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Choosing Sides

by Newsweek Pakistan
Lintao Zhang-Pool—AFP

File Photo. Lintao Zhang-Pool—AFP

Pakistan must choose to put its economy before nationalist passions.

There was a TV discussion on Tuesday, Nov. 8, about what Pakistan’s choices for international alignment were in the coming year. Unfortunately, no one challenged the consensus among the discussants about “a shift away” from the United States. Someone even referred to Pakistan’s folly of fighting a “so-called war on terrorism” under the American security flag. Everyone agreed that Pakistan was wisely aligned with China and that Russia too could be Pakistan’s next partner in the region.

This mindset goes back to the Cold War days when Pakistan was short on cash and was presented a black-and-white choice. Now that the Cold War has become a thing of the past, does Pakistan need an alignment? Is it necessary to choose an ally versus the unnamed non-ally who was once Pakistan’s patron? Soon enough, the old either/or situation emerged and it became clear that Pakistan had to rethink its equation with America because of the new India-U.S. axis emerging in South Asia. Once again—as in the days of the Cold War—Pakistan was ready to choose alignments based on its hatred of India.

In the post-Cold War world of today, black-and-white thinking has become obsolete and Pakistan must pull itself out of its old anti-intellectual groove to think pragmatically like China that refuses to choose enemies. Today, only one criterion for alignment is possible: the economy. America is still the largest economy in the world and that should recommend caution in any policy of realignment. What is hurting Pakistan is not America’s perfidy but Pakistan’s own inability to effectively counter domestic terrorism spilling over into its neighborhood. America’s war on terrorism was not irrelevant in the past, nor is it irrelevant today. Pakistan needs to put its economy before any kind of nationalist passion. And that means reviewing and overturning its pattern of thinking.

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