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DAVOS UPSTAGED!

The theme for the Annual Meeting 2011 of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the beautiful ski resort of Davos-Klosters, “Shared Norms for the New Reality, very aptly mirrors the topmost concern of many leaders today.  The erosion of common values is growing in a world that is increasingly becoming more complex and interconnected as well as undermining public trust in leadership, future economic growth and political stability. The rapidly developing events in Egypt emphasized the importance of the four thematic clusters under consideration, aiming to provide each participant with strategic insights, viz (1) responding to the new reality, (2) the economic outlook and defining policies for inclusive growth (3) supporting the G20 agenda and (4) building a global risk response mechanism.

Contrary to common perception, far from being a get-together of global leaders with a club of rich people to exchange notes in the daytime and have a ball at night, Davos provides a unique platform for leaders of governments, civil society, industry and the media as well as a wide spectrum of decision-makers to trade ideas on how to solve common pressing problems.

Describing all the 200 plus Sessions crammed into 4-5 days would take more than a book, a sampling should capture the tone and tenor of the discussions, e.g.  “Insights on China” was moderated by Victor Chu, it had Liu Jiren, Chairman and CEO Neosoft Corp, Wang Boming the Editor-in-Chief of Caijing Magazine, Wu Zhipan, Executive VP and Director, Peking University and Zhang Xin, CEO, SOHO, as the panelists.   Various political priorities, economic realities and business issues that would shape China’s growth and social dynamics as well as various dimensions including indigenous innovation, legal reform, real estate and role of the media were discussed.  Sessions were addressed by many Heads of State and Government, among them Russian President Medvedev, France’s Sarkozy, Germany’s Angela Merkel, etc. Former President Bill Clinton and Microsoft’s Bill Gates were among the hundreds of celebrities who chaired discussions.

I surrendered my slot as a panelist on the “New Reality of Terrorism” Session alongwith Audrey Kurth Cronin, Professor of Strategy at the US National War College, USA, India’s Home Minister Chidambaram and Minhaj-ul-Quran International’s Muhammad Tahir-Ul-Qadri, for Tehrik-i-Insaf leader Imran Khan to more effectively represent Pakistan’s political stand on the subject of terrorism at its present “ground zero” location.  Moderated by John Chipman of the IISS UK, terrorist methods and threats evolving ten years after 9/11 and lessons learnt thereof were discussed, revisiting root causes, new incubators and challenges.  Predictably (but disappointingly given his Harvard education background) Chidambaram’s mindset had a single point agenda, to focus only on religious terrorism, “cross-border terrorism” being the Indian catchword for Pakistani-based terrorist groups.   A terrorist has no religion, which religion encourages killing of innocent people? Unfortunately the Indians live in deliberate self-denial about their own home-grown terrorists, Indian PM Manmohan Singh has described the Naxalite menace as the greatest single threat to India.

The Confederation of Indian Industry’s (CII) “India Inclusive” initiative dominated proceedings this year, the Chinese were low key but present in ever increasing numbers reflecting their growing economic clout.  The Indian private sector must be admired for leveraging the business magic of the Davos network to the hilt, it has paid rich dividends over the last two decades with Indian companies competing equally now with others on the global stage.   In contrast Pakistan had only four businessmen present and did not even send an official delegation.   Even our Embassy in Geneva did not bother to give Davos any importance, they were probably too busy covering up the remaining evidence of the “Cotecna” case.  The Indian business community are ably supported by their Government, at least half a dozen ministers and Union Secretaries taking part.  By being absent our government represents their general apathy and ineptitude towards everything except making money for themselves, the enduring disgrace is the private sector comprising our many rich Pakistani businessmen.   While not paying taxes is a national pastime, symbolized by billionaire leader Mian Nawaz Sharif, they must contribute part of the enormous profits they pocket towards the general good of their business community brethren, emulating their Indian counterparts.  WEF members Arif Naqvi, Husain Dawood, Zakir Mahmood, etc (Mian Mansha seldom bothers to come or send anyone) cannot shoulder the burden forever.

Attempting to keep the Pakistan flag aloft with my traditional PAKISTAN BREAKFAST, I hosted instead a PAKISTAN LUNCH.  With neither the President nor PM gracing Davos, Imran Khan graciously represented Pakistan’s viewpoint, the discussions being moderated by my son, Zarrar Sehgal, a WEF Young Global Leader (YGL).  We were honoured by the presence of Ross Perot, Jr, Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, Frederick Kempe and a host of academics and billionaires, including many Indians like Nand Khemka, the Godrejs, the Bajajs, Dhruv Sawhney etc among them. Imran spoke passionately and with fervour, even though I disagree with him on some issues particularly with respect to the “war on terror” and how to deal with terrorists (only in the brutal language that they understand), the audience responded positively.  While fielding the Q & A Session well, Imran could not really address the question of what he would do on “his first day in office”.  Blessed with plentiful charisma and untainted by corruption , Imran must now concentrate on re-vamping his organisation, very few one-man shows can translate their genuine popularity into votes.

Parents must have reason to be proud of their children, Zarrar became a YGL on his own merit as an outstanding lawyer, not relying on the family fortune and/or heritage.  Manizae Jahangir, Express TV Anchor, did Pakistan proud by making it on her own as a YGL, not because of her mother. The first female President of SCBA, Asma Jahangir has every reason to be proud of her.  While YGLs are a fairly select crowd, many Pakistani young men and women with merit and accomplishments to their credit are waiting in the wings, among them Mir Ibrahim Rahman, who excelled during his year at the Kennedy School of Government.  Hopefully he will make a WEF YGL soon.  Our hopes rest in such of our young men and women, they have their work cut out for them to rescue this country out of the murky depths our generation have sunk them into.

Davos this year was upstaged by unprecedented events in the Middle East.  Tunisia provided the backdrop for a peoples’ uprising that sent Ben Ali and his Mafia-like family scurrying for cover, the street revolt in Egypt against Hosni Mubarak was astonishing and revealing.  People’s angst against the corruption that had made “either beggars or thieves” out of the great silent majority manifested itself in raw street power.  The Egyptian Army’s stance was a revelation, “we will not fire on the protestors, they have a right to demonstrate for their legitimate demands”.  With this astonishing statement barring the formalities, the revolution was complete.  Yemen is next, Jordan could probably well follow. Will the seething anger sweeping the long suffering population of the muslim countries bypass Pakistan?

Asif Zardari is too smart to hang around (and that is a pun) and wait for the streets to propel him into history.  Our Supreme Commander well knows, unlike Hosni Mobarak who found out too late, how the Armed Forces would behave against a similar street protest.

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