Geography Flunkies? Pakistan Wants to Join ASEAN

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 6/26/2012 01:10:00 PM
Of the few opinions I share with George W. Bush, I have long argued that Turkey should be allowed to join the European Union. You know all of the counter-arguments: Turkey is a security risk because it shares borders with Iraq and Syria. Turkey is a dominantly Islamic country, whereas most European nations share a Judeo-Christian tradition. Turkey is a populous nation whose EU membership might see a tsunami of migrants heading for European states. And so on and so forth.

While many of these concerns can be legitimately discounted, I never thought that I would face a similar conundrum in our part of the world, Southeast Asia. Of all the darndest things I could possibly read, how about Pakistan wishing to join ASEAN? On the occasion of predominantly Islamic nations Indonesia and Pakistan signing a (rather limited) FTA, the head of Pakistan's largest chamber of commerce suggests his country is very much interested in this possibility:
Pakistan wants to join the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) and Indonesia should support it in its endeavour, Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) President Mian Abrar Ahmad said in a statement on Monday.
There are many difficulties here. Being a Citizen of the World, I of course have no objections to Muslim nations in ASEAN, for population-wise it is already predominantly composed of citizens of Islamic states. Aside from populous Indonesia, you also have Malaysia and Brunei in ASEAN. That said, consider the following impediments:
  1. Geographically speaking, Pakistan is in South Asia, not Southeast Asia. More specifically, it is on the Indian subcontinent. It certainly doesn't share borders with any Southeast Asian nation since it lies west of India;
  2. Pakistan is (logically) already involved in regional groupings in its part of the world, notably the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) with lots of its neighbouring 'Stans and a smattering of Middle Eastern states. Both SAARC and ECO already have their own regional integration efforts, so I don't exactly see why joining ASEAN makes sense. While the latter's integration project may be further along in a number of respects, Pakistan's advantage with SAARC and ECO is that it's no Johnny-come-lately to them and thus has more leeway in determining the form of integration as they proceed.
  3. Counting on the support of your co-religionists is hardly a sure-fire thing in ASEAN. Recall that Timor Leste has long relied on the Philippines to get the predominantly Roman Catholic nation into ASEAN, but to no avail as of yet.
So, while I certainly don't have any grudges against our Pakistani friends, I would strongly suggest that they make the most out of the regional groupings they already belong to instead of reinventing geography as we know it.

UPDATE: Before I forget, there is precedent for Pakistan being (mis)classified in a Southeast Asian grouping. Witness the "Southeast Asia Treaty Organization," composed of, erm, the United States, France, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand and Pakistan. Originally intended to be a mutual defence arrangement alike NATO, it never really took off and was disbanded by 1977. Here is the US State Department explaining away the presence of extra-regional participants--including Pakistan:
Most of the SEATO member states were countries located elsewhere but with an interest in the region or the organization. Australia and New Zealand were interested in Asian affairs because of their geographic position in the Pacific. Great Britain and France had long maintained colonies in the region and were interested in developments in the greater Indochina region. For Pakistan, the appeal of the pact was the potential for receiving support in its struggles against India, in spite of the fact that neither country was located in the area under the organization's jurisdiction. Finally, U.S. officials believed Southeast Asia to be a crucial frontier in the fight against communist expansion, so it viewed SEATO as essential to its global Cold War policy of containment.
That was back when the US suspected India of having the potential to fall under the Soviet ambit given its then-closer ties to the USSR than the US. Note though how this was a security arrangement, not an economic one. Then again, it demonstrates the US is not exactly a stranger to convoluting geography for its pet projects even today.