‘A German Perspective on Pakistan and its Big Neighbours’: A Talk by Professor Conrad Schetter

‘Power depends on economics and not on military forces’ – Watch Video

Professor Conrad Schetter, Associated Member of the Center for Development Research (ZEF), Directorate of the University of Bonn, Federal Republic of Germany recently addressed the members of The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on A German Perspective on Pakistan and Its Big Neighbours. He is a notable scholar and some of his coauthored publications include Local Security-Making in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (2016), Security: What Is It? What Does It Do? (2016) and Protected Rather Than Protracted: Strengthening Displaced Persons in Peace Processes (2015). His key expertise concerns the civil-military nexus, the politics of interventions and local politics. Professor Schetter is also involved in numerous ongoing projects including On the phenomenon of so-called Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan and Protected rather than protracted – Strengthening refugees and peace.

In his talk on 13 December 2016 chaired by Dr Masuma Hasan, he emphasised Germany’s strong relationship with Pakistan pointing out in that regard that the name of Allama Muhammad Iqbal, Pakistan’s national poet, is very significant because he studied in Germany and was awarded his PhD from Munich University. He also highlighted that it is high time for Pakistan to realign its tactics in its own neighbourhood because in today’s global politics, economic power is more important than military or strategic power.

Coverage about the event in Dawn can be extracted as:

The talk revolved around Pakistan’s role in the international community, its interconnectedness as well as its increasing isolation from global politics. Professor Schetter stressed the need for the narrative in the region to shift from geopolitics to geo-economics. In his view:

Power depends on economics and not on military forces or approaches.

He attempted to explain how despite the economic development within Pakistan via the CPEC being considered positively, in reality many of Pakistan’s neighbours were several steps ahead with economic engagements on more fronts and with several countries simultaneously.

These projects include the Chabahar Port, as well as several other Eurasian projects where a new economic corridor was being built up. Thus, he said, it was imperative that Pakistan engaged economically with other countries, in specific its immediate neighbours.

India, he said, was in a much better position economically and had tapped into this advantage internationally, while Pakistan had over the years lost trust in several quarters, and one such was in Central Asia.

Professor Schetter is also director for research at the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), and will be the first member to represent peace and conflict research in the Board. He has written extensively as well as worked in the field in countries such as Afghanistan, India, Iran, Pakistan, and in certain Central Asian states such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. He shared several anecdotes with regards to his travels which highlighted an increasing isolation of Pakistan in a global context and said:

A couple of years ago I was invited by a think tank in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. When we talked about Eurasian projects … they shared their fears mostly about Afghanistan and its growing Islamism. But Pakistan was considered the real problem. There is a great loss of trust in respect to Pakistan while there is a great deal of trust in India.

Turning his attention to India, he said both countries needed to resolve their political issues which contributed to instability in the region. Trust building, increased economic trade, multi-track diplomacy was needed between the two, as was a departure from nationalist, territorial logic. He several times, during his talk, also emphasised on the German government’s support towards helping Pakistan resolve its issues.

Innovation is essential, according to Professor Schetter, towards Pakistan becoming more connected with the world. One such way, he elaborated, was to set up a knowledge-based economy which the country lagged behind in.

The CPEC was also debated on and in his discourse, his word of caution concerning China’s engagement in Pakistan centred on whether China really considered Pakistan a friend or a mere economic partner. He said that feudalism and the biradri system is preventing any social change in Pakistan’s society.

However, some of his observations regarding Pakistan were counter-argued by Dr Masuma Hasan. She specially negated his view about how the country needed more social change to economically evolve and said:

I think there are very few countries in the world, under-developed or developed, in which there has been so much social change as in Pakistan. It is estimated that within the next few years, 50 per cent of Pakistan’s population is going to be urban, which is a big social change.

She also spoke about how issues of feudalism and the biradari system in Pakistan are seen by western scholarship in a stereotypical way. Summing up, she concluded:

Why don’t you focus on how these systems have broken down? How so much change has come about in traditional power relations? Go into the field and you will see the change.

Germany’s consul general Rainer Schmiedchen was also present at the occasion and expressed his desire of more joint research projects between Pakistan and Germany.

It was also said that China’s focus is not on Gwadar, but Eurasia, building high-speed railway system between China, Central Asia and Russia to Europe. It will make traffic of Kabul from China to Europe much easier and cost effective in comparison to sea route. Pakistan deserves a better image because if you follow German media, Pakistan is always mentioned when something bad has happened connected to religious extremism and violence and sometimes Germans got the impression that Pakistani politics was using insecurity in the country to attract international politics.

Though it is just a road between two countries, Pakistan and China, CPEC is highly critical and provides Pakistan much potential to become a cross road, linking several countries. Many of its neighbours have also already stepped up similar activity. Iran’s Chahbahar harbour, close to Gwadar is an example. Moreover, Iran has already built up a full corridor to Turkmenistan, working it to link Afghanistan to Central Asia. On the other side, the Turkmenistan has built a new railway system to Afghanistan.

Professor Schetter placed key value on the Indo-Pak relationship for the whole region. There is a need of economic cooperation between both countries, as it is a tool for trust building. Germany has very good contacts in economic sector of both countries and could play a role of bridge for Indo-Pak economic cooperation. He was also critical of the relationship between Pakistan and China saying that “friendship” is not the right word to describe it. China only advancing its own economic interests and now Pakistan has to think hard about if it will only depend on China or will it take the time to enter into new partnerships elsewhere.

‘A German Perspective on Pakistan and its Big Neighbours’: A Talk by Professor Conrad Schetter