The fifth session of the Islamabad Security Dialogue commenced on Thursday at the National Library of Pakistan with the Acting President of Islamabad Policy Research Institute, Brig. (R) Rashid Wali Janjua, welcoming the distinguished panel comprising Pakistan’s Ambassador at Large for Foreign Investment Mr. Ali Jehangir Siddiqui, Associate Professor IBA Dr. Huma Baqai, former Foreign Minister Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar and Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed.
As the first speaker, Ms. Khar highlighted Pakistan’s six key challenges in the evolving world order. The first challenge she identified was that Pakistan needs to understand fully well that how it performs within its geographical boundaries will ultimately determine the course or the weight it has outside. Elaborating on the idea, she said, if we are a country that is considered an economic or a strategic asset, our ability to engineer a change will be far more.
The second challenge is to “understand and accept the changing regional and global dynamics”. There have been tectonic shifts in the region in terms of alignments, Ms. Khar said. While explaining that Pakistan cannot be married to the ideas and ideals of the pre-1990s, she said: “We need to engineer a foreign policy according to the changing realities.”
Shifting her focus eastwards, she said the third key challenge is to stop ourselves from compromising or undermining Pakistan’s natural strategic alignment with China. Expanding on the idea, she said that we know that much of changing world order has much to do with China’s containment. In such circumstances, it’s extremely important that we should remain positively engaged with the US, she further argued.
The fourth and fifth challenges identified by Pakistan’s former foreign minister were: Keeping clear of our friends’ designs, especially our strategic allies and our engagement within the region. “I understand what has happened with India, but we need to avail the window of opportunity in Afghanistan to strengthen our bilateral relations with the country,” she said.
The last key challenge according to Ms. Khar was that Pakistan must not and cannot base its engagement within the region and shape the narrative within the country on the premise of fear.
Hyper-evolution of technology
Mr. Ali Jahangir Siddiqui took the security dialogue to an entirely new domain. One that was perhaps unheard of in any of the previous sessions of the Islamabad Security Dialogue. He looked at how the hyper-evolution of technology with advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning and semiconductors designing is completely disrupting the current world order. “Once the data was easily available to us through the internet, AI and machine learning were proliferated,” he said.
After initiating his argument by referring to the first 200 years of peace known as the Pax Romana in Roman History, he predicted that a repetition of it is unforeseeable in today’s world order. Mr Siddiqui said that access to technology is changing the nature of war, hence, no discussion of national security policy occurs without mentioning the threats from a pathogen or a cyberattack. He provided Stuxnet’s example that took out Iranian centrifuges, claiming that it was much more effective than any foreign policy tool that the US had been using. “Today’s technology is transnational,” he asserted.
While emphasizing the importance of technology in the prevailing world order, he said that in some cases, alliances function with technology as countries collaborate around powerful technologies they have and work to dominate others, keeping it from them.
Referring to Pakistan’s small economic output, Mr. Siddiqui said, “There are many countries with similar relatively small levels of economic output that have dominated in technologies; from being agrarian or service-based to heavily technology-based.” If we have to choose orders, the choice would be between the western liberal technological order where data flows freely and access to technology companies is easy, e.g., Google and Facebook – and the Chinese or Russian model where technology barriers are created, and domestic companies are championed, he said. The alliance question also relates to these technological matters as per him. In the end, the nature of everything 10-20 yrs in the future will be entirely driven by these choices, he added.
The Ambassador at Large gave hope to Pakistanis by highlighting the few technological pockets of excellence in the country. He said, “We have companies that do world-class work, and there is a huge diaspora of Pakistanis around the world that have led major global technology companies – we must find a way to connect with them to have a role to play in this evolving world order or we might find ourselves squeezed in that space as well.” While furnishing his point, he provided the example of Siemens, which owns a business that creates softwares for semiconductors in Lahore called Matrix.
“It’s up to us now to build on those, otherwise in this race of alliances, we will find that we have no home for us,” Mr Siddiqui concluded.