Tuesday Dec 14, 2021
ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Tuesday that with the current escalation of strategic competition among global powers undermining world peace and making diplomacy unpredictable, Pakistan has shifted its focus from geopolitics to geoeconomics.
"This has made economic diplomacy all the more important," he said while speaking at the Margalla Dialogue Forum 2021 – Foreign Policy Challenges of the Future in a Changing Geopolitical Landscape, organised by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI).
In his address, the FM spoke at length on various issues concerning Pakistan’s foreign policy and diplomacy, including the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, bilateral relations with China, the United States, Russia, and India, as well as the importance of a just resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute for regional peace.
"Indeed, we live in a time of uncertainty. The world order seems to be in a state of severe stress and disarray. In these times, foreign policy and geopolitics are largely linked to geoeconomics. From here on, the economy is in many ways our strategic compass, with a dominant presence as a priority of foreign policy," he remarked.
The FM said that positioning Pakistan as a geoeconomic centre with unparalleled regional connectivity has to come as a mindset from the top down.
"We have had to reset the existing geopolitical mindset and embrace the importance of geoeconomics," he added.
The Foreign Minister said that as Pakistan was the fifth most populous nation, with 220 million people, some 64% of its population was below the age of 30, and according to estimates by Forbes and UNDP, approximately 80 million were middle class.
He stressed that we need to tap into this growing human capital and our abundant natural resources.
FM Qureshi, highlighting the benefits of a focus on geoeconomics, shared with the audience that as of November 2021, Pakistan’s exports to the UK had grown 28% in a COVID year.
"Also, since our Engage Africa Conference in December 2019 in Islamabad, trade with Africa has gone up 7%," he mentioned.
The FM said that, according to Bloomberg, this year alone, $300 million has been invested in start-ups in Pakistan by the US, Singapore, and UAE.
"This is only the beginning, with a huge surge expected in the tech industry in the near future," he added.
Qureshi referred to the "FM Honours list" he launched in 2019 and said it was to recognise overseas Pakistanis for their tremendous contributions through technology, the digital landscape, etc.
"Make no mistake, our diaspora plays a huge role in representing Pakistan’s policy interests across the globe," he remarked.
The Foreign Minister said that connecting the economy with the future of foreign policy brought him to a critical tool of modern diplomacy: the digital sphere. "Big Tech," by amassing and monopolising data, is outgrowing capitalism as we know it, by redesigning supply chains, virtual reality, and the way we think and live.
It is data control that is influencing mindsets, controlling narratives, and ultimately, crafting the perception game. "Staying connected, staying ahead, and staying alert in the digital space is of paramount importance to achieving foreign policy goals," he added.
The Foreign Minister said there was no doubt that COVID had accelerated the digital diplomacy trajectory.
Diplomacy is no longer solely dependent on leadership-to-leadership phone calls or state visits. "Technology has never before played such a definitive role in relationships," he remarked.
The Foreign Minister said that bilateral and political consultations and multilateral conferences were all happening online.
Today, perception wars are won and lost on Twitter, he said, adding that what better place is there for diplomacy than online, where you use fewer resources to achieve even greater outcomes in shorter amounts of time.
Qureshi said that the Foreign Office had very clearly prioritised digital alliances, entering, for instance, as a founding member of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's lead Digital Cooperation Organization in record time.
"In fact, four top professionals from Pakistan have joined the organization’s secretariat in Riyadh, in leadership positions. This is an important first step towards linking digital diplomacy with the digital economy for the future of foreign policy," he added.
The Foreign Minister said that in the same spirit, just 10 days ago he collaborated with Norwegian multinational Telenor to launch an agri tech app, that was connected to over 10,000 farmers across Pakistan to optimise their production and, in turn, our exports.
"Such is the nature of the digital economy. These revolutionary scientific changes are already impacting war and peace, climate change, our economies, our geopolitics, and our ways of life," he remarked.
Speaking about the future of foreign policy and the role geo-economics was playing, the FM mentioned Pakistan’s relations with China as resilient and poised to grow further.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), of which the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the flagship project, will leverage the economic geography and connectivity of the three contiguous continents – Asia, Europe, and Africa – ushering in prosperity for all global citizens, he added.
The Foreign Minister said that Pakistan valued its longstanding relations with the United States.
He, however, added that looking towards the future, Pakistan did not want a transactional relationship with the US. "We want multifaceted ties that are not susceptible to the vagaries of regional and international policies," he added.
The Foreign Minister said that in line with the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan for a shift from geopolitics to geo-economics, Pakistan wanted a relationship with the US that was in sync with our changed priority.
"Enhanced trade and investment ties with the US and cooperation in regard to regional connectivity can work to our mutual benefit," he added.
The Foreign Minister said that with Russia, Pakistan’s diplomatic outreach had not only led to rapprochement but had opened doors for reinvigorated relations in the security and economic realms.
"The Pakistan-Russia trajectory is contributing to stability in the region and we will continue to strengthen it," he maintained.
The Foreign Minister said, "The upshot is that a country like Pakistan, sitting astride the crossroads of South, Central, and West Asia, cannot make binary choices. We will remain equidistant, accessible to all, reaching out to all."
Directly connected to all this, is the situation in Afghanistan, he said, adding that the United Nations has warned that 60% of Afghanistan’s 38 million people are facing hunger or starvation.
With this in mind, the Foreign Minister stated that on December 19th, Pakistan will host an extraordinary session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to mobilise support for providing adequate food, medicine, and shelter to millions of Afghans in dire need.
Indeed, I believe Pakistan hosting the OIC Extraordinary Meeting of Foreign Ministers on Afghanistan is in line with the leadership role the country has demonstrated in the region, he said.
The Foreign Minister said that from facilitating peace talks, to showing tremendous leadership during unprecedented rescues and evacuations, to working closely with international partners for humanitarian outreach and bringing together neighbouring countries of Afghanistan and international stakeholders for a coordinated approach, Pakistan continues to work at every level for a stable, peaceful and prosperous regional future.
"We also continue to host over 4 million Afghan refugees. We have advocated and worked for the establishment of an inclusive polity in Afghanistan, respecting the rights of all ethnic and religious minorities, as well as women," he added.
The Foreign Minister said the Afghan government has assured all its neighbours that their soil will not be allowed to be used for terrorism, adding that the same message has been given by Kabul to extra-regional powers.
"The future of successful foreign policy hinges then on not repeating the strategic blunders of the early 1990s that led to a spate of civil wars, droughts, and terrorism, whose consequences we have been facing for the past 30 years."
The world must learn from their mistakes, he stressed.
Speaking about the foreign policy challenges vis-à-vis India, the Foreign Minister said that Pakistan’s quest for peace and geo-economic strength cannot be a solo performance, adding that it takes two to tango.
Soon after taking office, he recalled that the current government made overture after overture, unilaterally, to open channels of communication, build confidence, and engage India.
Our eastern neighbor, on the other hand, has chosen to close all doors to any kind of discussion, he said. "What’s more, it took the most drastic militaristic steps to invade and lay siege to the disputed territory of the Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), disenfranchise its 14 million people, and brutalise them," he added.
The Foreign Minister said that New Delhi’s actions in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir have created a conundrum for Indian apologists in Kashmir and even for India’s foreign friends.
He regretted that "Indian atrocities are too egregious to be masked by the veneer of secularism and democratic pretensions."
The Foreign Minister said that it was the duty of the United Nations and the international community to hold India accountable for this unconscionable state of affairs.
"India must realise that without resolving the Kashmir issue, we cannot free the peoples of South Asia from perennial instability. Without the necessary global condemnation and intervention, the region will continue to remain insecure and peace and prosperity, a major challenge," he maintained.
The Foreign Minister stated that while both developed and developing countries were vulnerable to the global pandemic's devastation, Pakistan had done well in combating the coronavirus through a combination of smart lockdowns and aggressive vaccination campaigns.
"The threat is not over. Omicron, the new mutant, casts its ominous shadow, and we are bracing to fight it. Each nation must play its part individually and communally to fight a virus that knows no boundaries: we are all equally vulnerable," he added.
The Foreign Minister said that the same was the case with climate change, which affected all without discrimination. Pakistan walks the extra mile to meet climate change goals because it is a compelling national priority, he added.
He said the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank (WB) have forecast that Pakistan will incur up to $3.8 billion in annual costs due to the rise in temperatures in the next two decades.
"Last month, at the COP26 Climate Summit, Pakistan unveiled its Ecosystem Restoration Initiative (ESR), with the support of the World Bank. At the summit, Pakistan also signed the US-led Global Methane Pledge," he added.
The Foreign Minister said that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision and roadmap for the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami and Clean Green Pakistan will go a long way in making Pakistan a model country to combat climate change and its impact.
He mentioned Pakistan’s significant efforts in promoting interfaith harmony and tolerance, adding that the Prime Minister had alerted the world continually at the highest forums about the threat posed to world peace by Islamophobia and misguided notions of racial superiority.
"True to our commitment, we sponsored a resolution at the 47th OIC Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Niamey in 2020. The resolution inter-alia called for the declaration of March 15th as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia," he added.
The Foreign Minister asserted that diplomacy in the 21st century, in a post-COVID world, needed a multi-faceted outlook and one that goes beyond the traditional.
"One that is cognizant of a world where relationships are changing based on geo-economics, access, and the use of technology and people-to-people contact, made all the more accessible with digital growth," he added.
The Foreign Minister, however, said that the multi-dimensional outlook and approach will open new vistas for Pakistan’s footprint across the world, enabling it to assume a leadership position in addressing the challenges of a changing geopolitical landscape.