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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.

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Midsummer Realities

From June 21 to 23 the World Economic Forum (WEF) which traditionally holds it’s Annual Meeting at DAVOS in the winter (except for the 9/11 Special held in 2002 in New York) organized an EXTRAORDINARY Annual Meeting at the Dead Sea Resort (400 meters i.e. 1300 ft below sea level) near Amman in Jordan in the middle of summer. His Highness King Abdullah 2 of Jordan graciously put the full resources of the State to making the Summit a success, the location was an inspired choice, all the major religions of the world commenced in this region. Close to the crucible of civilization a sense of history permeates through the senses. One would expect insecurity because of the proximity of the West Bank and suicide bombings, the audacity to hold the event in such circumstances not only underscored the confidence and courage of the young King but the attendance bestowed a positive vote of confidence by the world’s elite. Even though the normal complement of Heads of State and Government were missing, second string leaders from the region were in attendance.

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Strategic Options

It was not comfortable being either an American or a Pakistani, for widely differing reasons, in Davos this year. The World Economic Forum (WEF) is normally a love-fest, antagonism is almost never aired in the aura of optimism that is normally prevalent. Because of the aversion of most Europeans towards war in Iraq, Americans (constituting a fair percentage of the 1500 persons attending WEF) found themselves in defensive mode even though the much-respected US Secretary of State Colin Powell made an eloquent case for war to topple Saddam Hussain. While one is used to Indians reacting in an offensively defensive manner to our bringing Kashmir on the table, this year the Indians took a back seat orchestrating a world consensus against Pakistan’s very existence as a responsible member of the comity of nations. Speaker after speaker recommended coordinated action against Pakistan’s nuclear potential, there was no fig leaf of innuendo anymore. The straightforward allegation put us in the business of exporting terrorism. The general consensus was that Pakistan’s nuclear facilities were a potential threat to the world, the premise being that if Musharraf was overthrown, the 650000-man Pakistan Army would be overwhelmed by “200000 dedicated Jehadis”. Instead of waiting to be subjected to “nuclear terrorism” their convoluted logic was that the world would be far better off launching a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan, even in priority to Iraq! These were no ordinary persons, they happen to be the world’s top leaders in government, business, academics, etc the elite of the elite! More depressing was to see the blissful ignorance we are living in on returning from Davos. This country is in a state of permanent Basant, God help us!

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Tripartite Trade Talks

The three nation South Asia tripartite talks in Dhaka on January 15 will be long on rhetoric but terribly short on substance. More than Pakistan and Bangladesh, it is India that needs to augment her trade within the sub-continent to give a choice of economic amelioration to her teeming millions. Pakistan and Bangladesh do get residual benefits but not on the same scale as our large neighbour. While Prime Minister Hasina Wajed’s excellent initiative to get us talking on such lines must be appreciated it must also be clearly understood by all concerned that there are two major inhibiting factors that will govern the future of trade and commerce in the South Asian sub-continent, viz (1) the core problem of Kashmir and (2) the fear that India’s industry may overwhelm that of its neighbours because sustained protection over the years and economy of scale because of numbers makes its products much more competitive.

History is witness to the fact that not only was the South Asian sub-continent the crossroads of commerce but its raw material and products provided for the shifting of the focus of industry to the western world. Strange as it may seem now, Bengal, which encompasses modern Bangladesh and India’s west Bengal, was once the granary of the sub-continent and for many East Asian countries. The Sultan of Istanbul would get the hull of his warships made in the islands of Hatiya and Sandwip. The commerce was so frequent that piracy flourished in the Bay of Bengal as Dutch and Portuguese pirates joined in with locals to make the islands of the coast as safe havens from where to operate. Piracy was only less frequent in the Arabian Sea, off the coast of what is now Pakistan and that only because of the strength of the Arab naval forces in the area. To the exclusion of the rest of South Asia, the historical silk-route passed through territories now comprising Pakistan. As everyone knows crime only flourishes off lucrative targets and there was no more lucrative target than the trade and commerce off the coast of the South Asian sub-continent and in the mountainous areas of the North. This situation has now been totally reversed, from a net outflow of goods and produce there is almost a one-way inflow of goods and produce. Because we were mercilessly exploited by the British, who denuded us systematically of our resources (and our skills), for the past fifty years after independence the countries of South Asia have been playing catch-up with the rest of the world. Because of a myriad number of reasons we got left behind in the throes of the Asian miracle. Now with the Tiger economics becoming pussycat, it may not have been a bad thing after all. The unfortunate fact remains that the peoples of South Asia need to cooperate to better their economic conditions very much as other regions have done or else we will be left so far behind the civilized countries might as well put a “CHINA WALL” around us to contain the anarchy that will ensue and become the order of the day. Already we are showing signs of that savagery in refusing to live as amiable communities.

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Mexico 1994, Pakistan 1996?

A confidential informal note being circulated in the World Bank seeks to compare the economic situation in Pakistan today with that availing in Mexico prior to the economy crash in 1994. To quote “Over the last three years, Pakistan’s macroeconomic performance has been disappointing. Real income per capita has hardly grown, while inflation and urban unemployment have risen. Although the country’s long-term growth potential remains favourable, prospects for sustained non-inflationary growth of per capita income are fraught with serious downside risks. The economy remains overly dependent on the cotton sector and highly vulnerable to external shocks and financial instability. Because of the unfavourable economic performance, there has been a noticeable rise in social and political pressures and loss of popularity for the current government. Concerned about potential short-term adverse impact of economic adjustment or key interest groups, the government decided in June 1995 to slow down the pace of reforms. However, this decision led to loss of credibility of government’s macroeconomic policies, emergence of serious fiscal and financial imbalances and eventually financial turbulence. Although the authorities are now trying to steer the economy back on track, and thanks to cotton’s bumper crop economic growth is forecast to accelerate, nevertheless, Pakistan’s macroeconomic/financial problem is much more serious than assumed by the authorities.” unquote. All in all, this is rather a damning indictment of Ms Benazir regime’s economic policies.

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