Islamabad Security Dialogue: Shaping the Future

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“Being proactive, unapologetic, pragmatic and introspective is need of the hour for Pakistan’s policy-making & governance” was stated by Former National Security Adviser of Pakistan Dr. Moeed Yusuf at the second iteration of Islamabad Security Dialogue (ISD). The two-day hybrid event was held on 1st & 2nd April, 2022 under the aegis of the National Security Division (NSD) at the Pak-China Friendship Center, Islamabad. ISD desired to place Pakistan as a leading voice in terms of debates and discussions on national and international security. It aims to reinforce the need for regional cooperation to collectively deal with existing and emerging challenges in a rapidly changing and contested security environment. This year’s theme “Comprehensive Security: Reimagining International Cooperation” was an effort to present Pakistan as a country that is dedicated and willing to partner with everybody in peace and cooperation, but not wanted to become part of any camp or contestation and being dragged into conflicts that are not of our making. Pakistan through this forum desired to present its narrative, perspective, and line of action.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated ISD 2022 on 1st April, 2022. He shared his views that “He envisions Pakistan as a welfare country with rule of law, inclusive growth and an independent foreign policy where common people’s interests are prioritized.” Similarly, COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa also stated the significance of making a shift towards geo-economics without compromising core geopolitical interests. He was of the view that “Pakistan’s pivot towards geo-economics will enable Pakistan to strengthen its defense as arms and tanks solely cannot adequately protect the nation.”  This shows that our political and military leadership thinks along the lines of a similar national security apparatus.

The second edition of ISD had seven sessions. The first session was “Leveraging Geo-Economics Through Growth and Connectivity”. The esteemed panelists included Shamshad Akhtar, Ishrat Husain, Peter Frankopan from England, Andrew Small from Germany, Lin Minwang from China, and Yvan De Mesmaeker from Belgium. Panelists at ISD shared their views that connectivity is poor across South Asia because it has an extensive geopolitical dimension. They shared those countries across South Asia must understand that inward-looking and self-reliance policies do not help any country in development. Connectivity and cooperation have always been the key features in the development of the region. Suspicion and mistrust between states must be handled through effective engagement and dialogue. Pakistan and regional countries need a holistic approach to change the narrative of geo-political contestation to geo-economic cooperation.

The highlight of ISD 2022 was National Security Adviser’s (NSA) forum. Serving National Security Advisers from China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia (delivered through Saudi Ambassador), and Turkey virtually participated in security dialogue and shared their perspectives on Asian security. They focused on traditional and non-traditional challenges like Covid-19, food security, Ukraine crisis, instability in Afghanistan, Terrorism, External influence & interferences, cyber threats, strategic rivalry between the US and China, return of Cold War rhetoric, and the role of energy politics. They all vowed to promote and work together to ensure security & stability in Asia and positively endorsed the role of multilateral forums like the UN to protect and defend the legitimate security interests of countries.

The other important session was “Challenges to International Security”. Former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi delivered a keynote speech followed by a message delivered on behalf of the Secretary-General by Mr. Julien Harneis. The high-level panel included Tehmina Janjua former foreign secretary, Zalmay Khalilzad from the US, Fu Xiaoqiang from China, Pravin Sawhney from India, and Wakana Mukai from Japan. They shared their thoughts that the Asian region at present moment is under great stress due to the ongoing tussle between the US and China. The revival of Quad, the signing of AUKUS, multilateral exercises, and upholding the so-called Indo-Pacific strategy has created great divisions in this region.

Panelists at ISD consider the pursuit of one’s own security at the expense of other states as a fruitless approach and view division of the international community as a very serious issue for globalization. They expressed their serious concern over the weaponization of Cyberspace & Artificial Intelligence, the introduction of destabilizing weapons systems, offensive doctrines, and military mis-adventurism. They recommended that to overcome these existing and emerging challenges, states must pursue the path of peaceful co-existence based on mutual trust.

The session “Navigating Disinformation and Discourse in the Information Age” showed Pakistan’s convening power. Pakistan attracted analysts and journalists from different countries having different world views. Shane Harris from the US, Liu Xin from China, Karan Thapar from India, Oksana Boyko from Russia, Javed Jabbar and Hussain Nadim from Pakistan participated in it to focus on the challenges and opportunities the modern communications mean have for both states and individuals. Panelists shared their valuable insights that Disinformation damages and undermines the credibility of institutions and individuals. They recommended a global consensus on the regulation of information to be developed to deal with this emerging challenge.

The other most important session was “Evolving Challenges and opportunities in International Law”. Judge Raul Pangalangan from the Philippines delivered the keynote address, other panelists include Hurst Hannum from the US, Kubo Macak from Switzerland, Toby Landau from Singapore, James Kraska from the US, Danae Azaria from England, and Ahmed Irfan from Pakistan. Panelists discussed self-determination, human rights, cyber warfare, maritime security law, state silence and its impact on the development of law and international arbitration.

The last session was “Citizen-Centric National Security Policy” where five advisory board think tanks presented the findings of roundtables on broader themes of National Security Policy and discussants further dwelled on the subject.

The ISD was designed to integrate a mix of intellectuals and officials to have a comprehensive analysis of evolving global and regional challenges. In my point of view, it has positively bridged multi-stakeholders and people who are close to the corridors of power.

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