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Pakistan was well-represented at the World Economic Forum in Davos, with a robust contingent in attendance. Newly-appointed Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar, and Federal Minister of Climate Change Sherry Rehman were all present among the thousands of dignitaries, entrepreneurs, and thinkers attending.

The female ministers in particular contributed to insightful sessions debating pressing topics affecting the world right now. On the agenda: war, refugees, geopolitics, climate change, Afghanistan, women’s rights, extremism and much more. In fact, on most panels, they were the only women holding court.

And they did not hold back.

Articulate and outspoken, they leveled sharp rebukes to world leaders and the policies that are creating a ripple effect of untenable issues in the region and within our borders.

In her opening remarks at a session titled 'Afghanistan: The Path Forward', which also hosted head of the UNDP Achim Steiner, and journalist Ishaan Tharoor, Khar stated how the lack of conversion of a peace negotiation into a withdrawal agreement was the single-most enabling factor leading to the collapse of Afghanistan, arguing how Western principles and philosophies are sometimes misaligned with the outcomes they are trying to achieve — instead, proving entirely detrimental to the cause.

In this case, the state of women’s rights and their education in Afghanistan.

“Domestic compulsions” felt in Congresses and Parliaments, she continued, dictate policies that affect a nation thousands of kilometres away, one that has immense repercussions in the surrounding areas and the region — much, much more than just “reputational hazard” at play, referring to the hasty US pullout and its aftermath.

The message from the international community is clear, she stated — that they will “enable the collapse of the Afghan economy” through economic decisions taken and how from this entire scenario it is evident none of us have learnt any lessons from history.

Khar of course was referring in part to the $9 billion in frozen reserves that are not available to the roughly 40 million people of Afghanistan.

She wasn’t finished.

In a session titled 'The Geopolitical Outlook', which also hosted speakers Mirek Dusek, Andrzej Duda, Gregory W. Meeks, José Manuel Albares Bueno, H.H. Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and Pekka Haavisto, she spoke about the dangers of “weaponising economic tools” without realising its impact, referring to Afghanistan, which has left ordinary Afghans at the “receiving end of your moral compulsions,” because “peace and stability” sometimes requires making decisions that may not agree with your “moral landscape.”

She went on to call out the international community on being a “propagator” and “enabler” of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

In 'Strategic Outlook on South Asia', Khar called out India’s lack of trade within South Asia, citing how it engaged in just 1.7-3% of regional trade with its neighbours. She stressed the importance of intra-regional trade, saying how countries are more inclined towards exporting to further countries, almost “ignoring geography,” which has proven costly.

The session was moderated by Haslinda Amin of Bloomberg and hosted Salman F. Rehman, Rajan Anandan and Hari S. Bhatia.

Rehman, in a session titled 'The Future of Democracy', along with Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, Christopher A. Coons, Egils Levits and Timothy Snyder, pointed to the unequal wartime response of the West towards the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and Afghanisan, accusing countries of prejudice against “browner cultures” citing “little recognition of the huge inequality in the West” and a “growing chasm between the global South and the West”.

Scathing, but necessary.

The forum wrapped with an intense exchange of ideas, possible scenarios for mitigation of the world’s plentiful problems and many unwelcome reckonings.

On the other hand, it also played out like a sounding board of policies already underway without the willingness to re-examine and re-work best laid plans following discussions and feedback at a democratic platform of ideas such as Davos.

As Rehman chastised, even the structure of forums such as these is relegated to collecting sound bites for the press instead of actual constructive debate.

Without that, there does not seem to be much room for breakthroughs, alignments or amendments.

In the words of the moderator, reflecting on Khar’s comment at the world being at an “inflection point,” who ended the session on a positive note, hoping that at this time next year the world will have “more solutions and more peace.”

Fingers crossed for next year.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Faiza Virani

The writer is Life & Style Editor at Business Recorder

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