Friday, July 10, 2015

Daily Times Editorial July 11, 2015

Summit in Russia The Russian city of Ufa is now on the map of the geopolitical world. Hosting the 15th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and seventh BRICS summit, the city saw many luminaries and leaders converging on it. Though neither Pakistan nor India are members of either organisation, they enjoy observer status at the SCO and are on the verge of being admitted to full membership. BRICS groups Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, a conglomerate that accounts for a fifth of the world’s economic output and 40 percent of its population. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who arrived in Ufa with his delegation from Oslo, Norway, thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for putting the SCO and BRICS families together under one roof, allowing extensive exchange of views and interaction amongst the guest countries and with their host Russia. As announced earlier, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Prime Minister Narendra Modi met on the sidelines of the summit, promising afterwards they were ready to discuss all issues. The foreign secretaries of both countries had been summoned to Ufa and in a joint press conference announced that Prime Minister Modi had graciously accepted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s invitation to visit Pakistan for the 2016 SAARC summit being hosted in Islamabad. In reply to questions about the Mumbai attacks case that has incensed New Delhi over the release on bail of the main accused Lakhvi, it was announced that the matter would be expedited and the two countries’ national security advisers would meet in Mumbai to sort out the friction produced by the delay in closure of the case. It should be recalled that until recently, it seemed that Pakistan and India had once again fallen into the pit of mutual recriminations, a war of words and even worse, recent allegations by Pakistan of the Indian intelligence agency RAW’s involvement in affairs in Pakistan. Considering what had gone before, the mature and restrained outcome of the two prime ministers’ interaction felt like drops of cooling rain on a hot summer day. Prime Minister Modi, accused by the opposition Congress Party back home of being unnecessarily provocative in his attitude to Pakistan, came in for more stick for ‘having come to his senses belatedly’ vis-à-vis Pakistan. But domestic political considerations seemed as far away from Ufa as the geographical distance from Islamabad and New Delhi and it was a relief to see the beginnings of normal business between the two South Asian neighbours once again. In remarks to various fora at the summit as well as the media, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif outlined what he believed was the best approach to regional peace. His ideas revolved around four proposals: people-to-people contact, confidence building in peace and security, trade, and regional connectivity. The last in particular is these days a favourite theme of Nawaz Sharif’s government since it swung the agreement with China to build the potentially game changing China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Connecting people, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif argued, brought in its trail peace and prosperity. He emphasised Pakistan’s determination to combat and eliminate terrorism, implying an appeal to all regional countries to cooperate in this regard. In Pakistan and India the focus of the media and commentators has inevitably focused almost exclusively on the expectations, or lack of them, from the meeting between the two prime ministers. However, this narrow focus detracted from the historic and tectonic shift occurring in the world and in the region. The US-led west, which has been a dominant factor in the affairs of the countries of the region since independence, seems to be slowly but surely being replaced by two great powers, China and Russia. The addition of Brazil and South Africa gives BRICS its international outreach and consequent credibility. The groupings of SCO and BRICS, both sharing membership of China and Russia, may be a long way from emerging as the alignments of the future, but the steps already taken by them and the attraction these have for other countries near and far may itself prove a game changer for the world and the region. First and foremost, Russia and China are cooperating, with other countries alongside, in constructing a new architecture of global politics and economic and financial regimes that will challenge the dominance of the Bretton Woods institutions and provide the countries in these groups an alternative road to cooperation and development than the one inherited from colonialism and consolidated by neo-colonialism. A new world is truly being born before our eyes. We only have to open them to see it.

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