Just An­other Group?

Eight coun­tries striv­ing to re­shape the world

Southasia - - Contents - By Muham­mad Omar Iftikhar

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

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