Lt General Amjad Shoaib is a retired three-star war veteran, he fought in the ’65 and ’71 wars and is currently an eminent defence analyst on national TV channels. This interview is part of a series for the January Issue of Global Village Space magazine looking at the next decade for Pakistan – its strategic challenges and opportunities (2021-30).
GVS: How do you see the next 10 years for Pakistan on foreign policy or strategic front?
General Amjad Shoaib: First of all, we have to look at the challenges that we are facing at this moment. I can see a country like Pakistan always surrounded by many serious challenges on the domestic front, international front and as well as the regional front.
There are three domestic components that we have to address before we really try to tackle the situation across the border. First, we need to have political stability, so that you can take care of your people and we can go for smooth legislation for the betterment of our masses. Then we need to have a debt-free economy and somebody has to work out a time frame with various measures that should be introduced and ultimately, you should be able to get out of the debt trap.
I would say that 10 years is quite a sufficient period of time if some important measures are taken and we deal with the shortcomings of our economy, mainly when viewed in the light of upcoming CPEC and its special economic zones. It is only the question of having political stability and our experts addressing this issue should be able to meet this challenge and make our economy debt-free within the ten year period.
The last domestic challenge is to ensure food self-sufficiency. Because I believe every country, which is dependent for its foodstuff on other countries can have serious problems internally and externally as well. These are some points that we have to master to be able to face the external challenges the country has.
As far as the external challenges are concerned, the international community is now aligning itself according to new lines, a new set of rules. A new chapter of Cold-War style affairs is opening up and adversaries are changing. Previously, it was the Soviet Union and now it is seen to be China. This is the biggest challenge that we are facing at the moment.
Americans want to contain China. Particularly, they want to influence the South China Sea through which they can pin down China. For the time being, they don’t expect China to become a military power that can dominate the US but they are scared of China’s potential of becoming the number one economy of the world. So to contain China means to contain their economy. We have really thwarted their plans because we have given them a land route, which is opening up at Gwadar and they can have free access to the main market of Middle East and also the African countries. So this is something that Americans will never like and it will remain a problem.
So if we clearly draw a sketch of this scenario we come to know that somehow under the circumstances we have become a strategic partner of China, which isn’t impressive to America. As a result, to counter China, America has piped down India as its strategic partner, which is our enemy number one. So both ways we are now sitting in the opposite camps. To handle the situation we will require a lot of diplomatic effort because keeping our interests in mind we will have to create a balance between our relationship with the US and our relationship with China.
In many cases, China is very important for our military requirements at the same time for our economic development. With the US we will need to maintain a cordial relationship in order to have influence in international monetary institutions and the United Nations and to take care of our regional and extra-regional interests. This is all very important and I have a feeling that if we play our cards well, then we will be able to maintain a reasonably good relationship with both arch-rivals.
Then you can also use the influence that we have in Afghanistan, but this may be a temporary phase. I have a feeling that Afghanistan will remain a challenge. I personally think that the spoilers have a very strong role there, and it will not be possible for the Afghans to ensure complete peace in the country. Then the forces that are acting against Pakistan from Afghanistan will remain active. Sometimes they may be active really effectively and sometimes they may not be that effective, depending on the kind of government that takes over power in Afghanistan.
Read more: The politics behind ceasefire in Afghanistan
Personally, I have a feeling that we will not be able to get rid of such elements, which favour India and act against Pakistan. Such as the Northern Alliance and the Inter Afghan intelligence that is predominantly controlled by India because of the interest they have developed in Afghanistan over the last 15 years. We will keep on having some kind of problem. The worst scenario could occur if the Afghans fail to bring any kind of solution as a result of these talks, which can lead to a civil war. This could create a serious problem for Pakistan, as it will add to the refugees that are already present, which can then accentuate our difficulties and problems.
On the other hand, an unstable Afghanistan will not really be conducive for our endeavours to maximize the use of our CPEC where we want to connect the Central Asian States and Russia etc. so that we can expand our sphere of trade and economic development. But that problem can also be there, so I can’t rule out this possibility.
Read more: Kashmir: an unresolved question on UN agenda
In addition to this, we have a very serious problem of Kashmir, which we want to resolve. We would like to see that where we will stand with the Kashmir issue after 10 years, particularly when I see the plight and suffering of the Kashmiri people. This is a very big challenge and something needs to be done.
Until the time we have Modi as Prime Minister of India, we may not find much inclination from their side to sit down and try to resolve this issue. He has built himself an image of a strong man and conceding any space to Pakistan will not be conducive to his political career. So I don’t think he will do that. As far as Modi is concerned we will have to stay in the same kind as him and create problems and difficulties for him.
There are some pressure points, which we have to activate to pressurize Modi so that he finally decides to sit down on the table and tries to resolve. To bring him under pressure we should keep supporting Kashmiris as well we should help the Sikhs get free land for themselves.
The other thing that can happen is that Modi packs up because he has already destroyed India in an epic way and will continue to do so for another three to four years. If Modi gets thrown out, naturally who takes power after him, should be motivated to negotiate the Kashmir problem.
Our aim should be to find out some extraordinary measures to bring Indians under pressure. We’ve seen that diplomatically they’re not receiving any pressure from any side. Even the US is not pressurizing them because of its own interest. The Western World is absolutely quiet on this. We need to create these pressure points so that they start understanding the necessity of having a better relationship with Pakistan and the necessity of resolving disputes in Pakistan.
This year Pakistan issued a new map indicating Kashmir’s legal status but that should not be our last step. We should take more steps and carry them forward. In my opinion, the Election Commission of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) should now announce the various constituencies in the entire Kashmir territory and then these constituencies should start registering the quotas. Obviously, the Kashmiris living in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) will find it difficult to register as voters but I am sure Kashmiris’ living abroad in various western countries should be able to register themselves as voters online. Then at a suitable stage, AJK election commission can hold their elections and people can cast their votes online.
The aim is to represent the AJK assembly as the main assembly of the Azad Kashmir so the people start looking towards AJK. Then it will be easy for us to ask the people to boycott any elections which are held under India’s arrangement. If this type of activity succeeds then in the coming decade the AJK assembly will be able to achieve legitimacy at least within the people of Kashmir on both sides.
As far as future friendships are concerned the guiding element should be our economic development on the basis of which we should try to expand our sphere. We have friendships with Africa, the Middle East, and also Central Asia. For economic development, I think we have to coordinate things with China.
The most important thing is that we have to create a synergy with the Chinese dreams, China’s aspirations, where they want to go with the BRI. If we dovetail ourselves in it and we try to utilize the same channels for our economic development that the Chinese are going to use to expand their trade due of the expanded infrastructure that should help us in improving our economy because of the improved opportunity of trades.
Lt General Amjad Shoaib is a retired three-star war veteran, he fought in the ’65 and ’71 wars. He has participated in various political and military events that became the focus of the media and the public. Along with this, he is the former Chief Executive & Managing Director of Fauji Fertilizer Company Limited. The General is also an eminent defense analyst on national TV channels.