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Why Commonwealth?

April 23, 2018

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IN the modern international relations regime, regional blocs are key structures through which countries join forces to enhance trade, cooperation and in certain cases defence, in many ways resembling the alliances of the old world. There is a veritable alphabet soup of regional organisations — including the EU, Asean, Saarc and many others — that form part of the global vocabulary. While some, such as the EU, have made strides in bringing states that were once enemies closer together (though the European dream has been severely jolted in the aftermath of Brexit), others are mere talk shops, such as Saarc. However, the utility of one multilateral bloc in particular — the Commonwealth of Nations — has been questioned, especially in a postcolonial world where many former colonies have come into their own. It is basically a club of Britain’s former colonies, including this country, a subdued reflection of what the British Empire once was. The heads of the bloc were recently in London (Pakistan was represented by the prime minister) to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government conclave, and the most significant news to emerge from the meeting was the intended replacement of Elizabeth II by her heir, Prince Charles, as head of the bloc.

As the age of empires and colonies is long gone, it would be only right to point out that the Commonwealth is an anachronism. After all, there is little that links Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, for example, with faraway Antigua or Tonga other than a shared colonial baggage. It would also be fair to ask what benefits membership has brought Pakistan and other former colonies. While we should endeavour to maintain cordial ties with all states, including our former colonial master and fellow ex-colonies, perhaps the energies of this nation should best be spent on building regional linkages. On paper, Pakistan is a member of Saarc, ECO and SCO, amongst other regional blocs. But the fact is that these organisations have failed to live up to their potential of bringing states closer together and resolving disputes. Saarc, for example, is a dead letter due to a Pakistan-India dispute, a dispute the formation of the bloc has failed to resolve. Ideally, Pakistan can benefit from establishing linkages with states in the region, especially South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. Multilateral blocs can play a key role in developing regional trade and cooperation, allowing freer flow of people, goods and ideas.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2018