A third of Pakistan was completely waterlogged due to a record flood in August. More than 33 million Pakistanis are estimated to have suffered from this unprecedented flooding. Pakistan’s Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman stressed that the entire country is “all one big ocean, there is no dry land to pump the water out” and called it a “crisis of unimaginable proportions.”
This year, we have more severe damage in Pakistan caused after the global warming, and many other factors including inefficient early warning systems, poor disaster management, political instability, and sprawling natural development may have added to its devastation. Meanwhile, waterborne infectious diseases such as cholera also increased, worsening human security.
This year Pakistan's GDP growth rate, which was expected to be 5%, has dropped to 2% due to the flood and the amount of economic damage is expected to reach $12.5 billion, putting human security into a more difficult condition. At the same time, its nuclear possession and the maintenance of traditional conventional forces have made Pakistan’s finances more difficult, while being absolutely necessary for national security. In the absence of any particular incentives in foreign trade and investment, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor provides momentum for an important national economy, but also causes problems.
Two experts were invited to talk about Pakistan’s domestic and international security environment and situation -- Ghazala Yasmin Jalil is a Research Fellow at the Arms Control and Disarmament Center at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad, Pakistan. Kim Hor Toh is currently on assignment as Chief Architect in Pakistan for Temasek Holdings’ wholly-owned portfolio company that is “building cities and shaping lives”.
Hwang: Pakistan was recently hit by extensive floods. What is the impact of the devastating floods on the people, the economy and politically?
Jalil: The devastating floods have left a third of Pakistan underwater. Pakistan’s Climate Minister Sherry Rehman said that according to a conservative estimate, more than 1,300 people have died and more than 1.75 million homes were destroyed. Approximately 33 million people were affected by the destruction brought upon by the floods. There are 637,000 people living in camps, 3.6 million acres of crops have been destroyed or damaged and 750,000 livestock have been killed. Economically Pakistan is already facing record high inflation of 24.9 percent. According to one estimate, it will take Pakistan $10 billion to rebuild and rehabilitate. Other sources estimate the damage from the floods to be as high as $28 billion. The floods have exacerbated the economic crisis in the country due to huge loss of crops, infrastructure and other livelihood opportunities. The damage to food supplies means that Pakistan will have to import a lot of food in the coming months which will put pressure on the country’s foreign exchange reserves and widen the balance of payment gap. The floods have also put further strain on a country that is already in political turmoil.
Toh: The devastating floods certainly has brought to sharp focus how disastrous climate change can be. Pakistan is a developing country that emits less than 1% of the world’s greenhouse gases but is ranked the 5th most vulnerable country to climate change on the Global Climate Risk Index. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described the massive climate induced flood as a “monsoon on steroids” with melting glaciers. Rising temperatures have been blamed for both phenomena. During July and August of this year, Pakistan saw nearly 187 percent more rain than the national average.
Hwang: Where does national security sit in this current context for Pakistan, which is a developing country?
Jalil: The National Security Policy (NSP) made public in January 2022 puts economic security at the forefront of its national security vision. Launching the document, the prime minister at the time, Mr. Imran Khan said that a country without a stable economy cannot be considered secure. This is so true and it is what lies at the heart of the document. The NSP distinguishes traditional security defined as defense, sovereignty, and diplomacy, from non-traditional security. The latter takes a more holistic approach and includes human security and the well-being of its citizens. In line with the vision of NSP, the Arms Control and Disarmament Center, at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad, where I hail from, has increasingly focused on research on peaceful uses of nuclear technologies, space technologies, emerging technologies and their potential to contribute to the socio-economic development of the country.
Hwang: In the current post-flood crisis, the NSP seems more relevant than ever.
Jalil: Yes, it endorses human security which essentially means food, health, physical, education and security for all, as well as overall economic security. For a country that is struggling to provide all these elements of human security, the floods have presented an unprecedented challenge. At the moment, the extent of the catastrophe caused by the floods is so huge, it is beyond the Pakistani state apparatus’ means to provide for the victims of the flood and to ensure human security for all. At the moment, their only hope lies in the international assistance that is coming in. However, it is coming too slowly and much more is needed. Many victims of the floods may not make it through the next few weeks.
Hwang: Are nuclear weapons necessary for Pakistan’s national security?
Jalil: Nuclear weapons are imperative for Pakistan’s national security. While there are a lot of fault lines and disputes within Pakistan, this is one issue where there is national consensus. Pakistan’s nuclear program is security driven and India specific. When India conducted its first nuclear test by diverting peaceful nuclear assistance in 1974, there was no condemnation from the international community and no any security assurances were offered to Pakistan. Following the self-help principle coined by Kenneth Waltz, Pakistan pursued a weapons program of its own. When India tested and became a nuclear weapons state in 1998, there was immense pressure on Pakistan not to follow suit. However, Pakistan also tested and declared itself a nuclear weapon state. Pakistan was cognizant of that fact that it was responsible for its own security. Pakistan, thus, was a reluctant nuclear state.
Toh: It is estimated that annual aggregate expenditure on nuclear weapons globally is more than $105 billion. Pakistan is also a country that possesses nuclear weapons. This makes clear the enormity of the burden placed on Pakistan’s society simply by the continued possession of these weapons. If these financial resources were directed domestically to health, social welfare and education programs or to development aid for Afghanistan refugees, the positive impact on people’s lives and dignity would be incalculable. As such, I hope that efforts will be made to re-kindle the Lahore Declaration for the sake of the “safety, security, dignity and prosperity” of the people of Pakistan as articulated in Pakistan’s National Security Policy. Another step Pakistan could take is to declare a “No First Use Policy” for its nuclear weapons. Adoption of a policy of No First Use can significantly enhance the regional security climate. To cite an example, when China and India engaged in border clashes in June 2020 that resulted in dozens of casualties, their standing commitments to No First Use helped contain tensions and acted as a brake on escalation.
Hwang: Will Pakistan put human security first and foremost amid the challenging national security situation, particularly with India, Afghanistan and terrorist groups?
Toh: I believe now is the critical moment for Pakistan to put human security first and foremost in its national agenda. This is the time for Pakistan to re-think on how it can build back better. There are many possibilities. For example, Daisaku Ikeda, a Japanese Buddhist philosopher, educator, author, and nuclear disarmament advocate, in his peace proposal titled “Value Creation for Global Change: Building Resilient and Sustainable Societies,” proposed the establishment of a regional co-operative mechanism to reduce damage from extreme weather and disasters, strengthening resilience in regions such as Asia and Africa. He added that these could function alongside global measures developed under the UNFCCC. Pakistan too could initiate such regional co-operative mechanism in South Asia. Having said that, I’m not denying the need for national security either. My position is that the highest priority of the state must be the well-being and security of ordinary people.
Jalil: The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has created a power vacuum and unrest in the country. This directly impacts Pakistan’s security since the Pakistan-Afghan border is a porous one and any instability is likely to spill over into Pakistan. This brings yet one more challenge to a country that has more than its fair share of challenges already. Pakistan has for decades and continues to host 1.3 million refugees, mostly from Afghanistan. The instability in Afghanistan means the refugees cannot be repatriated back to their country. In fact, there are fears that more refugees may come to Pakistan. While Pakistan has helped the refugees for decades and would continue to do so, they are a drain on its economy and also impact its human security. Pakistan has always put human security first and will continue to do so. However, this does not mean that it will dismantle or give up its military capabilities or give up its nuclear weapons capabilities. Pakistan’s military capabilities make its borders secure so that it can focus on economic prosperity and human security. There has to be the right balance of traditional and non-traditional security.
Hwang: The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) aims to improve connectivity for China through Pakistan by stimulating Foreign Direct Investment with infrastructure projects. How is the current context (politically, economically and the devastating floods) for CPEC’s future in Pakistan?
Toh: There is a need now to re-consider more rigorously the impact of climate change, which will adversely affect the infrastructure developed by CPEC in Pakistan. My recommendation is to invest in resilient infrastructure that incorporate the latest strategies on nature-based solutions that are sustainable -- to mitigate and adapt to climate change. I welcome policy makers on CPEC and the government of Pakistan to explore this potential asset class which is aligned to climate finance/adaptation and can deliver superior economic value for Pakistan.
Jalil: The CPEC is the flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative and aims at building power, road, and rail networks within Pakistan. The severe flooding has affected and damaged various power projects, highway routes, and special economic zones. While some projects involving Chinese companies have suffered partial damage, several state-owned companies have had no casualties among their employees and the impact on their projects are controllable so far. They are working to minimize disruption while also offering support to those in need. They have organized construction personnel and promptly repaired damaged roads. The floods have given a set-back to the CPEC related projects but it has by no means sabotaged the projects. It will once again get back on track and bring prosperity to Pakistan and its people in the future.
Hwang: How important is CPEC for Pakistan from a national security and human security perspective?
Jalil: For Pakistan, CPEC is the centerpiece of the prosperity agenda with China. It was originally stipulated to bring $47 billion of investment in Pakistan but the estimate was later raised to $62 billion. Launched in 2015, the project has so far brought $25.4 billion worth of investment to Pakistan. Pakistan hopes the CPEC will uplift its economy to jumpstart domestic growth and alleviate poverty. The project is of great importance. Both China and Pakistan aim to make Gwadar port the economic hub for the region in future. It has great potential since it can reduce the distance for China to import oil and other raw material from the rest of the world. It can also serve as a shortcut for trade with Central Asian Republics. Even CPEC has the potential to be a game-changer for Pakistan since it will improve the infrastructure of the country. The power generation projects will help meet the electricity needs and industry and businesses will grow. This is not only creating thousands of jobs for the people of Pakistan but also helping them improve their living standards. CPEC is set to provide a boost to Pakistan’s economy. Thus, by bringing prosperity to the country and the people, it will help advance the agenda of human security. Human security will improve in the country by bringing food and health security, energy security and economic prosperity.
Toh: We need to ask what the purpose of the state’s existence is -- however successful it may be in economic or military terms -- if it fails to make efforts to alleviate the suffering of its citizens and support their pursuit of a life with dignity. I believe that if national security and human security were to be viewed from this lens, CPEC can be an important platform to further improve the bilateral ties between China and Pakistan beyond being “iron brothers”.
Hwang: What could be the possible problems of CPEC or points to improve?
Jalil: While CPEC is set to bring prosperity to Pakistan and its people, it also has its downside. The development gains are marred by environmental concerns regarding the project. The infrastructure-related development in some areas may increase deforestation and subsequent loss of biodiversity. Gilgit Baltistan which is part of the CPEC corridor remains particularly vulnerable since it is a habitat for diverse wildlife, glaciers, and forests. There is also increase in carbon emissions due to movement of heavy vehicular traffic. Many of the power projects under the CPEC are coal-based which will further increase the carbon emission. Thus, the ecological costs of the project must be mitigated. CPEC projects must be calibrated to protect the environment and ecosystems. Environment-friendly and -focused policies by Pakistan and China can transform CPEC into a development venture that can shape the human security landscape of Pakistan.
Toh: Apart from building resilient infrastructure, there’s also a broader view of resilience that has been articulated. CPEC has the potential to create enormous value and benefit Pakistan as a whole and the future. When I think about this challenge, I am also reminded of the words of the great twentieth-century historian Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975): "But we are not doomed to make history repeat itself; it is open to us, through our own efforts, to give history, in our own case, some new and unprecedented turn."
Hwang Jae-ho is a professor of international studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. He is also the director of the Institute for Global Strategy and Cooperation. This discussion was assisted by researchers Ko Sung-hwah and Shin Eui-chan.