Policy making processes have undergone numerous evolutionary changes since the concept of international relations (IR) came into being after World War I as an academic discipline. The workings of the academia were further modified in the post-World War-II era. This is how the academic IR community emerged as an influential actor in the policy making arena, especially in the West. In fact, the advent of ‘Think-Tanks’ not only enhanced and modernised research methods, but established the efficacy of social sciences in policy making. This is why in the US, IR is also referred to as ‘American Social Science’.
After sometime, these concepts made their way to the East. Decolonisation acted as a catalyst in this regard, but here the academia’s progress enjoyed minimal success for multiple reasons. For instance, in Pakistan the academia is not acknowledged as an influential policy actor because academic research is a neglected domain, while the social sciences are still misunderstood and underutilized. Besides, academic activities other than scholarship are not encouraged by the state. However, academic research related to IR is confined to Islamabad, the same way economic activities are limited to Karachi and art and cultural activities to Lahore.
Going against the norm, on May 5 and 6 this year, the School of Integrated Social Sciences (SISS) of University of Lahore broke this monotonous situation by arranging a two day international conference on ‘Threats to Security in 21st Century: Finding a global way forward’. The conference was inaugurated by the President of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Sardar Masood Ahmad Khan, and a seasoned former diplomat. The conference was attended by notable foreign and national academicians, practitioners and students.
Security, as I perceive it, is a feeling which remains unsatisfied. It has become a prime concern in Pakistan as it is influencing multiple national policies including trade policy, internal law and order, science and technology, and foreign policy. Today Pakistan is faced with numerous security threats; hence balanced policies are needed which can be formulated only through a judicious blend of academic and executive authorities’ participation.
Today Pakistan is faced with numerous security threats; hence balanced policies are needed which can be formulated only through a judicious blend of academic and executive authorities’ participation
Hence, conducting conferences and seminars, where practitioners and intelligentsia gather for a wider interaction of fresh ideas coined by research scholars; are held to ensure the participation academia in the policy making process. The School of Integrated Social Sciences arranged this conference. The first day was divided into two plenary sessions including a dialogue between Mr Ejaz Haider, a renowned journalist and TV anchor, and Ms Hina Rabbani Khar, former foreign minister on security, vis-à-vis foreign policy of Pakistan. After this discussion the first plenary began with a detailed comment from Mr Najamudin A. Sheikh, former foreign secretary, on Pakistan’s foreign Policy challenges in the 21st century. He aptly elaborated the very nature of foreign policy in Pakistan in the 20th century and the challenges of the new millennium. The most interesting feature of the first plenary were the keynote speeches of Mr Khalid Banuri former DG ACDA (Arms Control and Disarmament Affairs) of SPD (Strategic Planning Division) who highlighted the wave of Ultra-Nationalism and imagining its risk at regional as well as at global level in terms of threats to security.
Dr Farrukh Saleem, a prominent economist and strategic analyst, explained the balance between economy and national security, which is a neglected dimension of national security in Pakistan because security related issues are still considered as uni-dimensional and uni-organisational. Similarly, the second plenary was again distinguished because of the speakers. Out of the five, four were foreigners representing different regional narratives on contemporary security challenges. The most notable was Dr Mohammad Ali from Nigeria who enlightened the Pakistani audience on the lesser known issues of African politics.
However, Mr Rahimullah Yusafzai, another famous journalist and expert on Afghan affairs, elucidated the complex matrix of contemporary security challenges in Afghanistan and their impact on the region generally, and Pakistan in particular. Furthermore, this conference was not attractive for the local electronic media, as it would not earn good ratings for them, but, on the contrary, the keynote address of Mani Shankar Ayer, a former Indian diplomat and cabinet minister, made it a sensation for Indian electronic media. An Indian English news channel called ‘Times Now’ bitterly criticized Mani Shankar because he called Mohammad Ali Jinnah ‘Quaid-e-Azam’(the great leader). They aired a small video chunk of his speech where he expounded the need for harmony between India and Pakistan through truth, reconciliation and peace.
The second day began with another plenary session, where a cluster of eminent speakers discussed the various dimensions of present-day security challenges. Dr Adil Sultan from Kings College London spoke about the relationship between nuclear weapons and security. Ambassador Gamini Keerawella from Sri Lanka highlighted the Siri Lankan view of South Asian regional security in the 21st century. An enlightening conversation between Ejaz Haider and Dr Moeed Yusuf, associate vice president of the Asia centre at the US institute for peace, took place on the current dynamics of Pak-US relations.
The climax of the event was the paper presentations, the conference held 13 concurrent sessions where 70 papers were presented by local and foreign scholars on security related sub-themes like human security, climate, nuclear weapons, economic security, energy and cyber and informational security. It was a praiseworthy session where a plethora of ideas were presented by the researchers to address the traditional and non-traditional security challenges of the present era. These creative notions can be of great help for Pakistan’s policy makers in addressing short and long term security challenges, if considered. In fact, it is high time the government of Pakistan took certain initiatives to encourage the academia’s active participation in the policy making process.
The executive authorities of Pakistan must learn that policies cannot be imposed, rather it should be implemented in phases. Here, I cannot forget to mention CPEC because it enhanced the influx of academic and economic activities in Lahore. Besides, these conferences are also part the soft power of a nation-state. A state like Pakistan can project its narrative well through soft power only.
The writer is an independent researcher he teaches IR at IR Academy for CSS, Lahore. He can be contacted: firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Daily Times, May 24th 2018.