12th Bosphorus Summit Istanbul, Turkey

(6 December, 2021)

With Covid-19 still raging around the world, it will be an understatement that we are living in tumultuous times of great upheaval and uncertainty.

Covid-19 has claimed millions of lives, decimated economies, severed trade and human links and has seriously impacted the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals. Global institutions were found wanting, multilateralism slid into irrelevance, conflicts raged unabated and global power politics continued on its adversarial path.

However, Covid-19 only exposed the existing cracks in the international order.

After all, global challenges were building up even before the pandemic: the climate crisis, inequality among and within nations, the retreat of democracy, xenophobia, intolerance and Islamophobia, unilateralism, jingoism, to name a few.

Covid was the catalyst speeding up these processes.

Therefore, in some ways, there was silver lining to the Covid cloud. By straining the system it allowed us to see the stress points in it and gave us an opportunity to address these before the system collapses.

To further elaborate, allow me to make few points in following five interlinked areas – geopolitics, multilateralism, norms, economy and technology.

First: In the wake of Covid-19, international geopolitical tensions have risen to an all time high. Rather than uniting us, the pandemic divided us. It became another battleground in politics of dominance and influence – heating up rivalries and amplifying the risk of conflict.

Some countries used the pandemic as a smokescreen to further increase their oppression and illegal occupation, for instance in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), despite the pandemic, military expenditures continued to rise worldwide in 2020 – and unfortunately this trend is likely to continue this year as well.

Moreover, some countries are being armed by major powers by creating exceptions to non-proliferation norms on sensitive technology transfers. The major powers are doing this for their own narrow strategic interests at the cost of international peace and stability.

Second: Multilateralism has become a casualty in an international system less reliant on cooperation than at any point after the Second World War.

Erosion of so-called “rules-based international system” has further reduced avenues and prospects of international cooperation in critical key areas.

Because of the evolving geopolitical dynamics, as mentioned earlier, the UN system was not allowed to function as mandated, exactly when it was needed the most.

Third: Over the past few years, despite globalizing trends and better possibilities for mutual understanding and awareness, there has been a marked increase in narrow nationalism, populism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and racism.

Hate speech, fake news, curtailment of fundamental freedoms and democratic values have actually become “new normal”.

We see it all too well in our neighborhood plagued by fascist-inspired Hindutva ideology wreaking havoc on minorities. Muslims can be lynched without fear. The lynching is filmed on the media and circulated, without any consequence for the criminals. Setting the stage for the next lynching, which one day will become a pogrom and then one day possibly genocide.

Fourth: Arguably, the pandemic’s greatest shock has been on the economic front.

International trade took an instant hit with lockdowns, closed borders and struggling industries. Constraints imposed by the pandemic are leading countries to rethink and retool established economic practices and protocols – carrying huge implications, especially for developing countries.

Fifth: The onset of the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of global economy – bringing about years of change in few months’ time.

We may also note that amidst this flux in traditional sectors of the economy, Big Tech. has quietly accumulated even greater powers and money.

The technological arena is also where the geopolitical competition is at its fiercest – igniting “tech. wars” and the “splinternet”.

Allow me to share a brief snapshot of our response to some of these challenges and our vision for the future. I will mainly focus on five elements: Covid response, social protection, climate change, geo-economics and peace and security.

  1. Response to Covid-19

In Pakistan, we have been thankfully spared the worst impact of the pandemic so far.

Through the use of technology and employing innovative designs and approaches, Covid-19’s human toll in Pakistan has remained one of the lowest in the world.

Throughout the country, and especially the Punjab province – where I come from – we have achieved phenomenal success in vaccination rollout and helping those in need. So far, more than 80 million people have received their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine (with more than 50 million fully vaccinated).

  1. Social Protection

The government has rolled out internationally-recognized Ehsaas program, which is a flagship umbrella initiative of more than 100 policies designed to address state capture, social protection, livelihoods and human capital development.

These programs have allocated more than Rs. 260 billion to help the marginalized and ignored segments of the society, with a special focus on women, the homeless, disabled, jobless and poor farmers and laborers. The government is also taking action to curb soaring inflation, unemployment and debt.

  1. Climate Change

Despite its negligible contribution to climate change, Pakistan is one of the most impacted countries in the world.

Pakistan has demonstrated strong leadership in effectively addressing climate change and bio-diversity loss. In addition to planting 10 billion trees under the Ecosystem Restoration Initiative, Pakistan has also launched several projects including the Protected Areas Initiative, and ambitious policies for alternative energy.

  1. Geo-economics

Pakistan is committed to be a catalyst to usher an era of geo-economics in our region beset by geopolitical tensions. Building on Pakistan’s desire for “peace within and peace without”, we seek to reap the peace dividends of our central geopolitical location for ourselves, the region and beyond.

In short, we see our location more as geo-economic than geopolitical, with regional connectivity playing a central role.

  1. Peace and Security

Pakistan strongly believes that it is time for the international community to reaffirm its collective commitment to multilateralism and shun divisive politics.

Pakistan has made substantial contributions to the maintenance of international peace and security. It has provided leadership in key international institutions and has always advocated developing-world causes.

Pakistan has always been an ardent supporter of an effective and efficient United Nations system, underpinned by the spirit of cooperative multilateralism and based on its three mutually reinforcing pillars – peace and security, development, and human rights.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me offer some concluding thoughts:

  • Multilateralism, peaceful co-existence and commitment to an international system based on the UN Charter are the only viable way forward to meet global challenges faced by the world today.
  • We must address challenges arising out of the pandemic through international cooperation and build a more productive and sustainable economy which makes mutual interdependence a strength rather than a liability.
  • Let us agree on what we all want: these, are inter alia, ending violent conflict; achieving SDGs; protecting the planet from climate change and biodiversity loss; finding just and lasting solutions to protracted conflicts including those caused by foreign occupation; compliance of international law and human rights norms; bridging the digital divide; and ensuring that new technologies remain a force for good, while minimizing their misuse.

Now let us agree that we are only likely to achieve these goals through cooperation and not through confrontation.

– Governor Punjab in Bosporous summit 12 in Istanbul

– Meeting with President of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly Amb. Volkan Bozkir