A model of economic development
While others around them continue to squabble among themselves, remain suspicious of each other and are lukewarm in their responses even after agreeing in principle to bury the hatchet that mars their past relationship with each other, the Chinese single-mindedly pursue an economic agenda in their well-thought-out interest.
Notwithstanding that they know how to use – and at times will use – the leverage of being a wealthier, larger and more developed country, they will still try to convince – not coerce – other neighbouring countries in finding overlaps between the Chinese agenda and the agenda of that country. They also encourage them to see where the Chinese economic development goals converge with the objectives of others.
China has made enormous economic progress in recent decades. Without shunning their past, they have shunned it. The grip of the Communist Party of China is as strong as ever in the political realm but it is not new to us anymore that China has generated wealth and experienced growth after transitioning into a market economy. In fact, the whole world is being viewed by them as a marketplace where they can buy what they need and sell what others demand.
The double-digit growth per annum for a sustained period has made China consistently the fastest growing economy in the world. When the former Soviet Union was still busy exporting revolution, or to safeguard their political interest, the Chinese began to export consumer goods and decided to pursue their own economic interest. It is certainly not the China of Chairman Mao Zedong. It is not the China of Zhao Enlai – known as the last perfect revolutionary – who inspired many of our ideological ancestors in Pakistan during the 1970s.
The Chinese revolution was seen as a revolution brought about by the peasantry and not by the classic proletariat, and attracted great attention by some circles in Pakistan since we are a largely agrarian country. But today’s China, which owns both Mao and Zhao Enlai as its leaders, is the China of Deng Xiao Ping. Interestingly, while Deng is seen as a follower of Mao when it comes to matters of dealing with the adversaries of the Communist Party, his sweeping economic reforms transformed China. The question is: how much of this new wealth is fairly shared by the Chinese working class and farmers tilling the land?
Deng certainly prevented China from becoming a poor but egalitarian society. It is now a rich but unequal society. However, wealth can only be redistributed if it exists. It is now for China’s decision-makers to see how prosperity is shared more responsibly and the ideals of egalitarianism achieved – since their party is still called the Communist Party.
The bilateral and trilateral dialogues, meetings and seminars between the think-tanks, security analysts, former diplomats, academics, researchers and writers of China, Afghanistan and Pakistan were hosted by the Chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament (CPAPD) and organised by them jointly with the Regional Peace Institute (RPI), Pakistan.
At a day-long seminar on the security of Afghanistan and the region after the 2014 withdrawal of the Nato-Isaf troops led by the US, the strategic concepts of the Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road in the 21st century were thoroughly discussed among the potential beneficiary countries – China, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The tense part of the dialogue was the exchange between the Afghan and Pakistani delegates on security issues. There are definite apprehensions in the minds of the Afghans when the changes introduced in Pakistan’s security paradigms are mentioned. Unlike what some Pakistani delegates insisted upon, the Afghans maintained that they are yet to witness a broad consensus in Pakistan on unreservedly fighting terrorism.
Dr Mohammad Najeeb Azizi was candidly critical of the positions taken by Imran Khan and Fazlur Rehman and the recent statements made by Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf and Sartaj Aziz. He said that both Imran and the Maulana declare that the war waged by the Taliban in Afghanistan falls in the category of jihad while the war fought in Pakistan by their sister outfit is not permissible under religion. He said that while Operation Zarb-e-Azb is welcomed in Afghanistan, Imran’s statement that he would not have sent the troops to fight the militants in the tribal areas if he were the prime minister concerns the Afghans.
Likewise, after meeting the new Afghan president, the Maulana’s statement did not particularly sit well with Afghan civil society and intelligentsia. Interestingly, Jan Achakzai, the spokesperson of Maulana Fazlur Rehman and the JUI-F, took the criticism in great poise and was more open and progressive in his way of dealing with the issues raised there than many Pakistani liberals one comes across in Islamabad.
Dr Azizi was surprised by the statement Sartaj Aziz had made when Gen Raheel Sharif was touring the US. Azizi was of the view that if our security is intertwined, as claimed by all Pakistanis he comes across, then how can Pakistanis pick and choose between militant outfits. Gen Musharraf’s statement about Afghanistan sinking back into heavy fighting and chaos after the 2014 withdrawal and Pakistan then using Pakhtun tribes to its benefit had deeply hurt the Afghans. Dr Azizi said that as a Pakhtun he considers that statement an insult to Pakhtuns and to Afghanistan.
While Pakistani politicians and military institutions alike have to be clear, consistent and honest in pursuing their current policy, a lot of work needs to be done at the political, diplomatic and military levels to remove misgivings and create an atmosphere of trust.
The debate around economic cooperation between the three countries was more amicable as was expected. However, I always experience this constraint which is posed by the tendency to see countries and states as individual persons and diverse people living within these states getting overshadowed as a result even when speaking of economic growth. This happens when a framework of security and international relations is categorically used to define challenges and opportunities. It is necessary to understand that ‘just development’, not simply growth and development, provides the foundation for sustainable security.
When all sane and rational parts of societies across the region see that mutual economic cooperation has now become non-negotiable for new wealth, it needs to be ensured that the dividends of this cooperation must reach all people without delay. China has espoused market economy but there is a strong government to regulate. We do not have strong states and governments in Pakistan and Afghanistan to safeguard the economic interests of our people. Any economic activity must not be limited to raising the standard of living of a few and then waiting for a trickle-down to happen to impact the quality of life for all.
If we wish to develop a lasting constituency of peace and collective prosperity, our economic growth and development cooperation need to focus on benefitting our farmers, small entrepreneurs and people living in underdeveloped parts of our countries. Only a share for all in development will unleash the ‘soft power’ that defends us from the scourge of terrorism and eliminates any security threats by wiping out the pockets of legitimacy for such terror. It is injustice of the highest order, absence of opportunities for the teeming millions and shameful negligence by the states to provide basic facilities to a large majority that will continue to harbour unrest and violence.
There is a lot to learn from China when it comes to rural development, mechanised farming and creating value chains, participation of women in purposeful economic activity, universal education and better access to health. There is also a lot to learn regarding economic cooperation with India. All issues between China and India take a back seat when it comes to economic development, trade, commerce and industry.
The writer is a poet and author based in Islamabad..
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