Just Another Group?
Eight countries striving to reshape the world
The heads of state of the Developing 8 or D-8 countries that include Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Turkey and Pakistan, are scheduled to meet in the upcoming eighth session of the D-8 Leader’s Summit in Islamabad.
Necmettin Erbakan, former Prime Minister of Turkey, founded the D-8 Organization on June 15, 1997 in Istanbul. Erbakan envisioned cooperation among countries stretching from Africa to South East Asia in an effort to harness regional development and strengthen trade ties. Since then, D-8 Summits have been hosted by all member countries with the first meeting held in Turkey on June 15, 1997, followed by Bangladesh (March 1999), Egypt (February 2001), Iran (February 2004), Indonesia (May 2006), Malaysia (July 2008), Nigeria (July 2010) and now Pakistan (2012).
Dr. Widi Agoes Pratikto from Indonesia currently serves as the Secretary General. Though the group remains small and largely uninfluential, it nonetheless follows strict guidelines and procedures, meeting regularly every two years. However, it took member countries a decade to finally establish a D-8 Secretariat in 2006, hinting at the lack of direction within the Organization. Bagher Asadi, an Iranian ambassador, serves as the current director secretariat. The D-8 group seems to be paralyzed by a number of factors, the foremost being Iran’s inclusion. With the US continuously monitoring Iran’s nuclear assets, it remains uncertain whether D-8 will have a promising future or will fall prey to Western hegemony.
Though the group has made few landmark agreements, a key decision emerged when member countries signed a Preferential Trade Agreement on May 16, 2006 during the fifth Summit held in Indonesia. The agreement called for reducing tariffs on specific trading goods between the member countries, minimizing barriers to free trade, and promoting inter-state cooperation. Interestingly, the agreement did not include Bangladesh, which questions the cohesiveness of the organization.
The hierarchy of D-8 comprises of The Commission, The Council and The Summit. The Commission is the executive organ responsible for preparing the agenda and key decisions. Senior officials appointed by the member states serve as Commissioners who meet twice a year. The Council is the principal decision-making organ that consists of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of all member countries who meet at least once a year. The Council examines the reports submitted by the Commission and decides on the recommendations. The Summit is the supreme division of D-8, which comprises of heads-of-states of member countries and assembles every two years in one of the member countries. The Summit provides guidance for various activities of the Organization towards fulfilling its objectives.
Improving the position of member states in the global economy is one of the many goals of the D-8. Other objectives include diversifying and creating new opportunities in trade, enhancing participation in decision-making and enhancing standards of living. The Or- ganization has identified priority areas in each member country, which include rural development (Bangladesh), trade (Egypt), human resource development (Indonesia), communication and information (Iran), finance and banking (Malaysia), energy (Nigeria), agriculture (Pakistan), and industry and health (Turkey).
The D-8 is largely an imbalanced group with Pakistan, Turkey and Iran as the only members with prominent influence in geo-political affairs. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh remain on the sidelines of global politics; Egypt is currently undergoing a transition phase and finds itself in hot waters; Nigeria seldom attracts attention. For the most part, Turkey also chooses to remain neutral because of its geographical location. The fact that the Group comprises countries that have little or no say in international politics, undermines its influence and legitimacy. With not a single political or economic heavyweight keeping the group afloat, the D-8 organization fails to address the burning issues of the region and its member countries, serving simply as a lacklustre biennial event with more hopes than actions. Regardless of this, the European Union and the U.S are likely to keep a close eye on the 2012 D-8 Summit hosted in Pakistan because of its location and the participation of Iran and Egypt which remain important players in their respective regions while having a combustible relationship with the West. Muhammad Omar Iftikhar is Assistant Editor at SouthAsia. He writes on regional issues and social activism.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I have always loved music and thought that’s what I would do with my life. When I was 12, I remember going to a store and showing my mom the guitar I wanted. A few months later, she passed away but had already bought that guitar for me. I got it a month later on Christmas and it became my link with her. I think I really dedicated myself to music then.
I eventually started writing my own songs and made a career with that. I had gone to NY to play for some record labels for a gig on September 12, 2001. That show obviously never happened. I woke up the previous morning and saw the Twin Towers on fire. I immediately went downstairs to start helping out. I set up a little tent and handed out supplies like food, water, medicines and socks to fire fighters. I left after a week, when I wasn’t needed anymore.
How did your interest in Pakistan develop and how did you find yourself here?
After 9/11, I never said I’d do disaster relief. I had, however, learnt a new ability. Having gone through many things in life, like my mother’s death and my drug addiction, my life itself was a disaster. When it came to big disasters, it turned out that I was mentally and physically able to handle it. I went to Sri Lanka after the tsunami in 2004 and helped build houses and volunteered at an orphanage for a month. After Hurricane Katrina, I helped with relief efforts.
The day I got back from New Orleans, I saw the images of the 2008 Pakistan earthquake and told my son, I’m going to Pakistan. I was already in disaster mode. It was my calling. I contacted the Pakistani Embassy and volunteered my services. Within a week, I was landing in Jhelum valley in Azad Kashmir.
Tell us a little bit about the Comprehensive Disaster Response Services (CDRS) and the work it does.
I had initially come to Pakistan for 2 weeks after the earthquake but I saw tremendous need. I had met some very strong and brave people as well. I wanted to see them not just get immediate medical care but also help them rebuild their lives. There was real strength in the people of Pakistan and I felt inspired by them. The people in the Army, the villages and the UNICEF asked me to stay and I thought “Hey, all I’ve got to do is cancel a few gigs, what’s the big deal?” It just felt right to stay here and I registered.
We founded and registered CDRS in 2006. It supported the community and the government health department of AJK and reestablished rural health centers near the line of control. We sponsored several facilities and repaired ambulances with whatever money we had. While our budgets weren’t big enough, our hearts and efforts were and we received the Tamgha-e-Eisaar medal from the Pakistani Government in 2006. In 2009, we went to Swat during the IDP crisis and partnered with a small hospital in Zaidabad, run by wonderful people. Because the IDPs were escaping into the district of Mardan, the hospital was overflowing with patients. We brought in medicines and supplies.
What are the main hurdles that you have faced in conducting your work in Pakistan?
I get really angry when someone tries to take away money and resources from the people I’ve tried to come and help. There are not enough resources to help everyone, so every person counts. It offends me personally and professionally when someone