Pakistan must make a choice
The war in Ukraine, in all of its aspects, is having a dangerous cascading impact on a world economy that was already been hammered by COVID-19. As well as climate change, with particularly dramatic results consequences for emerging nations. According to UNCTAD predictions, the global economy will grow by a full percentage point. GDP growth is less than predicted as a result of the war, which is already causing significant disruption of already tight food, energy, and financial markets.
Ukraine and the Russian Federation are breadbaskets of the globe. They supply over 30 percent of the world’s wheat and barley, one-fifth of its maize, and more than half of its sunflower oil. At the same time, Russia is the world’s greatest natural gas exporter and second-largest oil exporter. Together, Belarus and the Russian Federation export over one-fifth of the world’s fertilizers.
As a result of the war, commodities prices are reaching new all-time highs. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued its third straight record food price index on April 8; 2022. Food prices are 34 percent higher than this time last year and have never been this high since the FAO started measuring them.
Almost 50 nations rely on the Russian Federation and Ukraine for at least 30 percent of their wheat imports. 26 nations rely on these two countries for more than half of their wheat imports. In that context, this war will have many consequences for global markets and food security, posing a challenge to many countries, particularly low-income food import dependent countries and vulnerable population groups.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine raises issues of national sovereignty, democracy versus autocracy, human rights, and the global international order. This implies that, whatever happens, it might be a defining moment in the world’s security environment. The current security architecture as we know it, established after World War Two, could be overthrown. This might also have an impact on the global economy. According to UBS, global markets have grown increasingly volatile as investors assess the impact of the Ukrainian conflict, anticipated interruptions in commodity flows, and the tightening of global sanctions against Russia.
This conflict has also impacted the national policy of Pakistan. As soon as the invasion started, Pakistani politicians had to take a stand– and quickly. There were two opposing points of view. The first stated that because Pakistan had just established a strategy of maintaining relations with every major world power, it made pragmatic sense to pursue a policy that would not jeopardize this opening with Russia. Proponents of this argument would argue that the USA had engaged in aggression against sovereign countries and was an untrustworthy friend. Much in line with this thinking, Pakistan’s response included two crucial elements: de-escalate the situation and resolve it peacefully.
According to the second school of thinking, Pakistan had prolonged periods of close engagement with the USA, and it remained its top trading partner even now, while political and economic collaboration with Russia was almost non-existent. When Pakistan elected to abstain from voting at the UN, supporters of this viewpoint were quick to question why Pakistan’s action seemed to be upsetting the USA and Europe.
But, in the end, it should not come down to whose side Pakistan should back. After all, Pakistan has strong bilateral relations with both the USA and Russia. What matters is whether Pakistan adheres to the values expressed in the UN Charter. In an age of unilateralism and pre-emptive strikes, Pakistan must take a stand based on fundamental norms of interstate relations.
The position is far from ideal for Pakistan, which wants to strengthen ties with Russia without compromising relations with Western nations. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the administration declared a neutral stance, refusing to support any side. However, this “no camp politics” stance is not a response to the Ukraine issue. Pakistan has previously attempted to manage its relations with the USA and China; Russia and the European Union are just new weights in this balancing game.
Pakistan’s neutrality policy accords nicely with the region’s developing geopolitics and national interests. The majority of Islamabad’s recent actions indicate a bias toward Moscow rather than a neutral posture. A few words in favor of Ukrainian sovereignty and asking Putin to address the issue diplomatically are insufficient to balance this. If Pakistan genuinely desires a neutral position, it would require a substantial scaled-up plan to repair its ties with Western countries.
The problem for Pakistan is to strengthen connections with Russia, preserve ties with China, and avoid alienating itself from the USA. Pakistan must recognize that its recent actions and rhetoric are moving it towards the Sino-Russian camp. If it truly believes in a no-camp politics, it must re-establish relations with Western nations by taking a firm stand against Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Unlike Islamabad’s fear that taking such a stance would bind it to Western policies, condemning the invasion on the basis of its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity would help elevate its diplomatic standing in the world and restore it to a more balanced position, which its recent actions have shifted away from.
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