Friday, November 23, 2012

Daily times editorial - Nov 24, 2012

D8 Summit Islamabad can take comfort in the fact that the D8 Summit of eight major Muslim countries could be held at all. Given Pakistan’s security situation, especially in Muharram, which happened to coincide with the dates of the summit, its holding per se could be considered an achievement. The summit was attended by six heads of state and government, with Prime Minister Hasina Wajid of Bangladesh and President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt absent and represented by their number twos, although for different reasons. While the Bangladeshi prime minister stayed away because of her insistence on a formal apology by Pakistan for the atrocities in East Pakistan in 1971, the Egyptian president had his hands full with the monitoring of the Gaza ceasefire he had helped broker. Nevertheless, the grouping of these eight significant Muslim countries promised much, particularly in the areas of economic cooperation, about which this summit’s emphasis was on the energy requirements of the bloc. The summit adopted the 35-point Islamabad Declaration and the Charter of D8, along with a document titled Global Vision 2012-2030. The underlying thrust of all these documents is to make the 15-year-old D8 platform a dynamic bloc for economic cooperation, which it has so far failed to emerge as. All the declarations and adopted policy documents of the summit therefore leave the lingering suspicion that as usual they are long on rhetoric and short on decisions and steps to get to the lofty goals therein. The most critical area in which the D8 countries vowed to cooperate was in the development of traditional and new forms of energy, the latter including nuclear power and renewable sources. The nuclear sector is fraught with all kinds of problems and questions, if the track record of Pakistan’s successful quest for nuclear weapons and Iran’s suspected efforts are considered. However, on the other two sources of energy, there could hardly be any disagreement. Pakistan and Turkey recently have not had a happy experience regarding the ship-borne Rental Power Plant docked in Karachi and awaiting a settlement so it can leave without having generated even one megawatt. The affair only serves to underline the difficulties in overcoming obstacles to the desired cooperation, and certainly does not mean that such mutual help is not possible. President Asif Zardari took over the chairpersonship of the D8 from Nigeria at this summit for the next two years. Using the occasion, in his address to the summit the president underlined what afflicts Pakistan grievously at present but has the potential (and in some cases actuality) of threatening all these countries: the hijacking of Islam by jihadi extremism and terrorism, which the president vowed to combat. In his speech the president also pointed to long standing problems in the Muslim world that still await resolution, foremost amongst these being Palestine (in the recent bloody context of Israel’s’ aggression in Gaza) and Kashmir. Unfortunately it must be admitted that on both these issues, as well as many others, the Muslim world does not speak with one voice, a point underlined by President Ahmedinejad of Iran. The crucial question still hovers in the air despite the high sounding rhetoric emanating from the summit about solidarity and cooperation. What after all has the D8 achieved in concrete terms during its 15-year existence? Summits and conferences are not to be decried, but unless they lead to the materialisation of the intended cooperative efforts, they run the risk of remaining empty of real significance. In a time of global economic crisis, the role of economic blocs such as the EU, ASEAN and many others in safeguarding their members’ interests has assumed even more importance. However, not all such efforts in the past have borne fruit, the case of SAARC providing a negative example. Although the summit expressed its intent to boost the bloc’s trade from the present $ 130 billion to $ 507 billion by 2018, the declarations of the summit remained confined to generalised pledges and commitments, without any concrete decisions being taken (at least visibly) to translate these expressions of intent into reality. Multilateral forums such as D8 are often accused of focusing on symbolism rather than substance, a tendency that militates against the realisation of the promise they hold. Under Pakistan’s chairmanship, the real test will be whether the next two years put new energy into the evolution of D8 and realise some, if not all, of its desired goals.

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