By focusing on trade rather than conflict, Pakistan can turn inward and tighten its writ over lawless areas.
As a police-and-Army operation against the Chotu gang converges to its predictable climax, some strategic rethinking is in order. A sandy island in the Indus River only 24 kilometers from Rahimyar Khan in South Punjab is home to criminals who impose their own taxation on the local population while the state is absent. Columnists have taken to naming this ungoverned space as Chotuland, comparing it with such Chotulands existing elsewhere in the country, from Karachi in the south to the Tribal Areas in the north. And in many cases, there is an unmistakable nexus between the criminal and the corrupt local politician.
The world has taken to define the Pakistani state in light of this growth of ungoverned spaces. But should we accept this definition passively without struggling against it, now that the Pakistan Army has successfully challenged the de facto rulers of these territories? One analyst, pointing to the strategic importance of Pakistan, wrote: “Pakistan is the crossroads between East and West, and between North and South. Trade and transportation routes that weave Asia together intersect in Pakistan—which explains why the country has so many rich variations, so many different traditions, and despite the recent suicide-bombing in Lahore, a long and proud tradition of tolerance.”
China has done more than any other country to highlight Pakistan’s “median” status by extending its regional infrastructure of Silk Roads to Pakistan. It clearly wants to see us as a trading nation rather than a warrior state. That Pakistan has allowed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to convert most of its territory into a vast trading artery actually signals Pakistan’s coming transformation. The important decision to take in this regard lies between two conflicting positions: self-empowerment by facilitating regional trade; and negative leverage by obstructing it. By putting an end to the distraction of cross-border conflict, Pakistan will able to concentrate inward and tighten its writ over territories where Chotulands are being created.