Interview with Shams uz ZAMAN KHAN
Vasile SIMILEANU: Geopolitics, as a science, was challenged after the World War II. After 1989, it became part of the new world order.
Please tell us about your activities in the field of geopolitics!
How do you define geopolitics?
Shams uz ZAMAN: The lasting impressions of the indu-strial revolution have shaped the Geopolitics since the 19th and 20th centuries. While there exists an enriched debate on what shapes the geopolitics, there is no consensus on the most essential and decisive element to control and do-minate the global politics, economics and events. After the end of cold war some scholars predicted that geopolitics would be replaced by the geo-economics due to complex economic interdependence, multilateral trade and rapid spread of technology in a globalized world. The economic development in Asia, notably in China, Japan, South Korea, India and South East Asian countries, supported the idea of geopolitics being a relic of past and geo-economics as the new global phenomenon. However, the wars in greater Middle East region, the growing power competition between the U.S. and Russia / China has damped these expectations, and geopolitics is back into the global arena. Moreover, emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI & ML), Nano-Technologies, Genetic Engineering, Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS), Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGVs) weapon systems, Quantum computing, cyber and information warfare capa-bilities and climate change have given new dimensions and scope to the geopolitics. It may not be sea, land or air in future which may drive the geopolitics but rather the technology which would determine the course of geopolitics.
We need to distinguish between international relations and geopolitics. While international relations primarily focuses on the inter-state relations, diplomacy and the international institutions which governs these relations to some extent, the geopolitics has a broader view of global politics by focusing on civilization, culture, geography, space and military power.
As an academic, I have to study the developments in the field of arms control, non-proliferation and emerging technologies which may have profound implications on the global politics and regional stability. The power competition and arms race between the great powers and their implications for the regional stability remains my area of work which helps in offering solutions and making policies to address the regional and global challenges.
V.S.: Geopolitics has become of impact in all analyses of political, military, social, economic, cultural and diplomatic developments. Do you think that the classical theories of the geopolitical schools are still relevant?
Shams uz ZAMAN: As I have mentioned earlier that no single theory can be con-sidered enough to cover all the aspects of geopolitics. Land power, sea power, air power and nuclear weapons would all remain important in defining the geopolitics. However, it is difficult to predict that this will remain to be the case in future as well. We can see the power competition between China and the US is increasing in South China Sea. While China is developing its naval military capabilities, the US is also upgrading its Virginia Class submarines to Next-Generation Attack Submarines. In this power struggle, Australia, UK and the US, have signed AUKUS deal, in which Australia would receive three U.S. Virginia class nuclear-powered submarines. These developments illustrate that Mahan’s theory of naval power still remains as much valid as it was before. While air power remains an important factor, the developments in space have made air power less relevant to geopolitics. Mackinder’s Rimland theory is also significant today and manifests itself in underlying reasons of the Ukraine war, which can be seen in the context of power struggle between the NATO and Russia for controlling the Rimland. The deteriorating situation in Ukraine has become one of the most worrying situations for the global peace and stability. Since the end of cold war, the risk of nuclear exchange has never been so high, as it is now. Therefore, the land, sea and nuclear power would remain important factors in defining the geopolitics in future as well, and so would be the classical theories of geopolitics.
However, new frontiers in shape of emerging technologies, information warfare and climatic change may make the classical theories of geopolitics less reliable or in-adequate if not totally irrelevant. At the moment we are not sure how the emerging technologies, especially the AI&ML, and climate change would affect us and the geo-politics. It is too early to accurately predict about the outcome. Nevertheless, we can observe that technology is becoming the key driving factor behind the geopolitics and may soon become the most critical factor in the geopolitics.
V.S.: At university level, please tell us how geopolitics is reflected in the university curriculum (undergraduate courses, masters, doctorates)!
What research institutes, NGOs and other formats are developed for geopolitical studies?
Shams uz ZAMAN: Geopolitics is being taught in universities at masters, Mphil and Phd levels as part of curriculum and elective subject for Political Science, International Relations and Strategic Studies. At Phd level, it is usually expected by students to apply the theories of geopolitics while writing their thesis, if the topic pertains to geopolitical issues. Geopolitical issues are also discussed and debated in seminars and conferences in which university students participates and at times present their thoughts. Several think-tanks also organized regular discussions of geopolitical issues in which at times university students are also invited.
Besides universities and think-tanks, no other institutes or NGOs are focusing on geopolitical studies, because most of the time the focus here remain on the regional issues and stability and less towards the geopolitics. Moreover, the experience for the cold war and bloc politics was not pleasant and therefore, in Pakistan an overwhelming number of people oppose getting embroiled in the power struggle between the great powers.
V.S.: Do you think that there is a need for a better visibility of this geographical science in research environments worldwide? Through what forms and means?
Shams uz ZAMAN: It has become all the more important to further promote and project the science of geopolitics due to changing dynamics and new dimensions in the field of geopolitics notably AI&ML, cyber, information warfare and climate change etc. To find relevant solutions to these new imperatives in the science of geopolitics, it is necessary to critically evaluate this field of study and find appropriate solutions. Not only students, academics and researchers need to focus on this field, but the science of geopolitics needs to be studied by the policy makers as well. Existing in-frastructure of think-tanks and universities can provide a useful platform to promote the subject. Moreover, seminars and conferences on the science of geopolitics and its relevance to our contemporary environment can provide additional mechanisms for promoting the geopolitical theories and its implications at regional and global levels.
V.S.: Should geopoliticians and their theories be made more popular in the media and social media? What about in relations with partner structures in other countries?
Who do you work with to promote geopolitics?
Should an international organisation be set up to promote the interests of this science?
Shams uz ZAMAN: The focus on natural sciences has slightly diluted the emphasis on social sciences and geopolitics which can be projected through dedicated screen time on mainstream media and also on social media. Signing bilateral MoUs and agreements between think-tanks and social science departments of the universities teaching geopolitics and geostrategic issues is a great idea for promoting the science of geopolitics. Think tanks like Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI), Institute of Regional Studies (IRS), Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS), Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), National Defence University (NDU) Islamabad, School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR) and Department of Strategic Studies (DSS) at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad, Department of Diplomatic Studies at Fatima Jinnah Women University Rawalpindi, Faculty of Aerospace & Strategic Studies at Air University Islamabad, NUST Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies Department at National University of Science and Technology Islamabad etc. are all teaching geo-politics and strategic studies, and can be considered for mutual collaboration.
We remain engaged with the think-tanks and startegic studies and political science departments in different universities to promote geopolitics and startegic studies.
V.S.: In the new global constructions, determined by geo-strategic actions, how do you perceive geopolitical pressures on your state?
How should state actors react to pressures from non-state actors?
Is there collaboration between geopoliticians and business?
Shams uz ZAMAN: Due to its location in the region which has the potential to serve as a conduit to South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East, Pakistan has always been facing geopolitical and geo-strategic pressures. During the Cold War, Pakistan was faced with a choice to play a role of the frontline state against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Despite questions raised later regarding the Soviet’s intentions of reaching warm waters, Pakistan did not had a choice to ignore the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which was then considered as the part of communist expansionist ide-ology. Likewise, after the fateful events of September 11, 2001, Pakistan was coerced into choosing between, “either with us or against us” to become a frontline state in the war against terror. That perpetual state of war has devastated Pakistan’s economy by causing losses of over $250 billion in almost 20 years besides destroying the social fabric of the society due to unending cycle of violence and terrorist incidents. This war has also eroded the military hardware besides bringing the country at the verge of economic default.
To defeat the non-state actors or to make them surrender, force alone isn’t the solution, especially if the non-state actors employ ideological references with popular appeal within the masses. The cycle of violence begets more violence. Therefore, the use of bare minimum force is just essential for creating favorable conditions to initiate dialogue, which should involve offering incentives, accepting legitimate demands and concerns and making them to drop unconstitutional and unreasonable demands. The Good Friday Agreement between the British government and Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Doha Talks between the US and Taliban provide an excellent model in that context. Had Doha Talks happened 10-15 years ago, many lives and economic losses could have been prevented.
The non-state actors can always be extended incentives through the businessmen and industrialists. The businesses also needs to be cognizant of geopolitical deve-lopments to make sure that they remain prepared for eventualities and have con-tingency plans for worst case scenarios due to geopolitical developments. Therefore, it becomes imperative to have a direct connection and collaboration between the businesses and geopolitical experts.
V.S.: What are the geopolitical and geo-strategic challenges of impact and how are they reflected in the strategies promoted by your state?
Shams uz ZAMAN: One of the most significant geo-political challenges faced by Pakistan is the power competition between China and the US. While Pakistan has experienced ups and downs in Pak-US relations, it has enjoyed very cordial and friendly relations with China which happens to be the biggest trading partner of Pakistan. Pakistan’s military hardware and capabilities comprise of both American and Chinese origin. Therefore, Pakistan wants to maintain a balance between its relations with the US and China which has become a significant geopolitical challenge for Pakistan, and it has repeatedly reiterated that Pakistan does not want to become part of bloc politics and desire to maintain cordial and friendly relations with all major powers.
The growing military capabilities of India pose one of the most pressing geostra-tegic challenges for Pakistan. Due to weak economic situation, Pakistan is finding it difficult to maintain conventional capabilities which may be imperative for main-taining strategic stability in South Asia and would be necessary to discourage India from showing brinkmanship. The widening gap between the military capabilities could encourage India to initiate either a surgical strike, as was witnessed in February 2019, or could impose a limited war on Pakistan as per its existing Cold Start Doctrine (CSD). These strategic dilemmas would compel Pakistan to rely more on its strategic capa-bilities to deter India from initiating any irresponsible action. This situation obviously poses a strategic challenge for Pakistan for which it has repeatedly offered India to engage in a dialogue to resolve all disputes and issues through negotiations. Till yet Pakistan is awaiting a positive response from India.
V.S.: What impact do geopolitical theories have on the decisions of your country’s leaders?
Shams uz ZAMAN: With few exceptions, mostly the political leadership of Pakistan is not very well conversant with the geopolitical and geostrategic imperatives and the theories which help to understand geopolitics and geopolitical theories. The decision making process in Pakistan presents a hybrid model where several stake holders contribute in decision making process in short term. That has many times resulted in formulating policies which did not contribute to national interest and instead proved counterproductive. It would take a while for the decision makers to remain cognizant of the geopolitics for formulating national policy.
V.S.: Do you consider it appropriate to collaborate with the Romanian GeoPolitica Magazine on these approaches?
We would be honoured to publish your analyses in the magazine’s pages!
Shams uz ZAMAN: It would be great to get in collaboration with the GeoPolitica Magazine on geo-political approaches. I would also suggest that GeoPolitica may con-sider collaboration with the think-tanks and university departments, which I highl-ighted earlier, for joint collaboration, further research and development in this field.
V.S.: New technological changes have led to the emergence of new geopolitical theories such as GeoIntelligence: the geopolitics of information, which we promoted in Romania in 2014, Geopolitics of Artificial Intelligence: the fifth dimension of geopolitics (2019) and Exopolitics: the geopolitics of outer space as the sixth geopolitical dimension (2021), theories that have been presented in the pages of GeoPolitica Magazine.
How do you assess these theories?
In the environment of an academic in your country are there such concerns?
Shams uz ZAMAN: I have been reading the GeoPolitica Magazine from time to time and the new dimensions being reflected in the theories and approaches to the geopolitics. As I have said earlier, the technological innovations and developments, especially the emerging technologies and climatic change, will have profound impli-cations for the geopolitics and we are not very certain how the AI, cyber, information warfare and climate change would influence the geopolitics. We have already seen the value of drones in Armenia – Azerbaijan conflict and Russia – Ukraine war. Even Turkey and Iran, which otherwise cannot be considered as global powers, have emerged as important drone exporters even to global powers. Iran and India, despite being middle powers are developing their capabilities in space and would definitely affect the geopolitics and regional geostrategic dimensions. This clearly shows that the new theories and new dimensions in geopolitics would acquire more significance and relevance than the classical theories of geopolitics.
Pakistan has most concerns regarding these new factors which are creating sig-nificant impact on the geopolitics and regional geo-strategic equation. Like in 2022 and 2023 Pakistan was devastated by the floods which destroyed thousands of homes and millions of acres with ready to harvest crops, due to climatic changes. That devastation has resulted in massive inflation and food shortages. Besides multiple cyber-attacks on some of the critical infrastructures, Pakistan has been victim of the massive disinformation and malicious propaganda campaign which the EU DisinfoLab discovered in 2019 as Indian Chronicles. This massive operation spanning over 15 years and operating from Brussels and Geneva was targeting international institutions, including the EU and UN while serving Indian interests by creating anti-Pakistani and anti-Chinese narratives. Therefore, Pakistan is greatly affected by the new trends and dimensions in the geopolitical theories about which the GeoPolitica Magazine has covered in different issues.
V.S.: Please specify the impact of geopolitics on your state’s international relations, military strategy, economy, energy resources and security!
Shams uz ZAMAN: Geopolitics has profoundly influenced the Pakistan in almost all the domains. Like the US – China power struggle in Asia Pacific has affected Pakistan’s foreign policy and military strategy. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been negatively affected. The US has concerns over CPEC which the US perceives as an attempt to establish a Chinese foothold at Gwadar, which is situated at the mouth of Persian Gulf, which happens to be one of the busiest oil supply corridor. Chinese authorities have at times cut the investments in CPEC project due to slow pace of different projects either due to US pressure or scarcity of funds due to weak economic situation.
As the Indo-US partnership is growing, due to their mutual hostility towards China, and the US now perceives India as a strategic partner and counterweight balance to China, Pakistan’s security and economic interests have come at stake, Whatever the military hardware and technology is provided by the US to India, it would amplify the Pakistan’s security concerns with regards to regional military and strategic balance.
Likewise, despite facing serious energy shortages, Pakistan has not been able to import gas and electricity from its neighbor Iran, due to US – Iran rivalry. Pakistan has not been able to establish bilateral defence cooperation with Iran as it is likely to antagonize the US and could result in US sanctions against Pakistani entities. Similarly the Turkmenistan – Afghanistan – Pakistan – India (TAPI) Gas Pipeline project could not be completed despite over 20 years due to geopolitical and security situation and Pakistan continues to suffer from energy shortages.
Shams uz ZAMAN KHAN is currently working at Arms Control & Disarmament Affairs (ACDA) as part of the ACDA team evaluating international obligations / issues in Pakistan related to Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) issues. He is a graduate of National Defence University Islamabad (M.Phil. – Strategic & Nuclear Studies) and University of Peshawar (M.A. – International Relations). He was a visiting teacher at Quaid i Azam University, Islamabad, and Roots International University & College (affiliated with University of London), Islamabad
Shams uz ZAMAN KHAN is the author of Iran and the Bomb: Nuclear Club Busted (co-authored with Ghani Jaffar), Pindori Publications, Rawalpindi, 2013 and has significant scientific contribution in: Islam: A Worldwide Encyclopedia (Multiple Entries), ABC-CLIO, Greenwood California, 2017, The World Community and the Arab Spring (Chapter “Iran’s Role in Arab Spring: A March Back to Authoritari tanism?”), Palgrave Macmillan and Springer International, United Kingdom and Switzerland, 2018, Problems and Prospects of Non-Proliferation Regime: Pakistani Perspectives (Chapter “Nuclear Safe-guards, Technology Transfers and NPT Compliance (Article III of NPT)”), Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad, 2021. He also wrote multiple studies and articles in: CISS Insight, A Journal of Strategic Studies (2020), GeoPolitica (2014-2019), Policy Perspectives (2018), Regional Studies (2017), Journal of Security & Strategic Analyses (2015-2017), IPRI Journal (2012, 2015), Strategic Studies Journal(2012), NDU Journal (2011).