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Your Excellency Dr. Arif Alvi, President of our Islamic Republic of Pakistan

Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Director General, ISSI

Distinguished guests, delegates and friends


I have 10 minutes in which to dilate on our National Security.

Some years ago, the BBC asked to speak on the future of the Commonwealth. I asked how much time would I have. I was told 4 minutes.  I replied: ‘That just about summarises the future of the Commonwealth.’  

I am overwhelmed by Ambassador Aizaz’s invitation to give this Keynote address.  

My credentials for being here today are that I have written a number of books on Pak-U.S. relations.

More than that, I am a Pakistani, and as such I, my children and grandchildren have a vested interest in the continuity of our country.

How many of you here today witnessed the funeral cortege of Quaid-e-Azam on 12 September 1948?  I did from a balcony on then Victoria Road, Karachi.

Our Quaid died at the age of 72. He had every expectation that the country he founded would survive beyond the age of 75. 

Had he been alive, he would have wholeheartedly endorsed the topic of this Conclave: Achieving Comprehensive National Security. No one understood the imperative of National Security to a fledgling nation more keenly than he did.

Your deliberations here at ISSI yesterday and today have covered achieving National Defence, the Search for Peace and Prosperity in South Asia, Pakistan’s outreach, the Pursuit of Geo-economics, and Human and Economic Security.

Your deliberations have been radial and comprehensive. I will focus my keynote address, however, on two topics: Population and our relations with India and our neighbours.  

My reason for choosing these are that I believe that internally, our burgeoning population conditions every aspect of or domestic policies –from social security to elections to responsible governance.

Externally, our relations with India and our immediate neighbours discolours our foreign policy.

Let me begin with our population.

Today, our population is 230 m. 

In 1971, the population in our west wing was 55 m., in the east wing 65 m. Today, Bangladesh faced with identical issues of religious strictures has a population of 165 m., while we have an unbridled 230 m.

By the time we reach our centenary in 2047, we Pakistanis will have increased to over 330 m.

Will we have enough resources to feed them, house, educate, employ, defend, and protect them? And in the end, will we have enough land to bury them?

Today, depending on how you tilt the begging bowl, 29.5% live below the poverty line. The World Bank insists it is 39.3%.

That means that in 2047, we will have 130 million (plus or minus 10 million) struggling to survive. 

Who doesn’t envy the Chinese model of social growth. China reduced its rural poverty from 88% in 1981 to 0.20% by 2019. Our rural poverty by comparison is 41%.  China’s achievement is that it has been able to contain its population. National imperatives have succeeded in overcoming human urges.  

The Chinese attribute their success to implementation of program through village communities and Village work teams. It trained 128 thousand work teams and 540 thousand officials who had to stay in villages for 2-3 years.

Key infrastructural elements lay in the construction, management, maintenance and operation of roads in rural areas, as well as better power supply to poor areas.  This replicated the Indian Punjab model which achieved the Green Revolution in the 1960s by electrifying each village to increase the farmer’s working hours, and by connecting each village to the urban mandi. This enabled inputs like seed and fertiliser to be brought in and farm produce to be exported. Simple and therefore successful.

One element that erodes our internal security is the corrosive state of Interprovincial relations. At no time in our history has there been such abrasive, unproductive hostility between the provinces.

Our provinces cannot agree on National Flood Disaster Plans nor on water off-take nor on the adoption of a National Curriculum, in the light of the Eighteenth Amendment. We have provincial governments threatening to arrest federal ministers if they enter the Punjab.    

I wanted to avoid quoting Kahlil Gibran but his words from his poem The Prophet are hauntingly appropriate: Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation.

Quite frankly, we have more issues confronting us than any developing nation deserves – unbridled population growth, inequality in education, shortage of water, insufficient healthcare, increasing deprivation, and rudderless governance.  The list is endless. The solutions are soluble on paper but somehow defy practical implementation.

I would describe our national psyche in two words: Institutionalised Inertia. 

We do not improve not because we cannot improve, but because we do not wish to.

Externally, our relations without neighbours is fractious.

India is the neighbor we cannot live with, and cannot live without.

The stumbling block in our relationship is the non-implementation of the U.N. resolutions on the disputed state of Jammu & Kashmir since 1948. As a savant once said, “Conflicts acquire a life of their own until the combatants forget what it is that they are fighting about. They are just engaged in combat.”

Jammu & Kashmir is a conflict we cannot win. The best we can hope is to achieve is to end it.

The former Indian prime minister Inder Gujral once summed up the position as: ‘Neither can India give it, nor can Pakistan take it.’  

In 2019, Prime minister Modi and the Indian parliament cut this intractable Gordian knot with the Abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Emboldened, they went further. They partitioned J & K into the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union Territory of Ladakh.

No matter how loudly we may remonstrate at this latest violation of the UN resolutions, from the Indian side the absorption of J & K is a finality. It is now for us to decide what we wish to do with the portion of the former state of Jammu & Kashmir in our possession.

I would assert that Azad J & K is a legal fiction. I have a good reason for saying this.

In 2005, there was a massive earthquake in Muzzafarabad and KPK. More than 86,000 persons lost their lives and over 3 million were rendered homeless. A donors’ conference was convened by the Federal Government, at which over $2 bn. was pledged. I asked a Federal Minister why representatives from the government of Azad J & K were not present. The answer? ‘We forgot to invite them.’

The Indians clearly have no intention of reversing their actions, nor can we force them to undo a constitutional amendment.

I would ask therefore: Is it not time that we absorbed Azad J & K constitutionally? By being decisive ourselves, if nothing else, our action would clear the deadwood of our relationship with India.

During his visit to the Rakhchikri Sector of the Line of Control by our new Chief of Army Staff General General Asim Munir, he said that if our country is attacked, the Pakistani armed forces will "defend every inch of our motherland."

That rejoinder has interesting undertones. Is Azad Jammu & Kashmir ‘legally and constitutionally’ part of our motherland? If not, and it is still Azad, should India attack it, will the president of Azad Jammu & Kashmir have to ask the president of Pakistan to send in troops for its defence against foreign aggression?

It would be an ironical reprise of 1948, when Maharaja Hari Singh called on India to save him from the invading Razakars.    


Winston Churchill had once said that Jaw-Jaw is better the War-War. Over the past four years of PM Modi’s government, Jaw-Jaw has been absent. The saffron curtain that he has let fall from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea has hardened into an impenetrable wall.

Take that corridor of peace - Kartarpur. The reality of the Kartarpur project belies official propaganda. The project cost 180 crores. Instead of the 4.5m, Sikh yatrees we expected since it opened in 2019, only 100,000 have used the corridor.  It is a vain costly monument to diplomatic optimism.  

India and we are among the nine nuclear powers in the world. This nine exist in a nuclear limbo with weapons we dare not use. Remember, the last atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.  Since then, no nation has dared explode a nuclear device in war.

And what about our other neighbours?

One of the topics you delegates have discussed is regional connectivity.  Is that at all possible?

India has effectively emasculated SAARC and as long as the BJP remains in power, there will be a continuing freeze in Indo-Pak relations. Unless PM Modi decides to drop in at Raiwind with another pink turban or decides to give formal recognition to the Satish Lambah / Tariq Aziz four point plan, I calculate this freeze to continue for another twelve years at least – two more of Modi and two more terms of Amit Shah or some another BJP successor.   

Afghanistan? Only the other day, our diplomatic representative in Kabul was the victim of an assassination attempt. Inter-state relations cannot sink lower. In any case, history is against us.  Afghanistan is a diplomatic quicksand which has swallowed the Russians, the Americans and anyone before or after who dares to dominate it.

The Stans – Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan and far off Turkmenistan?  There, geography is against us. We have to pass through Afghanistan to reach any of them. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline is just one of a tombstone of insecurely-founded intentions.

Iran? Gone are the days of CENTO and RCD.  Our trade with Iran is only $400 m.  Our political compatibility is precarious, given that the U.S. refuses to lift its embargo on Iran and will apply that embargo on any one who dares touch Iran. The IPI is one memorable casualty.

And China, our iron brother? Our relationship with the People’s Republic of China is one of the most durable of our foreign policy successes.

I maintain that we Pakistanis love China for what it can do for Pakistan. The Chinese love us Pakistanis despite what we do to ourselves.

That relationship has been tested during 1965, during 1971, and through numerous crises thereafter. But be clear: China is not a guarantor of our territory integrity. China supported us in 1971, not because we in West Pakistan were right, but because they wanted to assert the principle of non-interference. 

Chinese policy is to provide military aid, technical know-how and logistical support to other countries, but never troops.  

I believe that the OBOR is the most significant diplomatic and commercial initiative since the Marshall Plan of 1948. Remember, though, that we are not the preferred beneficiaries of China’s largesse. There are in fact 71 other countries in China’s One Belt, One Road scheme.

China’s current commitment to us under CPEC is $62 bn. It increased from $46 bn. I cannot see how we will be able to repay China $62 bn. when we have asked China to place $3 bn. on deposit with the State Bank to window-dress our forex reserves.

The showpiece of CPEC is of course Gwadar port. It is China’s Hong Kong, taken on a 99 year lease. Before we start savouring its unpicked fruit, we might like to remember the Sri Lankan experience on Hambantota port. To prevent its collapse, the Chinese converted 70% of its loans into equity. And when Sri Lanka sought urgent assistance from China amounting to $ 2.5 billion, China has approved only $ 31 million. There is a lesson in this for us.   

In the pursuit of Geo-Economics, we must remember that except for China, our traditional partners remain beyond the Bosphorus and the Atlantic. The countries that matter to us still are the United States, the U.K. and Germany.     

Regarding Economic Security, we owe Rs 1,420 bn. to IPPs in an ever increasing circular debt. We owe about $ 130 bn. in external debt.

The bad news is that we do not have the resources to repay what we owe. The good news is that we owe too much to default.

In conclusion, I would emphasise that our National Security is dependent on National Solvency. We are a poor country with rich leaders. We are an impoverished economy supporting the eight largest army in the world.

Let me end with this quote from the great Chinese philosopher Confucius. He told us that in a country that is well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country that is badly governed, the wealth of its corrupt rulers is something to be ashamed of.

It is at Conclaves like this that we are reminded of the need to plan with mature foresight, to implement with clean hands, and to hold ourselves accountable before 230 million of our fellow citizens.

 For reminding of these responsibilities, we are grateful to Ambassador Aizaz A. Chaudhry and his team at ISSI for organising such a thought-provoking Conclave, and to H.E. President Alvi for imbuing it with national purpose by his presence.

08 December 2022
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