By Mehroz Siraj Sadruddin
Originally published at: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=10975&page=2
They say that every cloud has a silver lining, implying that even in bad times, there is always hope for something positive.
Pakistan’s current floods are something of this sort. Amidst wide-spread destruction and devastation, the floods and the inability of Pakistan’s government to deal with them have brought about calls for a change in the nation’s political status quo from within the society.
Just as the floods have provided Pakistanis with a unique opportunity to rise as a nation and to resolve many of their outstanding disputes regarding their national identity and building of infrastructure, they have also given the Western world, particularly Australia, a fresh opportunity to re-assess relationships with that country.
Without a doubt, it can be said that Pakistan and Australia have much in common. There is huge potential for the improvement and strengthening of bilateral relations between the two countries.
Both countries are primarily mining and agricultural economies and have a culturally diverse population which has been further enriched by decades of trans-national immigration.
Both countries have suffered massive natural disasters over the last few years.
The Pakistan that will rise from these floods will surely be different from the Pakistan that was left after the Indo-Pakistan War in December 1971. Given the scale of the disaster covering nearly 4.3 million acres of land, it will have to re-built brick by brick and nearly 20 million lives will have to be rehabilitated.
Australia too has been afflicted by terrible floods time and again, and has managed to re-build houses and infrastructure very quickly. The sophisticated knowledge base that this country has developed in terms of laying down strong infrastructure and building a modern economy should be shared with Pakistan.
Training Pakistani farmers in modern agricultural methods and helping rural Pakistanis in re-building their now destroyed businesses and farm houses in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab, is in Australia’s own interests.
Engagements in Pakistan would benefit ordinary Pakistanis and Australians alike.
Active multi-layer commitments in Pakistan would mean more local jobs for Australians and higher tax revenues for the government; as increasing collaboration would mean greater production of agricultural fertilisers and medicines, among other things, in Australian laboratories and factories.
Increasing trade with Pakistan would enable large Australian businesses to establish their presence in that critically important region.
Already, as Pakistan’s growing trade with Australia in agriculture and textiles is generating more jobs for the vast pools of labour there, it has also been a major source of earning for many small and large Australian businesses as well.
Bilateral trade between Pakistan and Australia has grown by more than five times since 2000 and has been mutually beneficial to both countries. And now, as a result of these floods, there are new, diverse, trade and investment prospects.
By helping Pakistan establish modern agriculture and farming systems, Australia would not only be helping Pakistanis feed their growing population and get employed, it would also be enabling Australians to choose from a wider variety of products being sold in local supermarkets.
In addition, Australian investments in Pakistan, including economic activities being undertaken by AusAid, could be an effective counter-insurgency measure.
An increase in direct investment in the Pakistani economy and in the network of schooling and psychological rehabilitation services provided by AusAid and NGOs like Wold Vision Australia, could provide a cushion-effect to the Pakistan Army counter-insurgency operations. AusAid and the government should provide targeted assistance towards training Pakistan’s labour force in things like modern agriculture and community health.
Special emphasis should be made to reach out to the children who have been affected by the floods and those who have suffered trauma as a result of personal loss or displacement. Provision of education and psychological counselling, along with greater economic assistance would help Pakistanis get back their feet and could well be our best investment in fighting the insurgencies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Aiding Pakistan at this time, would surely win the Gillard Government many friends internationally and could well build a foundation on which Australia could establish a strong foreign policy to increase its presence at the international level and correspondingly, generate more economic growth at home.
However, if Australia and the Western world ignore Pakistan at this point, it would be at their own peril. Ignoring Pakistan could further destabilise the country which could overwrite all the recent gains made by the Pakistani army in its counter-insurgency operations, as successful operations hinge upon the level of economic and relief assistance that is provided in the times of disasters.
The Gillard government should therefore seize the opportunity of re-structuring and reforming Australia’s foreign policy towards South Asia that was tarnished during the Rudd government’s tenure.
The writer is a freelance journalist and an International Studies student at Melbourne’s RMIT University.