Former Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz discusses China’s plan to link its western region with a Pakistani port, a plan he negotiated while in office.

08/17/2016 10:07 pm ET

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Pakistan has received a large sum of money for its participation in China’s One Belt, One Road trading initiative.

Shaukat Aziz was the prime minister of Pakistan from 2004 to 2007. Prior to that he served five years as finance minister and 30 years in the top ranks of Citibank. He also co-chaired a United Nations reform commission set up by then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2007 and is a member of the Berggruen Institute’s governing board. 

Aziz recently spoke with The WorldPost about the topics of his new book, From Banking to the Thorny World of Politics, including China’s significant investments in Pakistan, combatting terrorism and extremism and the future of globalization.

Pakistan straddles a growing geopolitical fault line as hostilities grow between the U.S. and China. It receives massive military aid from America to fight “the war on terror,” [though that aid amount has been under debate recently] yet is also the recipient of China’s largest investment ― $46 billion ― in its new Silk Road project. How will Pakistan balance these interests? What are the opportunities?

That Chinese investment will be used to link up the Gwadar port, a deep seaport on the Arabian Sea started in my time as prime minister, with western China. We negotiated the original agreement way back with then-Premier Zhu Rongji. The Chinese see it as a key node to link their One Belt, One Road trading initiative from China to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea.

‘The fortunes of both [China and the U.S.] depend on a robust world economy.’

This will be a game-changer for Pakistan. Linking up the Gwadar port with China through the rest of the country will vastly enhance our infrastructure. When roads, rail lines and telecom links are constructed they will open up whole areas of the country where there was little connection before to anything. This would include the establishment of new townships and industrial estates.

With respect to how this all fits into the tensions in the U.S.-China relationship, I would say that both of those countries are mature in their outlook of relations with each other. While they certainly have differences on a variety of matters, such as the South China Sea, I see on both sides the desire to work with each other, especially when it comes to promoting global economic growth. The fortunes of both depend on a robust world economy. They also agree on combatting extremism and terrorism. Their shared narrative on these issues is very clear.

If the two countries can work together and lower the temperature based on these common interests, that would mean a win-win for both.

Here, I am a big proponent of engagement instead of allowing confrontational attitudes to simmer and get out of hand. If countries don’t engage, we will never find peaceful solutions to the challenges we face.

If you look back a few decades, you had Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Pakistan, [Gamal Abdel] Nasser in Egypt, the shah [Mohammad Reza Pahlavi] in Iran ― all modernizers with a more or less secular outlook. Now that all has changed dramatically, obviously with the Iranian revolution, but also the growth of political Islam throughout the region, in particular within Pakistan and in Afghanistan where the Taliban endures. What happened?

There are always extreme elements in every faith, but in most cases they are not the mainstream, and that is certainly true in Pakistan.

No ruler or government in Pakistan ever said that we are not an Islamic country. Our official name, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, means that we tolerate people of all faiths and protect them. I don’t think that has changed at all.  After all, we believe in democracy. If the people of Pakistan vote a religious party into power, then they have the right to govern. Yet, we have never had in Pakistan executive rule by an Islamic party, though there have been religious parties as part of coalition governments.

‘To say that we were secular before and are now Islamic is not true. We were always Islamic.’

To say that we were secular before and are now Islamic is not true. We were always Islamic. Islam is a very tolerant faith. It teaches accommodation and sensitivity to other faiths. In Pakistan, then and now, we have freedom of religion and all faiths have freedom to practice their religion in Pakistan. They maintain their own places of worship, and run educational institutions for all. My school education was from St. Patrick’s [High] School in Karachi. My college was Gordon College in Rawalpindi run by Presbyterian institutions.

You were a major figure in Citibank for decades before becoming finance minister and then prime minister in Pakistan. You have spent many years “kicking the tires” in countries around the world in order to accurately assess the situation on the ground. In your role as a global financier, you have been part and parcel of globalization. 

Now, as we see with the [U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald] Trump and Sen. Bernie Sander’s [(I-Vt.)] campaign in the U.S. presidential election, the Brexit and opposition to trade agreements, there is a growing backlash against globalization. Does globalization have a future?

I always separate election rhetoric from reality. I don’t believe we are moving away from the concept of globalization because today and tomorrow, despite what is said, we have to live with each other. Interdependence and connectivity are not policy proposals, but already established and enduring realities. I see it continuing to grow even more.

AFP via Getty Images
“Linking up the Gwadar port with China through the rest of the country will vastly enhance our infrastructure,” Aziz told The WorldPost. 

Any country that builds high walls around it, stops trading and interacting with the rest of the world, stops interacting with or receiving visitors or immigrants from other countries or faiths, will pay a huge price for its isolation. However, borders need to be controlled so that security challenges are minimized.

Having said this, migration is a global challenge. In any country in which migration is so open that it hurts the chances of the locals to get or maintain jobs, or creates security challenges, there will be reaction and understandably so.

‘Any country that builds high walls around it, stops trading and interacting with the rest of the world, stops … receiving visitors or immigrants from other countries or faiths, will pay a huge price for its isolation.’

We have to manage such situations with maturity and wisdom. And ensure that in any country there is enough human capital available to promote economic growth and prosperity.

What is globalization? Globalization means you protect your national interests by linking those interests with other countries and regions to create an environment that will benefit both. Nations need to build and improve connectivity to encourage economic activity to enhance opportunities for their people.

That trajectory of linking up for mutual benefit has been happening since I was born up until today, and I see it growing further in the future.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

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