The chronic absence of Gulf-focused research in Pakistan
The Arabian Gulf region has remained one of the most important pillars of Pakistan’s foreign relations. The Gulf states host millions of Pakistani expatriates, and the remittances sent by this diaspora, alongside the textile sector exports, formulate the backbone of Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan has also remained a trusted partner in the security domain and has played its role in the development and modernization of the Gulf States’ armed forces. These economic and security linkages are further reinforced by the cordial interpersonal relationships between the royal families in the Gulf and Pakistani civil and military elites. In this vein, the recent formation of a Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) comprising both civil and military officials to attract investments from these Gulf States is not surprising.
Yet the elephant in the room which has been totally ignored in these policy formulations and the creation of new bureaucratic entities remains the lack of a Gulf-focused research infrastructure. In the case of Pakistan, it cannot be denied that Gulf States have remained in the news, but this has been mainly due to Pakistan’s economic crises and dependence upon financial support from the Gulf. However, discussions in Pakistan’s news bulletins and TV talks shows have never crossed the Pakistan-Gulf tagline and don’t feature actual Gulf experts.
The real disheartening factor remains the scarcity of Gulf related expertise within Pakistan’s academic and research community. Pakistan has a plethora of research institutions and think tanks, However, there exists neither any academic institute nor a policy advisory organization squarely dedicated towards the GCC states. There remain a couple of minor research bodies broadly focusing upon the Middle East, but a specialized Gulf think-tank that is not just an amalgam of retired diplomats and military officials is wanting. Similarly, there has been a dearth of quality research work addressing the enormous political, social and economic changes within the Gulf or one that investigates the development visions propagated by each GCC State.
Pull-quote: Today, the SIFC is created with the aim of attracting investment in energy, IT, minerals, defense and agriculture sectors. Yet the government has not given any attention to developing a Gulf oriented research organization within Pakistan that can critically examine policy formulation and political developments in the Gulf and then chart out relevant policy advice to ruling quarters.
- Umar Karim
Gulf Studies experts within Pakistan are so few that they can be counted on the fingertips, regardless of the prominence of the GCC states in our national and policy discourse. Instead, the “experts” speaking on developments in the Gulf whether in talks shows, conferences or policy deliberations have little to no awareness of the monumental changes taking place within the Gulf. Their discourse naturally remains embedded in the events of the 1970s and 1980s, a time period that has become nearly half a century old and totally irrelevant when it comes to the present-day realities of the Arab Gulf states.
A few days ago, the national assembly’s standing committee on foreign affairs convened a public hearing on the Middle East. It was rather unfortunate but not surprising that this meeting convened by an arm of the country’s highest representative and decision-making forum, didn’t invite any Gulf-focused academic or research scholar who had practically conducted or produced research on the politics, economy, or society of the Gulf.
All this leads to a scarcity of research work conducted by Pakistani scholars on the Gulf and thereby results in a chronic misunderstanding of the political and social upheavals taking place in the region.
Since 2018, there has been a lot of chatter on the need to bring in investments from the Gulf States. Another common discursive theme from Pakistan’s ruling and intellectual elite has been the inclusion of Gulf and Middle Eastern States into the projects of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Saudi Arabia had pledged to invest $10 billion to build an oil refinery in the CPEC-hub Gwadar. Th project could not materialize, but even then, Pakistan’s Gulf research community was nowhere to be seen and not a part of this prized Gulf engagement.
Today, the SIFC is created with the aim of attracting investment in energy, IT, minerals, defense and agriculture sectors. Yet the government has not given any attention to developing a Gulf oriented research organization within Pakistan that can critically examine policy formulation and political developments in the Gulf and then chart out relevant policy advice to ruling quarters.
If Pakistan is to cultivate a special relationship with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States and to encourage them to invest within various sectors in the Pakistani economy, it is imperative that it develops a relevant research ecosystem. Without this structural change in both policy and mindset, attempts to develop long term strategic partnerships with the Gulf region will never succeed.
- Umar Karim is a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on the evolution of Saudi Arabia’s strategic outlook, the Saudi-Iran tussle, conflict in Syria, and the geopolitics of Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. Twitter: @UmarKarim89