Senate hosts grand transcontinental Parliamentary moot in Gwadar

By

Mr Amjed Pervez Malik  Secretary Senate

As the democratic journey in Pakistan moves forward promisingly under a new democratic government and a pro-people parliament, the geo-political vicissitudes and fluidity of international relations coupled with domestic and regional security, peace and development imperatives offer both challenges and opportunities.

 

On the domestic front, inequities and disparities in socio-economic progress have set the developmental clock back for many areas, leaving them teetering in abject poverty and deprivation. A close analysis of the developmental slow-down in far-flung areas points out fault lines running through some traditional trouble spots.

 

One is the organisational intertia of provincial and local authorities and relevant federal departments. The second relates to machinations perpetrated by foreign hand to crate unrest, law and order situation and violence as a tool to arrest development. And the third pertains to our own institutional and administrative weaknesses and loopholes, which when coupled with institutional rifts stoke up an anti-development culture instead of channelling combined energies in the right direction.

 

On the external front, the complexities of interconnected geo-political, strategic and bilateral issues are altering the whole continence of traditional diplomacy approaches.

 

It’s no longer the sole responsibility of the Foreign Affairs ministry to shape and drive foreign affairs, but it’s the interplay between state institutions and a number of contributory factors that determines a state’s international identity, soundness of its bilateral relations, and its role and status in multilateral organizations.

 

Also the free flow of information and knowledge facilitated by Print, electronic and social media has played a key role in turning the world into a global village, creating an informed and highly opinionated citizenry that keeps a close eye on international affairs.

 

This scenario has placed the institution of parliament right in the centre of the modern foreign relations chessboard. Parliamentary diplomacy is now a new force to reckon with due to its potential in rallying international gatherings in the country even in times of diplomatic isolation so as to dispel media-hyped myths and misconceptions.

 

Sentient of these challenges and possible new avenues of change and progress, the political and administrative leadership of the Senate of Pakistan is defining contours of a progressive multifaceted socio-economic development and parliamentary diplomacy paradigm.

 

This new strategic policy discourse has two main dimensions. On the internal front, it envisages a more proactive role of the Upper House right on the ground in the uplift of the underdeveloped areas. And, on the external front, it envisions active parliamentary diplomacy and enhanced bilateral and multilateral linkages so as to further Pakistan’s peace and prosperity agenda by promoting cooperative development in the region.

 

 

As administrative head of Pakistan Senate, I am privileged to have been involved in the comprehensive reformation and overhauling process that the Upper House has been going through over the last few years.

 

I take pride in the fact that our endeavours not only helped optimise and upgrade performance and working of the House in all related areas, but also enabled the House of Federation to play a key role in addressing the huge challenges and problems being faced by the country.

 

Our latest initiative in this regard is holding the meetings of Asian Parliamentary Assembly’s Standing Committee on Political Affairs and Special Committee on Creation of Asia Parliament in Gwadar, Balochistan, from 28-30 October, 2018.

 

To be joined by parliamentary delegations from 23 Asian countries, in addition to a Speaker of an African parliament, a French Senator representing Europe, and Secretary General of IPU, the largest inter-parliamentary organisation of the world, this truly global gathering is a Pakistan Senate initiative that can be a game changer in giving Pakistan a much needed leadership role in geo-political and regional affairs. This may also give us an edge against aggressive propaganda aiming for diplomatic isolation of Pakistan.

 

The credit for this diplomatic triumph goes to the Honourable Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani who despite challenges decided to hold such an important international gathering in a far flung area like Gwadar, instead of choosing the comfort zone of federal or provincial capital cities. This is in spirit of the APA Charter which calls for regional inclusivity and connectivity. It is a big leap forward in Senate’s bid to reach out to a federating unit as the House of Federation.

 

While Pakistan is an active player at the forums of IPU and CPA, it’s the APA where Pakistan Senate has assumed a leadership role over the last few years by effectively highlighting our national standpoint and priorities in all its meetings, resolutions and communiqués.

 

A case in point is the resolution on “Harmonious Development through Democracy” to be introduced by Pakistan Senate at the upcoming APA Political Affairs Committee meeting in Gwadar. Again, the Upper House intends to table this resolution so as to impress upon the Member countries that Pakistan believes in continuity of democratic process and democracy itself to usher in development, and that it will continue supporting efforts for promoting democratic trends in the region.

 

In this regard, the resolution has been drafted in a way to also acknowledge the importance of democratic governance for human development, poverty alleviation, and peaceful societies. It also acknowledges the centrality of the role of parliaments for democratic stability. Democracy is considered vital for prosperity and progress. In this regard, the Member countries have decided to make joint efforts on APA’s platform so as to learn from each other’s experiences and promote Asian cooperation with regard to democratic process and its role in development.

 

Due to our effective strategy at APA, India’s influence has paled into insignificance at this forum resulting in scant participation. However, while India participated in the 2017 Political Affairs Committee meeting of the APA as well as the subsequent meetings of the forum during the year, it has not yet confirmed its participation in the Gwadar meeting.

 

Conceptually speaking, the elected and administrative leadership of Pakistan Senate had conceived three-pronged objectives behind organizing this upcoming APA event in the important port city.

 

First to establish and enhance linkages between House of Federation and its federating unit to facilitate governmental efforts of unleashing huge untapped potential of Balochistan and Gwadar. Second to bring the emerging economic hub and trade route into national and international limelight. And, third to afford an opportunity to Asia and other Region’s friends and partners to witness first-hand the huge investment and trade potential that Gwadar offers to the region.

 

On the diplomatic front, holding this international event in Gwadar yielded expected dividends — a precious opportunity to showcase to the world the peaceful situation on ground as well as the huge investment and trade opportunities offered by the port city to the region and the world at large. That such a large number of foreign countries, organisations and parliaments agreed to participate in this event also stands witness to Pakistan’s Senate’s goodwill and positive repute due to our effective participation and active diplomacy in regional and international inter-parliamentary forums.

 

At the organisational level, the successful holding of this event not helped dispel some misperceptions about Senate’s Secretariat’s capabilities and teamwork, but also drove home the importance of coordinating Local, Provincial and National efforts in tiding over national challenges.

 

The organisation of an international event of this scale even in federal or any provincial capital may well have been dubbed a great success. Due to limited resources and manpower of Senate Secretariat, it was a challenge from the organizational as well as logistics points of view. The successful holding this huge international conference in Gwadar despite paucity of communications as well as other facilities was like a dream come true.

 

However, truth be told, this was anything but a solo effort. It became possible only due to national synergy and collaboration between Parliamentary, Federal and Provincial governments as well as Security and Defence Institutions of the country.

 

We are grateful to the Prime Minister of Pakistan for giving a national and state ownership to these APA engagements by approving VVIP / State Guest status to the delegates, which made possible comprehensive security arrangements.

 

We are also indebted to the Provincial Governments of Sindh and Balochistan, especially Chief Secretary Balochistan, besides local Senators, and MPs, Local Administration, law-enforcement agencies, Army, Air Force, and especially the Navy and the Southern Command, for their support and cooperation.

 

Having detailed the rational, strategic vision, diplomatic, geo-political and regional developmental objectives behind organising this APA event, I now like to elaborate evolution of APA as well as Pakistan’s long objective association with this important inter-parliamentary forum.

 

APA’s evolutionary process is marked by change and transformation right from its nomenclature and structure to its expanded membership and mandate. The year was 1999 when the Association of Asian Parliaments for Peace (AAPP) was formed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In 2003, Pakistan obtained its membership and organised its meeting in Islamabad where it was decided to change its name and charter. APA was thus formed in principle, but the final decision in this regard was taken during the 2006 meeting held in Tehran. However, after working smoothly for a few years, a period during which 5 annual general assembly conferences were also held, APA fell victim to political and diplomatic complications which kept it from holding even the mandatory annual assembly for two years.

 

This was the time when Pakistan Senate with a new strategic vision offered to host its annual plenary, as a result of which the 6th and 7th plenaries of APA were held in Pakistan, wherein it was also elected its president for two years. From 2013 to 2014, not only APA meetings were held in Islamabad and Lahore, but its governing body also met regularly. The 7th APA plenary held in Lahore jointly approved formation of Special Committee on Creation of Asian Parliament (SCCAP) following Pakistan’s proposal and active efforts. It was also decided that the permanent secretariat of SCCAP will remain in Pakistan. For the last one year, Turkey holds the mantle of APA presidency, while Pakistan holds the portfolio of Vice-President.

 

Senate of Pakistan plans to undertake effective parliamentary diplomacy through this forum in the following years, and there are strong chances of us regaining its presidency in 2019.

 

On a personal note, I also like to share a vision and a dream that has now come true. During my long administrative career with civil service and parliamentary service, I have seen the parliamentary evolution vis-à-vis executive’s developmental efforts over decades.

 

All along, I had wished for a time when the institution of Parliament would be able to win the hearts and minds of the people by becoming a proactive socio-economic developmental catalyst on ground for the under privileged.

 

With this APA event in Gwadar, Pakistan Senate has taken the first stride towards adding a new dimension of cooperative development. While local departments and governments remain limited due to their constitutional and legal limitations, the federal parliament can help usher in development in underprivileged areas.

 

But achieving this objective would be sans any transgression on the constitutional and legal roles and mandates of the provincial and local governments. What we are aiming for is creating an enabling environment and removing obstacles in progress rooted in realistic or unrealistic media projection, misperceptions or lack of information and communication.

 

An example of this is an encouraging development whereby the efforts by Senate leadership compelled the concerned federal department to greatly increase Gwadar’s internet bandwidth from previously limited capacity. Honourable Chairman Senate will also soon inaugurate the Gwadar fiber optic line. Whether it is alternate sources of power or overhauling of roads and infrastructure, any such advancement is a source of pride for me. However, these initiatives are but a small step towards a sustainable and long-term progress in the region.

 

And last, but not the least, I cannot help sharing yet another dream – dream of our great Asian continent regaining its lost glory. Throughout ages, Asia has been a cradle of wisdom and knowledge. Our diverse history, our unique cultural variations, our rich literature, art and architecture have been a cause of envy and praise for the whole world. This glory was lost for some of our own acts of omission and commission besides the colonial forces and approaches with different terminologies and forms.

 

Although, the 21st Century is again witnessing the rise of the Asian continent in international affairs; yet we have a long way to go in bridging developmental gaps and wide-ranging socio-economic inequities and disparities.

 

Establishing an Asian Parliament may appear a goal in distant future, but the reality is that gradual integration on socio-economic and sustainable development front is no longer a choice. It is more of a compulsion considering our extraordinary circumstances and evolving peace and sustainable development paradigms.

 

While our governments or Executive or the United Nations have not been successful in resolving Asia’s problems, it is a real possibility that inter-parliamentary organisations and parliaments of Asian countries through Asian Parliamentary Assembly and cooperation or guidance of IPU, may help tide over enduring problems and open new vistas of peace and development.