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Trends from World Economic Forum by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

At the start of every year annual meeting of World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland sets the diplomatic tone for the year. Listening to speeches and on stage discussions during the event helps understand position of various high level decision makers. But the chatter around dinner tables and back stage is critical in understanding the thinking behind the public postures. Despite these efforts the analysis of trends still has some element of speculation in it. This year talk of terrorism took back stage while conventional security i.e. respecting sovereignty, economic cooperation and appreciating balance of power was center stage. The buzz words used by most of the world leaders were regional stability is key; peace is important; economic recovery and cooperation is needed. Each term has different meaning from the perspective of various stake holders inside and outside the states. For instance when an Army General says he wants peace that usually means he wants the enemy General to surrender at his terms. When a diplomat says he wants peace then he means that their national interest should be preserved.

The darling of this year’s event was President of Iran Hassan Rouhani. All eyes were on his posture and statement. He sat in the audience when Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe made his speech. It was a symbolic gesture that Iran is looking at Japanese model to revive her economy. It seems that with respect to Iran there is an underlying agreement between leaders of Europe and Russia. Russia is working closely with Europe to create a diplomatic wedge from supporting the hard line position of USA towards Iran. The voices of complaints are only coming from USA while Europeans seems to be not concerned about any misinterpretation or non-implementation of terms of the interim nuclear agreement. The interest of Europe is two fold. To get access to steady flow of fossil fuel at a stable price and secondly to find a market for their products in a resource rich country that has the money to pay for it.

In return for this Europe and Russia are eager to accept Iranian influence and interests in Eastern Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Bahrain. In his speech President Rouhani presented two themes. One is that extremism and terrorism can only be combated by supporting and promoting moderation. Second that Iran is serious in working within international community to contribute for regional stability and economic growth. Iran is presenting itself as a moderate voice in a region where majority of the governments are allegedly supporting extremism, non-state actors and terrorism. This is a mistake as it could lead to sectarian tension. Through my back channel friends, I have suggested to them that Iran should rather present herself as one of the significant members of the Muslim world by taking some symbolic steps in this direction. For instance include a Sunni scholar in their supreme council headed by Supreme Leader Seyed Ali Khemenei as well as appoint a Sunni Minister in the cabinet with an important portfolio. These step will not only give representation to 15% Sunni population of Iran but will send a strong signal that Iran is not a promoter of a particular sect but interests of the Muslim community at large. This will reduce tensions not only between states but also create harmony among people in these countries. It will be a blow to extremist groups that promote sectarian violence.

The Iranian deal lead by Europeans and Russians has changed the regional calculus and energized the Russian lobby in India. Indian Army still relies on Russian arms and enjoys good security relations with her. A nexus could form between Iran, Russia and India in South and central Asia. Recent diplomatic spat with USA over treatment of a diplomat has surprised many including policy makers in both these countries. It has created an opening for Pakistan to reassert to Americans that they have been a more reliable partner in the region. But learning from the past we need to approach it with caution and not over do it. Pakistan has to create balanced relations with all world powers i.e. Russia, China, USA and European Union.

Some time ago an US foreign policy analyst had proposed that China should not be allowed to enjoy an easy ride in its back yard but rather tensions should be raised so that their defense burdens rise and internal sense of insecurity is created. To achieve this objective a three pronged strategy was adopted. One was to present India as a regional competitor to China’s hegemony in the region. Second was to create fissure between Russia and China by offering to accept Russian influence in Middle East and North Africa. This involved accepting Russia as a stakeholder in Syria, Iran, Ukraine and Afghanistan. Third increase tension between China and Japan in South China seas. To execute this strategy Japan will be required to assume the role of a counter force to work with countries in the region to check China’s claims to certain sea lines; defense zones and small islands. Japan may soon be shedding her pacifist role and embark on militarization. The countries in the region still remember the atrocities committed by Japanese military during Second World War and Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Yasukuni shrine in East China Sea islands to honor the dead soldiers will create fears of reemergence of those past ghosts. Instead of taking a military position it will be more appropriate for Japan to rely on soft power and form a regional platform to resolve the issues. Prime Minister Abe in his speech focused on these strategic points. He said that Japanese economy is being transformed for growth which is now termed as abenomics. He also emphasized that protection and uninterrupted flow of merchandize through sea lines is important.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasized that Chinese are focusing to rely on soft power by promoting its culture, language, trade and offer aid rather than militarization of the region. He equated Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s visit to the shrines as an American visiting Nazi graves referring to the Japanese-German alliance during the Second World War. He expressed in strong terms that USA is promoting and supporting tension in the region which will be detrimental for world peace and stability. He reiterated that Chinese government pursue a non-interventionist policy and respect the sovereignty of other nations.

British Prime Minister David Cameron seems to be getting away from the EU project and only wants a relationship that is more a free trade agreement than a membership of the larger community. Britain is looking towards China, Middle East and Japan for increased investment in its financial markets and foreign direct investment.

European Union leaders were quite clear that there is an economic recovery on its way and they no longer have an appetite for wars or instability in the Mediterranean which can spill over to their lands. They were quite concerned with their aging populations and encouraged influx of fresh immigrants from Asia and Africa. Prime Minister of Sweden offered a model that other European nations can pursue to form a uniform immigration policy. This is an opportunity for Pakistan to explore fresh protocol with EU countries to export skilled and semi-skilled labor. Substantial presence of Pakistani immigrants in these countries will also help in improving diplomatic, trade and cultural ties as well as earn foreign exchange.

It seems the world is getting ready to enter a phase of relative peace as a new balance is emerging among various world powers. I hope Pakistan will not be left behind and will play its cards effectively to embark on era of progress and prosperity.

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