Discretion: The better part of valour (on Democracy) -The Nation

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As a first step towards the ‘year of action’, the world is about to witness democracy defended, fought for, strengthened and renewed. The hosting of the first of the two Summits for Democracies on December 9-10 by President Biden is likely to bring together leaders from selected countries to reflect on how best democracy could be safeguarded. The thematic virtual moot is expected to see world leaders, representatives of civil society, private sector and multilateral organisations offering opinions and pragmatic ideas for individual or collective action before announcing commitments, reforms and initiatives with regard to promoting respect for human rights and counter authoritarianism and corruption.

China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela and a host of politically important countries are not invited as they don’t seem to have anything to offer on any of the democratic norms. Thirty-nine countries from Europe and twenty-seven from the Western Hemisphere will participate in the Summit. By not inviting Turkey and Hungary, a clear message has been sent to Ankara and Budapest on the repercussions of re-electing Tayyip Erdoğan and Victor Orbán. More than twenty-five countries with a population of less than one million are invited to participate along with more populous countries like Brazil, India, Indonesia and Nigeria. Iraq and Israel will represent the Middle Eastern region. Little known countries like Tuvalu, Kiribati, Palau, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu are invited but not Egypt, Tunisia and Singapore. The guest list has also revealed that Nepal and Maldives have more democratic charm than Bangladesh. Interestingly, countries of ‘particular concern’ have also been invited perhaps because of their present and future ‘usefulness’ in the regional context.

Pakistan is also invited.

The strategists in Islamabad are faced with a host of dicey questions. To begin with, what should the level of participation be if a decision to accept the invitation is arrived at? Would it be the President or PM or the FM and what should the intended message be? Would consulting China, Russia and Turkey aid in deciding the contours and contents of its intervention if Islamabad decided to attend? The Foreign Office is likely to go an extra mile in its bid to convince the leadership on the merits of attending the Summit despite the fact that a phone call from Washington is apparently still awaited. Shouldn’t it be another opportunity to highlight the massive human rights violations taking place in the IIOJ&K? The plight of forty million Afghans and the omnipresent humanitarian crisis in the neighbourhood could be projected too. In addition, the Government’s enormous drive against corruption could be strengthened at a world forum. In the absence of China, the interests of Beijing such as Taiwan could also be safeguarded.

China does not need Pakistan to safeguard its interests at any global forum let alone a Summit to which it is not invited. In any case, President Biden and President Xi have recently exchanged views on almost all ‘matters of mutual concern’ including the thorny issue of Taiwan. As it is the grass that suffers in a fight between two elephants, any argument put forward by Pakistan in favour of China would invariably invite some undesirable reactions from the US. With the presence of India in the moot, anything said on IIOJ&K, human rights’ violations or minority issues would be forcefully responded to by New Delhi while Islamabad’s arguments would fall on deaf ears just like the PM’s speech in the UN General Assembly did. Representing Kabul’s points of view such as its frozen assets even in the best diplomatic manner would have gone unnoticed.

Certain technical aspects also need to be considered. Would all participating countries be allowed the floor to speak? What if a second intervention to clarify a point or two is not allowed? In case, the Summit issues a joint communiqué, wouldn’t registering a note of dissent on any point raise a few undesirable eyebrows? Considering the diplomatic practice in such moots, the joint communiqué, if it is to be issued, is already drafted and could be changed at the last minute, depending on the Summit’s emerging trend. As such, no participating country is likely to be allowed to make or propose any changes in the final document. Neither would anyone have any leverage over the press release issued at the end of the Summit.

Even the most optimistic observers would refrain from looking at the Summit as a success insofar as the fight against corruption or authoritarianism is concerned. Beyond its symbolic value and reiteration of jargons like ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’, the move is nothing but a reminder to the world particularly the outside ‘enemies’ of the ‘authority’ of one country to lead the leaders when it comes to matters concerning global governance. Being the political neighbour of all countries of the world, the US feels duty bound to ensure peace and stability through democratically accepted rules and norms. Defending democracy seems more important to Washington than addressing the economic issues facing more than ninety-five per cent of the countries invited. So much emphasis on democracy might have catapulted certain philosophies of life and what it entails. The message is clear. Whether or not the human race exists on planet Earth, life and death must take place in a sound democratic system.

Considering the existing volatile geo-political situation in the region; deadlock on Kashmir; domestic economic and fiscal dilemmas including the alarming inflation; FATF’s sword of Damocles; GSP Plus concerns; IMF’s rigidities and stringent borrowing conditions; and above all, the not-so-pleasing trajectory of Pak-US relations, Pakistan can ill-afford to open any additional front. On the other hand, by all accounts, it is not the time to take foreign policy issues emotionally or play a Spartacus. It must be realised that Pakistan’s participation in the Summit has been desired in view of its ‘counterterrorism’ prowess and not because of its democratic credentials. Hence, resisting the temptation of being heard at a global forum, it would be advisable for Pakistan to politely regret its participation.