With the advent of the New Year, as usual, the World Economic Forum hit the headlines. It is a non-profit foundation located at Davos in Switzerland and its mission is cited as "committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.”
The Forum holds its annual meeting at the end of January that brings together some 2,500 top business leaders, international political leaders, economists and journalists for up to four days to discuss the most pressing issues facing the world.
Although it is not an assembly of heads of state or government, yet many attend. There is no question that the occasion affords a rare opportunity for interacting with a large number of businessmen and attracting foreign investment.
But Pakistan’s most prominent spokesman, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was ignored at the recent World Economic Forum. He was reportedly not invited to speak at the formal four-day meeting due to the Panama leaks scandal at home that spells big trouble for him. Instead, the man to steal Nawaz Sharif’s thunder was the former army chief General (r) Raheel Sharif.
Ikram Sehgal, a defence analyst and an ex-army officer, who is a foundation member of WEF said that the former army chief who spoke at three formal sessions during the annual WEF meeting, “presented Pakistan’s case forcefully, that would help to project a positive image of our country.” Raheel Sharif presented an authentic and convincing narrative, gutting anti-Pakistan and anti-army propaganda, mischievously prevalent at home and abroad.
Nawaz Sharif was invited by Sehgal to speak at another sideline event. But he declined the invite. Meanwhile though, Nawaz Sharif’s IT minister of state, Anusha Rahman, invited herself as a speaker to a dinner co-hosted by Sehgal.
However, “the lady came, spoke, gathered her handbag, abruptly stood up in a huff, and left just when General Raheel Sharif started to speak. Her graceless conduct was unbecoming of a minister,” wrote columnist Anjum Niaz in an article in the Express Tribune. She quoted Sehgal, saying that the lady “started propagating to the official Pakistan delegation in the Congress Centre that the event was only meant to project the Pakistan Army and not Nawaz Sharif’s government,” which Sehgal asserted was “not true.”
Thus, whatever opportunity Pakistan had of projecting itself as an investment savvy country, was lost in washing dirty linen in the public.
In contrast to visiting Davos and getting lost in the crowd, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hit on a more fruitful plan to sell India to the international community. He organized “Vibrant Gujarat.”
Almost side by side with the WEF conference, India held the “Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit”, from the 10th to 13th of January 2017 at Mahatma Mandir, Gandhinagar, in Gujarat state, focusing on “Sustainable Economic and Social Development.”
The gathering was more representative and high-powered because participants included heads of state and government, ministers, leaders from the corporate world, senior policymakers as well as heads of international institutions and academia from around the world to further the cause of development and to promote cooperation.
The earlier summit was attended by 20 countries. This time, 12 nations were partner countries for the event — USA, UK, Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, Sweden and the UAE. The events provided an oopportunity to interact with key policymakers, industry leaders, global thought leaders, regulators and renowned academicians from all over the world. It was also an occasion to witness coherent deliberations between sector experts and global luminaries in an array of knowledge seminars during the summit to comprehend evolving global sectoral trends. It provided a platform for SMEs to connect globally with potential partners to explore opportunities of collaboration and partnership in addition to networking with various forums to foster interaction between stakeholders through B2B and B2G meetings.
An exhibition spread over 1,25,000 sq.metres was also organized. It offered exclusive demo sessions showcasing the latest trends and technology, products and services across various sectors. In addition, there were seminars on “Innovation, Startups & Entrepreneurship, Make in Gujarat – Engineering, Heavy Engineering & Automotive – Opportunities in the Era of Technological Transformation, Ease of Doing Business – Regulators as Facilitators, Health for Inclusive Development, Smart Villages: Empowering Rural India, Genes, Gene Editing And The New Biotechnology, Smart and Livable Cities: Opportunities and Challenges Enhancing Agricultural Growth through Food Processing; GST: The Game Changer for Indian Economy, etc.
Besides, there were country seminars on France, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, U.K., the Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, Poland, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Rwanda, Portugal, Denmark, France, Russia, Israel and Africa, as well as the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Assam and Jharkhand.
Among other things, the global event provided India the opportunity to smear Pakistan before foreign heads of state and government. The French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, for example, was quoted as saying; "We particularly want to see decisive action taken, in keeping with international law, against terrorist groups targeting India, particularly the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen."
Obviously, the event was more productive and impactful for India, which may be why the Indian prime minister did not visit the World Economic Forum.
There can be no question that events like Vibrant Gujarat are more effective than WEF for the host country to introduce its products and project its investment opportunities to foreign heads of government and businessmen, because here there is no distraction. The attention of the participants is focused on one subject. The WEF, by contrast, deals with a number of other topics and its attendees comprise people of diverse callings.
Vibrant Gujarat also poses the question for Pakistan’s policymakers as to why they can’t apply their minds to plan something on similar lines. India thinks constructively and comes out with people-friendly policies including the recent demonetization and GST; why can’t Pakistan? Is it because India does not waste its time on counterproductive pursuits, like patronizing any prototype of Hafiz Sayeed?
Pakistan’s non-performance at WEF was therefore not so much an opportunity missed, as the evidence of sheer lack of vision of its policymakers. What it needs most is to wake up and put its act together.
The writer is a senior political analyst and former editor of Southasia.