s Maritime Potential(Abridged Version)

It is not uncommon for analysts to bemoan our alleged sea blindness, a term reportedly coined and popularized by Professor  Eric Grove. The hype surrounding Gwadar has ensured that one maritime entity at least has been catapulted into the forefront of the public consciousness. But seen in the broader context of a blue water economy, is that all there is to it? Strategically located along the northern shores of the Arabian Sea and blessed with a 1000km long shoreline, Pakistan possesses all the credentials of evolving into a significant maritime power. The first step towards realizing our aspirations is to identify rather than ignore the artificial barriers standing in its way.

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Tapping Pakistan’s Maritime Potential

It is heartening to see the vital subject of the maritime economy gain some recognition in our national planning discourse as my presence here shows. After all, it was barely an year ago that a member of the Planning Comission had confided in a meeting that none of the 13 indicators that the Commission had identified for zooming in incorporated anything even remotely connected with any maritime activity.  I still won’t start off my talk, as is generally the norm when discussing maritime matters, by decrying our so-called sea blindness, a term reportedly coined by Professor Eric Grove. The hype surrounding Gwadar has ensured that one maritime entity at least has been catapulted into the forefront of the public consciousness. But seen in the broader context of a blue water economy, is that all there is to it? Strategically located along the northern reaches of the Arabian Sea and blessed with a 1000 km long shoreline, Pakistan possesses all the credentials of evolving into a significant maritime power. My presentation today revolves around circumventing the artificial barriers standing in the way of realising our aspirations.

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Primed for Disaster – Gadani’s Ship-Breaking Industry

On completion of their operational lives, all ships need to be disposed off, and the most beneficial way of doing so, in theory at least, is to send them for recycling where it’s machinery, equipment and hull can all be reutilised in one way or another, without adversely impacting the environment. In practice though the process is environmentally unsound and labour exploitative, as the industry has by now gravitated towards countries with low labour costs, weak regulatory mechanisms and lax standards of enforcement.

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The Indus Delta’s Perrenial Perils

The most significant feature of Pakistan’s coastline is not the hammerhead of Gwadar jutting out majestically into the sea but the Indus Delta region covering the entire south western swathe of the coast.  This topographical landmark is prominent from an ecological angle also as around 25 creeks drain into its 150 km wide mouth, with the port city of Karachi continuously intruding into its western extremity.

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A Floating Testament to Pak-Turkey Naval Collaboration

The expected launch of an indigenously-constructed Fleet Tanker at the Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works Ltd on 19 August 2016 marks a significant milestone in the history of Pak-Turkey defence collaboration. These two countries have always enjoyed the most fraternal of ties and under its overarching warmth, cooperation at the military, and more particularly the naval, level has continued to blossom. The first time this relationship got formalised was under the Turco-Pak treaty of 1954, which inter alia also dealt with the vital subject of defence collaboration. The Pakistan-Turkey Military Consultative Group(MCG) was subsequently set up in 1988 to give a physical boost to the process.
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An Uneasy Alliance

Since Pakistan’s emergence on the world map, Pak-US ties have been characterised more by mutual dependence than shared interests as is the norm. America to its credit has always made its concerns clear: Soviet Union being its favourite bugbear till the end of the Cold War and the deceptively ambiguous war on terror thereafter. Though Pakistan officially tows the same line, its commitment is diffused by the singular prism, that of India, through which it views all its assessments.
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The Chabahar-Gwadar Conundrum

The prevailing sense of elation about the supposedly ultra-bright prospects of the Gwadar-CPEC projects has in recent times been dampened by news about the expected rise of  an adjoining port, a mere 70 kms away across the border in Iran. The signing of a trilateral MOU between India, Iran and Afghanistan to facilitate Indo-Afghan trade through Chabahar has added to the speculation. It is thus important to analyse such conjectures before they fully embed themselves  in our collective consciousness and thereby mislead the country into a knee jerk response with potentially disastrous consequences.
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Safeguarding the Vital Links in Sea Trade

Nothing encapsulates, and perhaps embodies, the spirit of globalisation better than world trade, most of which is carried out via the medium of the sea. Maritime trade can thus be said to be the pivot around which the global economy as well as our collective social well-being actually revolves. The enormous natural resources on land, coupled with a matching industrial capacity for value-addition, are not worth much were it not for a corresponding ability to trade freely over a terrain which, despite being used for common benefit, is still vulnerable to hybrid criminal threats.
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