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That Davos Feeling!

One can describe the Davos feeling till Kingdom Come, you cannot capture it in words (or video) for others.  A truly unique gathering of Heads of State and Government, senior ministers (mainly of finance and commerce), the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) includes world renowned academics and intellectuals (including quite a few Nobel Prize winners), nearly a 1000 of the major companies of the world represented by their Chief Executives, 200 or so of the topmost media personalities of the world (both print and electronics) and selected non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  The 2006 highlight was an address by former US President Clinton.  Among the Heads of State, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Nigerian President Obasanjo, German President Angela Merkel, etc.  Among the celebrities, Muhammad Ali and Shabana Azmi received Crystal Awards in recognition of excellence in their respective fields. I was extremely impressed by the natural humility and grace of Shabana Azmi. Admiring her as a beautiful and outstanding actress is one thing, her contribution to the social sector is really amazing, but to have her mix without any shred of arrogance was really captivating.  One wishes there are more like her, the world is a better place because of people like Shabana Azmi.

The focus this year was on the two emerging economic powers, China and India, and their present and possible future interaction with the countries of the world, and their own region in particular. Statistics cannot really describe the dynamism of a people that attracted US$ 60 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2005, compare it in 2005 to the other country that has done really well India, which attracted US$ 6 billion. China does not have to really sell itself to the world, and it doesn’t, yet its rapid  economic  growth continues to be the first country of choice of investment. It is unfair to compare China to India, which has recently found its feet in the world of investment but is now among the countries of preference for investment.  India this year went all out to demonstrate its economic dynamism, and even though PM Manmohan Singh was not there, Ministers like Chidambram, Kamal Nath, etc were quite prominent in their walkaround among potential investors, almost all of whom were present in Davos.  Starting with an “Incredible India” media campaign, including posters at Zurich airport on the road to Davos, on many vehicles and buildings, etc I believe that the Confederation of India Industry (CII) had a budget of US$ 3 million, it showed, down to the thunderous grand finale of a foot stamping thrilling dance and musical presentation for the Gala Soiree.  Not one penny was contributed by the government or the companies in the public sector, it was a pure commercial enterprise put together by the private sector both in money and content.  All those who did it for their country deserve congratulations, and it is a matter of pride and a source of inspiration for all other South Asians, maybe we can emulate them in future, we have a common objective to wipe out poverty and deprivation from one of the most poverty stricken regions in the world.

India was upstaged to some degree in the political arena by President Musharraf’s dominating presence in Davos. He had a frenetic schedule of media conferences, sessions, bi-lateral meetings, lunches with business leaders and a truly mixed gathering of nearly 250 business leaders, academics, media persons etc who braved the cold and falling snow at 7:00 of a Friday morning for a breakfast session. Throughout Gen Musharraf was in his element, and took pains (and difficult questions) to give Pakistan’s viewpoint on the geo-political situation,   counter-terrorism,  economics,  etc.  At one Session he went from table to table talking to the participants. As a Pakistani it was good to hear adulatory remarks about a Pakistani leader from hard-bitten persona who don’t give their praise easily.  He made no apologies for his being a uniformed person, in fact he contained any criticism by openly stating why it was necessary for Pakistan to progress to democracy in a phased manner.  Someone asked him about a successor, he disarmed the crowd by saying, to quote “this is not a monarchy, when I am gone the system will select a successor”.  I must congratulate Ambassador Masood Khan and the Pakistan Mission Staff at Geneva.  Being a Davos veteran of over a dozen years, one is rather skeptical about Foreign Office gnomes who have been mostly boorish and arrogant in a place where one has to mix well. This year the Pakistan foreign mission was extremely pro-active, the credit must go to Masood Khan. Those (nearly 250) who came for “Breakfast at Davos”, at 7 am at the Hotel Steigenberger with the President included personalities like Khalid Abdullah Janahi (Shamil Bank of Bahrain), Khalid Alireza (Xenel/Saudi Cable Company), Rahul Bajaj (Bajaj Auto of India), Philip Bowring (International Herald Tribune, Hong Kong) Peter Eigen (Transparency International, Germany), Ann M. Florin (The Brookings Institution, USA), Adi B. Godrej (Godrej Industries Ltd, India), Dhruv Sawhney (Triveni Engineering & Industries Ltd, India), Katherine Marshall (World Bank, USA), Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (Cordoba Initiative, USA), Sir Martin Sorrel (WPP, USA), Joseph Stiglitz (Columbia University, USA), Strobe Talbott (The Brookings Institution, USA), Mr Michael Useem (The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, USA) etc.

A few Pakistanis are WEF members, among them Hussain Dawood, Chairman Dawood Group, Tariq Karmani, Chairman PIA, Jalees Ahmed Siddiqi, MD PSO, Zakir Mahmood, President HBL, Lawyers Tafazzul Rizvi and bureaucrat-turned  social worker Tasneem  A.  Siddiqui,   circulated  very   well.   Former  PML  (N) Minister Sartaj Aziz was invited in his personal capacity and contributed to a number of sessions, it was good to see him get recognition of his own volition. Ministers Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, Jehangir Tareen, Awais Leghari (who is also a WEF Young Global Leader), Ms Sumaira Malik and Hina Rabbani Khar circulated well, they need to mix more among the Annual Meeting participants, staying back even when the President goes away. It was wonderful to see a Pakistan hold the world stage in commerce in the form of Dubai-based Arif Naqvi, easily mixing among world business heavyweights in his own right as a genuine article.  We have to somehow get more Pakistani business people to Davos, this is a networking opportunity that must be availed if Pakistan is to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) in any volume that matters.  If FDI is US$ 6 billion for India in 2005, I have no doubt it will be close to US$ 10 billion in 2006. The boost that India gets because of Davos, and also because it is the initiative of the private sector with a lot of encouragement from the government.

Global Agenda produced a wonderful Pakistan Supplement, congratulations are in order to the whole publishing team.  It was hard work, and the entire credit in Pakistan must go to Omer Ayub Khan, Minister of State for Finance, son of the Former Speaker Gohar Ayub Khan and grandson of the man who brought industrialization to Pakistan, President and Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan.  This young man put his heart and soul in the success of this Supplement, and one most congratulate him in staying the course in ensuring that the Supplement happened despite the fact that he got only lip-service support from those who matter, for reasons of their own.  The sad part is that those who spend millions and millions of public money just to get the attention of the President had to be persuaded both in the public and private sector to make their contributions.  The Supplement was  a  good   back-drop  to  the  President’s presence, he was not accompanied by any media men, and unlike others he does not need one.    If  you  have  quality  and  stature  it shows. You don’t have to employ full time PR people churning out propaganda, the world quickly discovers who is a person of substance and who is not.  Riding on PR you can get to a pinnacle, you will sooner or later be found out for what you are. For the sake of this country we must keep sending leaders regularly to Davos who are committed to the country and not to themselves. Pervez Musharraf scores heavily in Davos because he roots for Pakistan with his heart and soul, and it shows.

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