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The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland wrapped up last Friday, bringing together world leaders, thinkers and change-makers, all vying for solutions to pressing problems facing the world today.

Pakistan was represented at the forum by Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman who panelled a session as well as hosted a breakfast for delegates.

Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar participated in the sessions discussing security, bilateral relations, regional cooperation and development.

Also high on the agenda were climate change and greenhouse emissions as well as the war in Ukraine along with concerns about equity, inclusion and livability.

Hoping for 'more peace and more solutions'

Pakistan managed to get their points across in a series of sessions, highlighting the importance of climate action and reparation, the inclusion of formerly colonial states in the new world order, the Kashmir issue, along with stating their position in the current contentious state of relations between Pakistan and India.

In a talk titled ‘The Rennaisance of South Asia?’ featuring Hina Rabbani Khar, Rahul Kanwal, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravishankar, and Krishan N. Balendra, a panel of speakers from the subcontinent debated whether economies can move past historic differences to find areas of strategic cooperation such as climate action and poverty reduction.

Khar, opening the panel, cited the lack of intent on India’s part as the key reason for rancor between the two countries, after which a heated discussion between the two neighbours ensued.

“I’m not seeing a partner currently in the Prime Minister of India to take this project forward. Previously, I had seen a partner in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Vajpayee. Prime Minister Modi may be very good for his country and on a lot of counts, however, this is a count he is not doing well on,” Khar pointedly noted.

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravishankar refuted this charge and many others, citing how PM Modi wants the entire South Asia to prosper. He was later admonished for being a nationalist instead of a neutral spiritualist by a member of the audience.

Khar’s tirade did not end there.

“Prime Minister Modi, in my assessment, has tarnished India’s secular credentials,” she leveled, and that the “current moves in IIOJK are against the United Nations Security Council resolutions for sure, as well as against the commitments given in the Simla Accord.”

India’s latest stance on Muslims protesting against nationalist policies is one instance Khar highlighted without missing a beat or backing down.

And on and on it went.

Khar maintained her stance and refuted every charge, even going so far as calling out India’s dual stance on terrorism within and outside its borders, alleging: “India draws its identity from being against terrorism by propagating terrorism within the region.”

Balendra, speaking about a way out of this political dissent and onto a path looking forward, said “economic cooperation” seems to be one way out.

The state of affairs between the two countries is evident from something as simple as this trade of barbs on the world stage. The session ended pretty much at an impasse, without an agreement on moving things forward regarding trade, cultural exchange or much else.

Khar, in fact, even went on to request that she not be part of a session that pits her against an opponent refuting every charge of facts, setting her up in an inevitable and unfortunate exchange of “he said, she said” on a platform such as Davos, which allows little positive, constructive debate, and only really a circuitous blame-game.

The recent ban on the exchange of arts between the two countries is only one example of this trickle-down effect of the policies between the two countries.

On the sidelines at Davos, during an interview with Christiane Amanpour on CNN, Khar also tackled the security issue at the border with Afghanistan, rejecting the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam, stating how Pakistan is worried about the security of its borders and does not agree with the Taliban’s stance on womens’ rights and education.

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In a session titled ‘How to Turbocharge Development Finance,’ Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman discussed the impact of global warming speaking of extreme climate putting Pakistan in ‘recovery traps’ due to “serial catastrophes.”

The session also featured Mina Al-Oraibi, Lord Nicholas Stern, Rania Al-Mashat, Masood Ahmed.

“Nobody is covering risk for us, in terms of human capital. With 1/3 of the country submerged, a lot of emerging markets are now submerged with both debt as well as water.”

Admitting that Pakistan needs structural reforms, she urging the global community to sit up and take note, saying: “There has to be some sensitivity to the scale of vulnerability and human fragility” and that “adaptation financing needs to be addressed,” pushing for a “vulnerability index” through which concessional funding and grants come through.

“Food insecurity immediately follows if your topography has been transformed for 10 years with 1,000 km lakes,” she concluded.

On the development side, building mangroves, investing in transport, clean energy, mitigation, water de-salination all help build adaptation development that help overcome loss and damage.

On the finance side, leveraging partnerships, grant components, debt swaps for climate action, concessional finance for the private sector to draw on are all ways to help countries access finance, although the cost of managing risk in developing countries remain high because of the perception of risk.

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Elsewhere at the summit, at ‘Open Forum: The Evolution of Urban Life’, participants discussed the future of cities, and how the success of cities can be measured by the well-being of its people and how well integrated and resourced they are.

Water shelter, access mobility, education, jobs, opportunities are other metrics that measure happiness and well-being. Future cities can look forward to sustainable food production, net-zero impact, as well as how resilient and inclusive they are.

Saudi Arabia was well represented as it presented plans for sustainable futuristic living with their large-scale project NEOM, while CNN’s Fareed Zakaria debated the restoration of peace.

A worsening climate crisis and its gatekeepers

In a session titled ‘A New Helsinki’, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari along with Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, Tanja Fajon, Bogdan Aurescu and Jane Harman discussed current geopolitics in flux.

“International law was constructed around Western interest, at a time when colonialism was more of a reality,” stated Bilawal, pointedly alluding to how the United Nations Security Council is hypocritical when it comes to lending support to certain issues, citing Iraq and Kashmir.

So how much of it was constructive?

What stood out was sharp debate on how to step out of larger issues and adequately plan and build for the future.

The Global South was able to carve out a space for themselves and make their concerns known, while the West kept debating theirs. Although somewhat disjointed, Pakistan managed to make its voices heard in a clear, succinct manner, rounding up the current pressing problems at hand, urging both the global community as well as regional partners to take note.

A lot of debate and discussion went on but what trickled down as workable applicable solutions, in order for the loss and damage debate to convert into positive marked change, remains to be seen.

What’s glaringly apparent is that it remains important to participate and to push oneself on the global stage as successfully demonstrated by COP 27 and the Geneva conference.

To remain part of the debate, long after the news cycle has moved on, it seems, is one way to move forward.

At Geneva conference, Pakistan secures pledges of over $10bn

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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