D-8: Call for Action
It was quite incongruous that while on the very day when leaders of the group of eight developing Muslim countries, the D- 8, were converging in Islamabad to discuss trade and forge closer economic ties, the Taliban were killing people in a series of bombings across the country. With Pakistan’s turn as the host, the summit took place on the 15th anniversary of the founding of the group in 1997, and was attended by Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria and Bangladesh. Needless to say that it was quite courageous on the part of the Pakistan government to invite so many top leaders to Islamabad at such a critical time - and equally brave of the leaders to attend.
Just as such regional moots go, there was the customary joint declaration at the end of the summit that called for cooperation among the member states. The declaration termed the adoption of a Global Vision by the conference as a turning point for the organization, stating that collectively it would take the member nations on a new path of cooperation from Istanbul to Islamabad. It is worth considering that while this is relatively a small group in terms of member countries, it represents a population of one billion and a combined market value of $ 1 trillion. It is also quite diverse in the context of economic progress and geopolitical significance. Within them, the eight countries cut across a wide swathe from East to West Asia. There are the performing economies of Indonesia and Malaysia on the one end and Turkey on the other. Between them fall Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt and Nigeria – all nations that are grappling with their economic and social issues and with internal and external political turmoil in varying degrees. Therefore, while the stated objectives of the group, which has an orientation of economic development, may be aimed at further promoting economic cooperation between member nations, this does not happen in real terms. These nations are also members of or have observer status in other regional groups such as the African Union, ASEAN, SAARC, SCO, etc. and their overlapping synergies can, in fact, prove to be counter- productive.
Countries with emerging economies in Asia have, by and large, been cooperating with their partner countries within and outside the region primarily through sharing of development experience, cooperation projects, capacity building, technical assistance and preferential market access on unilateral and reciprocal basis. Such cooperation is also complemented by technology transfer and investment by enterprises based in developed countries that have become important sources of inflows of investment.
All the more reason, therefore, that the pledge made by the leaders of D- 8 at their summit in Islamabad to work in solidarity to confront common challenges, including food security, mitigating the impact of national disasters and countering all forms of extremism, must not be relegated to a filing cabinet at the D- 8 secretariat in Istanbul. It must be regarded as a fresh charter for regional cooperation with a focus on trade, peace and security, supported by on- ground solutions that are not the stuff of conferences and research papers but are actually seen to be in action.