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Focus on World Economic Forum wanes

January 27, 2013

world economic forum, davos 2013

The lack of clarity and consensus over strategies to restore confidence of investors and societies on the ability of market leaders and statesmen to tackle tangled politico economic issues led the annual congregation of movers and shakers in Davos to adopt a lofty theme of 'dynamic resilience' for 2013 gathering.

More than anything it reflected the realisation that the current economic woes, to some measure, are rooted in the arrogant, rigid and compulsive attitude of people in position of power, both in companies and governments. There is ample evidence today that the current international economic crisis has hurt hundreds of million people around the globe by depriving them of economic opportunities and a right to a decent life they deserve.

The tales of pumping of state resources to save the market, and the public reaction across the West to austerity make headlines. The discussions on shortcomings of the system that socialise loss and privatise gains have become unavoidable as informed citizens demand a paradigm shift in policies.

The World Economic Forum held last week (Jan23-27) grew in size as some 45 national leaders and hundreds of CEOs and celebrities reached the snow covered ski resort in Switzerland to debate issues, celebrate milestones and extend networking.

The Government of Pakistan, for a pleasant change, avoided spending precious millions on sending a plane load of self serving free riders to Alps to attend the meeting. However, Pakistan did surface in the opening ceremony of the 43rd forum as Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, the documentary film maker received the Crystal award from Hilde Schwab, wife of WEF founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab. She called for 'soul, heart, brains and good nerves', a message that attendees found intriguing.

Beside Chinoy and her companions, who were said to be partially sponsored by the government, about a dozen other Pakistani businessmen and academics attended WEF privately or on personal invitation.

Generally for the business executives and representative bodies of the private sector, the World Economic Forum was a routine global event of the world elite with little relevance to Pakistan.

"Honestly speaking, I saw a report on the BBC but have not been following closely enough to be able to comment on the contents or the quality of participation in the current year moot", CEO Pakistan Business Council Kamran Mirza conceded when contacted to solicit his views.

The senior members of the economic team reached in Islamabad confirmed to Dawn that official delegation did not participate though the government had been invited.

"I do not think that it was decided formally that Pakistan will not officially participate. It just so happened that no one took interest as, in the closing months of the current setup, there is already too much to deal with. The politicians are focusing on elections and bureaucracy preparing to move at safe distance from the current leadership to avoid falling on the wrong side of the set of politicians thrown up after the elections", a member of the cabinet told Dawn in confidence.

"Neither are we missed nor did we miss much. Yes, may be, we did not get a chance to warm up second row from the last in halls of multifarious events planned for five days of WEF conference but it have never made sense", commented another senior member of the economic team of Dr Hafiz Sheikh.

"No, I am not saying that the event is useless, rather the participation of a flock of ignorant politicians and their cronies is useless. I see it as an expensive exercise in futility", he asserted.

Some other businessmen envied Pakistani participants who managed an invitation and a sponsor or maintained membership of the coveted forum of rich and mighty.

"Well there is no point belittling the forum because you did not get to go. Given a chance I would have loved to listen to what CEOs of multinationals and opinion leaders have to say on issues facing the global economy in person", another business leader said.

"From what I heard, Hussain Dawood, Ikram Sehgal, Dr Ishrat Hussain, Zameer Akram, Pakistan Ambassador at WTO posted at Geneva, are attending WEF, among others", a Lahore based trader said.

Syed Wasimuddin, spokesperson of the State Bank also confirmed that central bank did not send anyone to WEF this year. "To the best of my knowledge no one from SBP is attending the moot in Switzerland", he told Dawn over phone.

The comparative calm in the world markets and initial signs of recovery has eased the sense of panic that marked earlier gatherings since 2008, reports indicated. The failure of many iconic companies like Enron in US and erosion of trust on the financial system (following the sub prime credit crisis in the most successful market economy) shook the pillars of world financial and economic order.

The unexpected hike in the commodity market and helplessness of powerful global players compromised the position of the World Bank and others as guiding institutions because they failed to predict the global financial crisis and the Great Recession of 2008-09. No wonder that the gathering of blue eyed, stiff necked, high nosed custodians of free market doctrine humbled by their failure to sustain their climb, were reported to be discussing issues dismissed by them in the past as fluff.

The issues highlighted at the WEF sounded more like subjects of the World Social Forum. People driven by profit motive and immediate gains regardless of long-term costs to the society were reported to have discussed the social enterprise, community quotient, sustainability of growth strategies, spread of social services such as health and education, inclusive models of development, etc.

The simmering tensions between nations did emerge as leader of UK, US, Germany and France projected their perceptions about what needs to be done to support the global turn around.