Pakistan to build peaceful, Progressive and Plural identity: Senator Sherry Rehman

Islamabad: Sherry Rehman Leader of the Opposition in the Senate urged policymakers to navigate geopolitical turmoil and avoid policy drift in the face of new regional stresses including climate change. Senator Sherry Rehman expressed these views while addressing the second Ideas Conclave at local hotel in Islamabad on Thursday hosted by the Jinnah Institute. She added that Pakistan must seek to build a peaceful, progressive and plural Pakistan, but that this would require concerted effort given the emergence of hyper-nationalism and exclusionary politics around the world.

The Ideas Conclave was a daylong public forum hosted by the Jinnah Institute to connect senior international and local policymakers, thought leaders and citizens. Speakers included eminent Professor Ayesha Jalal, Professor Adil Najam, former Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, former Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Tariq Faetmi, former Foreign Secretaries Riaz Khokhar and Salman Bashir, former DG ISPR Maj. Gen. (retired) Athar Abbas, Chinese Ambassador Yao Jing, Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria, Afghan Ambassador Dr. Omar Zakhilwal, EU Ambassador Jean Francois Cautain, German Ambassador Martin Kobler, environmental lawyer and water expert Rafay Alam, and senior journalists Zahid Hussain, Nasim Zehra, Ejaz Haider and Arifa Noor.

Eminent historian Professor Ayesha Jalal speaking at Jinnah Institute’s daylong Ideas Conclave in Islamabad noted that Pakistan’s trajectory has been a result of choices made by leaders over the years, adding that it was impossible to have a safe country without safe borders. She further noted that Pakistan’s leaders had allowed relations with the country’s neighbors to drift.

Speaking in the session ‘After Shanghai: The End of Unipolarity?’ former Advisor to the PM on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi took the view that a multipolar world order could suit the evolving needs of a global community in crisis, and that the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) had the potential to emerge as a forum for regional engagement through dialogue rather than confrontation. Chinese Ambassador Yao Jing, meanwhile, maintained that China believed in constructive engagement and had an important role to play in the evolving world order. He further added that the SCO epitomised China approach towards regional cooperation, and that the basic principle of the Shanghai spirit was a community-based approach to international relations. Former Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, meanwhile, argued that the United States continued to be the world’s leading economic and military global power, and that the demise of unipolarity should not be assumed to be a given. In his remarks, Professor Adil Najam observed that China’s rise was a reality that the world had to contend with.

In the afternoon session on the war in Afghanistan, Afghan Ambassador Dr. Omar Zakhilwal said there was overwhelming public support for peace in Afghanistan, and that the government in Kabul was keen to engage rather than fight the Taliban. EU Ambassador Jean Francois Cautain said the EU was willing to play its role to contribute to peace in Afghanistan, and appreciated the recent APAPS framework as a model that could advance bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Former Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar, meanwhile, appreciated President Ghani’s intention to move forward with Pakistan and take the lead in the search for peace at home, and added that the lack of clarity on US objectives is Afghanistan was a complicating factor that eroded regional confidence-building efforts.

In the session on India, titled ‘The Eastern Question’ former Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir suggested that India and Pakistan should consolidate the ceasefire along the Line of Control (LOC) and seek to advance existing mechanisms for normalising relations, including a liberalisation of the the visa regime.

Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria said that India’s foreign policy was increasingly driven by its economy, and that there was room to see bilateral commerce between the two countries surpass $30 billion if both sides could take the necessary steps. He further said trade corridors; connectivity and common energy markets could help bring India and Pakistan closer. Former National Security Advisor Lt. General Nasser Janjua, meanwhile, said he had emphasised in his conversations with his Indian counterpart the need to rise above shared animosities and work towards peace and security.

The Jinnah Institute is an independent public policy think-tank that works on open democracy and strategic security. The Ideas Conclave is the Jinnah Institute’s flagship public forum for generating interest in policy reform, policy action and institutional best practices in Pakistan and the region. It also aims to spur broad thematic conversation around big-ticket debates, global policy, national security, foreign policy and climate change agendas.

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