Prospects For South Asia

In a new report by the Century Foundation, entitled “Wake Up, Pakistan,” climate change is mentioned repeatedly, as it is a central issue that will affect the region. Here is a sampling:

• “Climate change…promises to create serious problems in the future, of which the catastrophic floods in Pakistan in the past few years are only the beginning.”

• “Pakistan must take into account reduced water yields due to climate change…”

• “…the prospect that anthropogenic (man-made) climate change will negatively impact economic and humanitarian development throughout the region… In a scenario of rapid climate change the region could see massive refugee flows as areas become uninhabitable.”

• “In a 2013 poll by the Australian-based Lowy Institute, 83 percent of Indians identified climate change as a big threat over the next ten years.”

The future of Pakistan in particular is highly relevant to the geopolitical concerns of top policy-makers. The report, authored by Michael Wahid Hanna, Mosharaf Zaidi, and Robert Finn (identified as the “Principal Investigators”), quotes Daniel Markey, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, saying that Pakistan, “a country of 180 million people [now 200 million], likely to be 300 million by mid-century, that borders India, China, Iran and the Arabian Sea will matter to the US, no matter what it did or did not do with bin Laden.” Islamabad, Hanna et al write, has a “deeply complex partnership” with Washington, along with “longstanding ties” with Beijing, “Pakistan’s ‘all-weather’ friend.”

Pakistani ties with Tehran are worrisome to senior American officials, who have “objected” to the idea of Iran “offer[ing] to help build natural gas infrastructure to Pakistan.” Further, “Recent press reports suggest that China is willing to finance the construction of Pakistan’s portion of the pipeline.” Such a cooperative deal between Iran and Pakistan, although many people in Foggy Bottom (and the Pentagon, perhaps) may see it as anathema, “has the potential to ameliorate Iranian-Pakistani ties, in turn reducing Sunni/Shi’a tensions, as well as lessening tensions in Balochistan,” and thus “could be an early, positive reaction to an Iranian nuclear agreement” with the western powers.

In a section titled “Pakistan on a Glide Path toward Failure,” the report observes that the United States “is in the initial stages of a strategic reassessment directed to the shifting of resources and attention to East Asia,” which is a pivoting that “should take into account the potential risks of what might happen to the South Asia region in a status quo or declining scenario.”

With regard to the status quo, Islamabad “has no desire for the Taliban to take control in Afghanistan, but its military and intelligence arms are still attracted to using them as leverage.” Worse, “In a deteriorating scenario, we should expect a continued disconnect between elite decision-makers and the population at large,” in which “most of the electorate are losing or have lost trust in the traditional parties” and “could further give strength to fringe elements, including ultra-nationalist and Islamist movements whose interests would diverge even further from the international community’s.” Everyone who is interested in the future of this critical part of the world should read this report, and take heed.

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