Pakistan at Davos


Dr Huma Baqai

CREATING a shared future in a fractured world was the theme of the World Economic Forum which was held on January 25th, 2018 at Davos, Switzerland. The positive thing about Pakistan was that the view put forward was not fractured. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Mr. Bilawal Bhutto, the two protagonist from Pakistan’s side, complimented each other and put forward their best foot to enhance Pakistan’s image. Bilawal was at his best in the panel discussion and also when he spoke to the Indian media. Actually after a very long time, Pakistan’s narrative was put forward in a convincing fashion. His video clip with the Indian journalist went viral in Pakistan and India. It was appreciated by friends and foes alike. Mr. Bilawal Bhutto took a clear position on the role of Pakistan’s military and this time it was accepted.
His participation in the BBC World debate, Davos, with renowned names such as Joseph Kahn, Managing Editor of New York Times; Anna Belkina, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of RT; and Jimmy Wales, Co-Founder of Wikipedia, was well received. The panel discussion was moderated by BBC’s Zeinab Badawi; it deconstructed the very real challenge that fake news and disinformation pose to democracies. Bilawal was also the only Pakistani invited to the young global leaders’ dinner hosted by Børge Brende, President of WEF, and Jared Cohen, the CEO of Jigsaw. He met with other high-profile guests, including Jared Kushner, Prince Hussein bin Abdullah of Jordan and Haakun Magnus, Crown Prince of Norway.
A senior Chinese diplomat endorsed the views of PM Abbasi at the Pakistan breakfast which was also attended by Bilawal and Ms. Sherry Rehman. Bilawal’s presence was both appreciated and acknowledged by the Prime Minister. In fact, Sherry Rehman was asked to respond to a question by the Prime Minister. This cordial atmosphere was a breath of fresh air after what is the norm in the country when the opposition and treasury interacts in public. What is also heartening for Pakistan was that one of the best attended speeches at the forum was that of Liu Hu, a member of China’s ruling Politburo, who promoted the One Belt and Road initiative. The participants were of the view that the Chinese initiative had started rivaling American-led international institution. The China’s One Belt Road is the new WTO – like it or not, said Joe Kaeser, Chief Executive of Siemens. PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also in his session titled “The Belt and Road Impact” at the World Economic Forum said, results from China-Pakistan Economic Corridor were already starting to show. CPEC is about developing infrastructure, power plants, airports, seaports, highways and Special Economic Zones for export growth. Sharing the results of the over $ 56 billion CPEC, Abbasi said, the cement industry has grown by 56 percent, while exports are up by15 percent, adding that the project has resulted in the creation of “greater investor confidence.”
Last but not the least, I want to put in a word about the Pakistan Pavilion and Pakistan breakfast in Davos, hosted by Ikram Sehgal, Director Pathfinder Group and Mr. Jawed Akhai, Chairman Martin Dow. It was a private initiative which went a long way in putting forward Pakistan’s point of view and its soft image at the global forum. The Pakistan Pavilion had been set up at Panorama, a local hotel. The Pakistan Pavilion is joint venture of Pakistan’s Pathfinder Group and Martin Dow Group in association with the Swiss-Asian Chamber of Commerce. Among the guests was Rana Fawad, Chairman of the Lahore Qalender and MD of a Qatar based oil company. Europeans and Asians had come to see what Pakistan offers and there cannot be better place than the prime gathering of global elites, said Rana Fawad. Khawar Rafiq, Chief Executive Officer of the Rafiq Engineering Industries, said that ignoring Davos gathering is not an option. He said that the Pakistan Pavilion is the first step to make the country’s presence felt.
This experimental initiative was a walk-in affair where Pakistani entrepreneurs/officials in IT media, Financial Services (including microfinance and financial inclusion), philanthropy, etc. were available to interact with international investors, experts and officials. On both the days, speakers from Pakistan spoke about Pakistan’s economy, gender empowerment, law and order situation, etc. Dr Ishrat Husain spoke about the challenges and the opportunities in Pakistan. At a dinner at the Schatzalp among those who spoke were Shabbar Zaidi of Ferguson, Dr Daniel Ritz of PTCL, Jerry Torres of AES Torres (USA), James Rubin former US Press Secretary to the President, Dr Marc Siegel of California (USA), Sidra Iqbal, Aamer Mahmood of CPNE, Ambassador Zamir Akram, SPD, Jawed Akhai and Zarrar and myself. Among those who braved the cold were Saifuddin Zoomkawala, Editor Business Recorder, Wamiq A. Zuberi and Fawad Rana.
More such initiatives should be taken, Pakistan business community definitely has the capacity to do it. The visibility of Pakistan next year should be many folds if the headline this year of New York Times article “At Davos, the Real Star May have been China, Not Trump” is true. The article also mentioned the Pakistan breakfast at Davos several times. The Pakistan Education activist Malala Yousuf Zai was also the face of Pakistan at the forum. When asked about her plans for the future, she categorically said, “I hope that I can go back to Pakistan some time and see my country.” I hope we can wake up to a Pakistan, that Malala can come back to and Pakistan celebrates her coming back.
— The writer is Associate Professor, Dept of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts at IBA Karach