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Pakistan-ASEAN Ties

Formation of an organization where none other had existed, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been the most significant multilateral group for the past forty-eight years. Since the end of the Cold War, ASEAN has grown increasingly influential whereas much of the West and most emerging markets continue to suffer because of the current global recession. Despite all odds the leading ASEAN economies have recovered and are thriving. Further, the formation of ASEAN has increased cohesion therefore helped prevent interstate conflicts in Southeast Asia, despite several brewing territorial disputes in the region. Yet it has been seen that the ASEAN has the potential to exert a bigger influence in the region and especially Asia.

In August 1967, when ASEAN was founded, Southeast Asia was at the center of world events. The Second Indochina War was raging, following the withdrawal of France in 1954 and the end of the First Indochina War that year. In Malaysia, a powerful communist insurgency had only recently been defeated, while in Indonesia an army coup, launched in part to head off the rise of left-leaning political parties, had unleashed massive communal bloodshed. The Cultural Revolution and China’s support for several communist movements in Southeast Asia, as well as the region’s fears of the United States abandoning its commitment to Southeast Asia, led the non-communist countries in the region to form ASEAN.

The original five members—Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines—varied from military dictatorships to city-states to nascent democracies. ASEAN was founded with a limited charter, even compared to many other regional organizations. The goal was to preserve long-term peace in Southeast Asia and, by unifying, to balance the roles that outside powers, including the United States, China, and Japan, played in Southeast Asia.

Over the past two decades, ASEAN has been the leader of East Asian trade, economic, and security integration. ASEAN has been the only organization consistently focused on regional integration. It has been more successful in promoting trade integration and creating regional forums for discussing security issues than it has been in promoting more concrete security integration or economic integration such as more open borders, joint development of resources, and common currencies. This is due to ASEAN’s structural weaknesses, which make it hard for the organization to lead on security and economic integration. In other respects, these failures are simply due to the fact that East Asia contains countries with wider-ranging levels of development, political cultures, and political systems than in Western Europe, and thus integration is more challenging. Its relation with other countries in the region thus becomes crucial in many ways.

Over the last 2 decades or so, Pakistan has sought to forge close links, promote trade and increase cooperation in the diverse fields with the countries of Southeast Asia and their regional organization ASEAN. Pakistan s drive to promote relations with the ASEAN region, and particularly seek entry into the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was motivated by political, economic and strategic considerations. It was given a strong impetus by Pakistan s endemic rivalry with India which stole a march on Pakistan by becoming a full dialogue partner of ASEAN as well as by gaining membership of the ARF.

Pakistan recognizes, and in turn is recognized by, all the 10 countries of the ASEAN. However, it does not have resident consulates in all Asean capitals nor do all the ASEAN states maintain diplomatic outpost in Islamabad. Pakistan s relations with the ASEAN countries are normal, friendly and unmarred by any conflict or disputes. They cooperate with one another on full range of international issues.

Pakistan had long-standing trade relations with several ASEAN countries- notably with Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma and the Philippines. During the last four or five years Pakistan s trade with Southeast Asian countries has increased, but the volume to trade stands at US$ 1.5 billion, whereas India s trade has been estimated at $12.5 billion and rapidly rising. The balance of trade is heavily in favour of the Asean partners. Most of the Pakistani exports to Asean are agricultural primary product and low-tech industrial goods. Pakistan was accepted as a sectoral dialogue partner in 1993 and eight sectors were identified for Asean-Pakistan cooperation. They were: trade, industry, investment, science and technology, drugs and narcotic control, human resource development, environment and trade.

Pakistan’s relation with ASEAN is being enhanced with a commitment towards mutual benefit in many sectors. In this globalized era of interconnectedness, there seems to be greater gains in cooperation with regional players that share a lot.  ASEAN and Pakistan have expressed the need to intensify their efforts to make their Sectoral Dialogue mutually beneficial and substantive. Also, to encourage and facilitate direct contacts between their respective government agencies to develop practical and feasible joint cooperation activities by matching the priorities of ASEAN.

It is believed by the Pakistani leadership that Pakistan can revive its economy by enhancing trade with big economies of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) including Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Pakistan has a huge scope to promote exports to ASEAN region and for that we should take some policy measures to encourage the private sector to capture a better share in this attractive region. Analysts believe that ASEAN is a very important region for Pakistan as it is a huge market of 550 million people therefore Pakistan gives priority focus to promoting trade with ASEAN countries. Pakistan has the potential to increase trade with ASEAN region by $ 4-5 billion in a few years and private sector should be facilitated to realize this huge potential. It is also observed that Pak-China Economic Corridor as a very significant project offers tremendous trade opportunities to ASEAN nations and by developing close relations with Pakistan, ASEAN countries could get direct access to Central Asia through Gwadar Port.

It is asserted that Pakistan is the gateway to Middle East and ASEAN countries should take more initiatives to strengthen relations with Pakistan to take full benefit of its geographical location to reach other markets. Expansion of trade and investment between Pakistan and Asean countries is eminently feasible and will be mutually rewarding. There is considerable degree of complementarity between the two sides. Tourism is another large untapped area of development.

Pakistan has a lot more to offer than many Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia and Singapore which have yet been able to develop a thriving and profitable tourist trade. The governments and leadership from all ASEAN countries and the Pakistani side need to reach a state where relations should reward not only a few but all stakeholders involved.

Amna Malik

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