Nature has endowed Pakistan with a unique geographical location, enormous agriculture and mineral resources, intelligent manpower, and world class Armed Forces but shortfalls in socio-economic and political systems, and executive machinery have been the major barriers in generating optimum economic windfalls from our national power systems. Consequently, the country remains short of standards that could place her amongst the top developed nations.
Let us analyze the key elements of national power available to us that can help us realize our cherished dream of economic independence and prosperity of common citizens in line with the national aspirations.
The geography of the country ranks first as an element of national power. For this, it is necessary to understand national geography for comprehending the importance of our location, neighbors and physical features of the country.
Located in South Asia, Pakistan is at the junction of Central Asia and South East Asia. The country has 796096 square km of territory stretching 1600 km from North to South and about 885 km from East to West. The Arabian Sea limits the border in the South.
Four countries, namely China, India, Afghanistan and Iran share borders with Pakistan.
As per the geological Survey of Pakistan, the length of Pakistan’s border with China in the North is 599.100 km and with Afghanistan in the west is 2611.560 km. With India, the border is in three categories i.e., Line of Control (LOC), Working Boundary and International Border. The length of LOC in Kashmir is 861.493 km, (including Line of Actual Contact (LAC) which is 108 km) Working Boundary in Jammu is 202 km and Pak-India International Border is 2100.595 km, the Pakistan-Iran border length is 909.278 km. The coastline along the Arabian Sea is 1058.940 km.
Topographically, the country is divided into distinct features of Northern mountains, Western mountains, Balochistan plateau, Pothwar plateau, Salt Range, Indus plains, and desert areas.
The Hindu Kush, Himalayan and Karakoram ranges and valleys converge here in the North (Gilgit-Baltistan). Pakistan is home to 108 peaks, each 7000 meters and above. Whereas five peaks, K-2 (8611 m), Nanga Parbat (8125 m), Gasherbrum I (8080 m), Broad Peak (8051 m), Gasherbrum II (8034 m) and Broad Peak Central (8011 m) are amongst the highest mountains in the world.
Karakoram Highway (ancient Silk Route) connects us to the Chinese province of Xinjiang through the Khunjerab Pass. A drive beyond Khunjerab into China takes one to Tashkurgan from where one can enter Tajikistan and travel along another ancient Silk Route known as the Pamir Highway.
Another land and railway link exists from Kashghar (China) to Tibet (Lahasa) across the Himalayan range.
In a nutshell, connectivity of road infrastructure networks across Khunjerab leading to Central Asian States and Tibet offers excellent attraction for international tourism under the co-sponsorship of China and Pakistan. Snowcapped mountains in Gilgit-Baltistan are already on the touring calendar for international mountaineers.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) or Belt and Road Initiative runs through this territory and terminates at Gwadar Port (Balochistan). CPEC is of strategic interest to landlocked countries such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan as a short route access to sea and promoting their trade.
The mountains on our Western border are offshoots of the Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges. These are the natural obstacles along our Western borders and a gateway to Afghanistan and beyond.
The Balochistan plateau is a vast tableland that contains a variety of features. Important mountain ranges include Khawaja Imran, Brohi, and Kirthar Ranges. Most of the plateau is, however, a vast tract of desert rich in mines, minerals and natural gas.
The upcoming Gwadar Port is a centerpiece of global attraction in view of its likelihood of becoming the hub of global business/trade. It’s from here that the oil pipelines and railway lines are likely to be extended up to China in the future.
Pakistan is richly endowed with high valued metals and minerals in Balochistan. Benefits can only accrue if the focus is shifted to indigenous exploration, extraction smelting and refining within Pakistan instead of outright leasing to foreign firms.
For economic gains from strategic metals, bans must be imposed on any extraction of raw ores by foreign firms until smelting and refining machinery is set up in Pakistan. Ideally, let there be a new authority established on the pattern of Khan Research Laboratories (KRL). The country will have immense economic windfalls for the benefit of Pakistan.
Desert areas of Sindh offer rich economic dividends as it has the world’s second largest coal reserves which, if tapped, can provide a quantum jump in the economy. Underground coal gasification prototype trials were a success, therefore, we need to consider entering into its commercial production.
Punjab is known for its expertise in agriculture and viewed as a food basket not only for Pakistan but many other countries. Though it also has significant iron, copper and coal deposits.
Geographical locations of Pakistan along the Asian crossroads offer tremendous capability to deny India her dream of connectivity with Central Asia without our consent. Similarly, Indian ambitions to connect her railway system with Iran, Middle East and Europe is dependent on our diplomatic relationship and Indian readiness to pay the transit cost of tariff for such international projects.
No energy lines from Central Asia/Iran can be extended to India without passing through Pakistan.
Transit trade and energy lines are an economic game changer whenever executed, from which Pakistan will benefit due to its geographical advantage.
Concluding from the discussion on the geographical location and landscape, it is the topmost national power of Pakistan we can ignore only at the cost of peril.
It is the second potent element of the national power system. Survival of life and agriculture depends on its availability. Luckily, one of the world’s largest rivers, Indus, enters Pakistan from North and flows into the Arabian Sea near Karachi. The river is charged with waters from rain, snow and glaciers. It provides a critical lifeline for Pakistan’s agriculture as about 60% of cultivable land depends on Indus’ water.
Besides Indus, two other rivers, namely, Jhelum and Chenab flow in from respective sources from North and merge with Indus at Panjnad Headworks.
There are a few tributaries West of Indus, namely River Swat, Kabul, Tochi, Kurram, and Gomal that flow into River Indus and contribute water to the Indus River System.
Water scenario, in brief, presents a very grim picture meriting national response. As per the Indus River System Authority (IRSA), the Indus River System receives an average inflow of 136 million acre feet (MAF) of water. Out of this, 106 MAF is diverted to canals from where 66 MAF is available for agriculture at the farm gates while the remaining 40 MAF is lost due to percolation and evaporation. 20 MAF is lost in saline water regions in the South while another 20 MAF mixes with sweet water in aquifers.
Similarly, As per IRSA, 30 MAF of unutilized sweet water flows beyond Kotri into the sea. The total loss of 50 MAF in the saline zone and sea cannot be readily overlooked by the state (valued one billion USD per one MAF).
It dictates the need for knowledge based response for controlling the loss. Water storage, conservation, integrated management, governance etc. are issues that demand a very brilliant lot of technical management team placed at the helm of the affairs for taking the right decisions. Just to mention the importance of saving one MAF of water, it will suffice to irrigate up to four million acres of land.
In a nutshell, our ever growing water needs for agriculture, domestic, industrial, and forestry dictate a compulsive need for world class institutional arrangements in the water sector for efficient management and development of water resources. We have enough water resources. All that we require is switching over to the enforcement of modern institutional practices.
The agriculture sector is indispensable for economy and food security. It contributes more than 19% to the GDP. About 65% of the population depends on agriculture and about 40% of the workforce is engaged in agriculture. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get the attention it deserves from policymakers despite the fact that Pakistan covers over 79.61 million acres of arid and semi-arid lands out of which 31 million acres are fit for agriculture and forestry. According to the survey of 2019-20, the area under cultivation is barely 24.16 million hectares. The canal command lands are 13.8 million hectares, whereas the remaining land is cultivated by other water resources. 3.68 million hectares are barani lands; range lands constitute 8 million hectares whereas forests cover about 5% of the land area.
In regards to the pattern of cultivation, 58% of the area is sown with food crops, 17% for cash crops, 4% for fruits and the rest for pulses, vegetables and others.
There have been times when Pakistan produced surplus food stock, such as wheat, which was difficult to hold due to shortages in strategic food storage silos.
The situation is changing rapidly in favor of the import of wheat, pulses and cotton. Not a good omen for an agro based country once known for surplus wheat, livestock and dairy products.
An agriculture transformation plan must be developed and closely monitored for implementation. Authorities must intervene to address the widening gap between the projected targets and yield plus the challenges faced by the farmers. Acute crop shortages due to water scarcity are becoming a serious issue.
Authorities must understand the repercussions of shortages in wheat, cotton and pulses and permanent dependency on import.
The way forward is to bring another few million hectares of land under cultivation by enhancing water storage capacity through more dams, control on percolation in saline zones and construction of more canal networks.
Over 1.5 million medium to small scale industries are established in the country, however, many are outdated/outmoded or even closed. Industry plays a key role in indigenous manufacturing and saving on import bill thus saving on foreign exchange.
There is a need for a constitutional body comprising technical/engineering workforce in every province which can provide assistance for industrial revival/upgrade.
Fortunately, Pakistan is blessed with a human race having hereditary links with the Aryans from Central Asia.
It has a rich recorded history in the fields of soldiering, warfare, agriculture, arts, culture, traditions, and value systems.
About 115 million Pakistanis live in foreign countries. Their foreign remittance was USD 29 billion this year. The State can always explore job opportunities overseas and send a large number of skilled/semi-skilled manpower abroad that could remit more foreign exchange to the country.
Armed Forces of Pakistan
Fortunately, we have the sixth largest contingent of Armed Forces in the world, equipped with nuclear systems and fully trained to thwart the enemy’s external and internal aggression/operational designs.
The presence of a strong army is indicative of a safe and stable environment free of any threats to pursue policies that can synergistically rebuild all the elements of national power systems. Military may voluntarily offer security cum technical assistance to whosoever seeks such assistance for the cause of national development.
Civil executive machinery is the backbone for the conception of economy building projects and their execution free of political biases and corruption. A politicized, nonfunctional, paralyzed, inefficient and corrupt workforce in the public sector at any tier will retard the pace of development in the country. Thus there is a need for screening and elimination of undesirables through administrative action followed by selection of merit-based technical workforce motivated enough to serve the country. Reforms in police, accountability institutions with focus on preventive policies, public audit and accounts, Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), Board of Revenue, mines/minerals, excise and taxation will jump-start the economy in a short timeframe.
Honest and well-read political leadership’s presence in the parliament has transformed many underdeveloped countries into modern and fully developed countries. Through better legislation, efficiency of the systems can be ensured.
Media and civil society can act as a very effective overwatch body on public affairs. They need to be formally encouraged and given substantial importance for their feedback on challenging national issues.
Concluding from above, it can be said that we have the entire requisite for national power systems which if developed synergistically under implementation monitoring mechanism by any top apex body, economic windfall and transformation into a modern state would be unstoppable.
The writer is a retired Brigadier who served in NAB and as Prime Minister Inspection Commission Islamabad.
E-mail: [email protected]
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