Pakistan: Navigating the New Global Landscape

The changing world order has been a common debate not only today but throughout history, especially after the rise of China and the resurgence of Russia.

The changing world order has been a common debate not only today but throughout history, especially after the rise of China and the resurgence of Russia. The United States’ dominance in the liberal world order has weakened, resulting in a shift away from the U.S. unipolar world order. Although once a key player in world politics, it is improbable for the U.S. to exercise its leadership position. Changing geopolitical and geo-economic landscape, advancements in new technologies, and the spread of information and communication technologies have resulted in the transformation of the global power structure. Shifts in the global order, as a result, have implications for every state due to the interdependent system of the current globalized world. The changing international and regional landscape also affects Pakistan, most importantly, its security. Thus, it is important to explore the implications of the changing order on Pakistan’s interests and actions.

Since ancient times, the globe has been structured by multiple power centres, and this system persisted till the end of World War II. A bipolar disorder emerged in the post-World War II era following the defeat of the Axis powers and the collapse of the European empires. The world then was divided between two contrasting ideological blocs, that of the United States and the Soviet Union. However, the post-Cold War era experienced a shift towards unipolarity, the American hegemony. While the US enjoyed being a dominating global power, the 2008 financial crisis and China’s rise had already sparked a profound shift in the balance of power. The current order has shifted again towards multipolarity. As highlighted by Rizwana Abbasi in her article, Global Power Shift and Foreign Policy Choices for Pakistan, the weakening hegemonic liberal order led by the U.S. is due to China’s increasing power and economic strength, Russia’s aggressive resurgence, Europe’s quest for strategic independence, the rise of India, and the instability in the Middle East.

This is the fourth time in the past century that a new power structure has emerged due to power redistribution among multiple governments. Some are of the view that a multipolar world gives rise to instability and enhances the opportunity for conflicts. Thus, in a multipolar setting, the world becomes a disordered stage where no single power can dominate. Muhammad Ali Ehsan expressed his view in his article, Great powers, peace and conflict, that whenever the most powerful state tries to exclude the other existing great powers from the international system, a new balance of power is formed. The United States has caused Russia to feel alienated by expanding NATO towards the east. Additionally, by continuously lecturing China’s leaders on how to govern their country, the US has also caused China to feel alienated. It is in the interest of the U.S. to maintain its international dominance. The world’s rising powers are experiencing conflicts near their borders, brought by the US, with Taiwan backed by the US against China, and NATO’s eastern expansion and the Ukraine crisis against Russia.

The pursuit of military and economic power is a consistent trait of great powers, but differences in development rates result in strength inequalities. States constantly strive for power as they are “power maximizers”, but their power capabilities change over time. Therefore, in the current order, there is a quest for power, which has changed the unipolar world to a multi-polar world.

Russia has been using its political power to challenge US dominance in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. Under Putin, a revived Russia is trying to proclaim its military might and economic power. It aims to become an active player outside its region, limiting the U.S. presence in the Middle East and expanding in Asia. Similarly, China is actively seeking military advancement with an increasing defence budget, along with its economic growth. China has been aggressively encroaching on different regions, damaging the influence of the US. An important example is the Belt and Road Initiative, through which China aims to connect the world with railway lines, fibre optics, roads, and maritime routes. Hence, strengthening its influence. Therefore, these states are attempting to challenge the status quo, weakening the US-established “liberal order”.

Moreover, the US to counter the rising powers has attempted to reestablish its dominance and has pivoted towards Asia. Mainly to suppress rising China, the U.S. has strengthened its alliance with India. According to Sufian Ullah and Zeeshan Hayat, within the context of the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, India is viewed as a “net security provider” and a regional stabilizer in the great power competition. India is balancing its relations with the U.S. and China while also strengthening ties with global and some regional powers to promote its independent growth. However, India’s rise and increasing alliances in the current order pose an increased security risk to Pakistan.

Delving into the implications on Pakistan, Abbasi highlights that the United States Indo-Pacific policy is certain to have unfavourable effects on Pakistan, considering its strong alliance with China and friendly relations with the United States. CPEC is plainly under pressure from the United States, which views it more as a strategic relationship than an economic integration effort. Thus creating a difficult situation for Pakistan as CPEC holds economic significance. Moreover, the Indo-US cooperation in global institutions may lead to increased U.S. pressure on Pakistan on issues such as human rights, Pakistan’s nuclear program, and counter-terrorism.

Michael Kugelman, providing an American perspective, said, “Pakistan is a beneficiary of a changing world order.” He also asserted that the current era of uni-polarity is coming to an end as emerging nations such as China, India, Russia, and Turkey are rapidly growing in power and influence. Pakistan has cordial relationships with emerging countries such as China, Russia, and Turkey. Hence, it could benefit Pakistan. He highlighted that he does not support the view that Pakistan’s importance in the international community is diminishing; rather, Pakistan is the main supporting character in this entire narrative as long as the CPEC continues.

Pakistan’s foreign policy is shaped by regional and global orders that are always changing, and this has a direct impact on the country’s security. The evolving world order could bring a set of challenges for Pakistan, mainly in terms of security, which it needs to address. Most importantly, the strengthening of the Indo-US alliance will remain a major challenge. Pakistan, however, needs to address it with neutrality. Like India, Pakistan needs to extend its ties with global and regional states. It could also further strengthen its alliance with China and be less dependent upon the United States while maintaining its friendly relations. Hence, adopting a balancing strategy could help Pakistan survive in the evolving world order.

Malaika Afridi
Malaika Afridi
The writer has majored in Politics and International Relations from the University of London International Programmes. Her interest areas are disarmament and arms control, nuclear non-proliferation, great powers, humanitarian action, sustainable development goals, and climate change.