Talking alignments

Published: September 1, 2012

International attention has switched to Iran as it hosts a major conference, bringing together 29 heads of government and state. The 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Tehran has produced its moments of drama, with Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi — the first leader from that nation to visit Iran — backing the Syrian opposition and thus standing against the host country in that conflict. The UN chief also sought an easing of tensions between Iran and Israel. In a unipolar world where one superpower, the US, dominates the UN, one gets the impression that the NAM Summit has lost relevancy and is surviving only on ideals. However, the Summit does give leaders from developing countries an opportunity to meet and discuss issues of mutual concern. In this sense, it removes, for a time at least, the domination of the West and allows other schools of thought to be put forward, although their effectiveness in a US-dominated world remains to be seen.

The Summit gave an opportunity to Pakistan to demonstrate where it stands. Defying its key ally Washington, with whom relations have been uneasy of late, President Asif Ali Zardari backed enhanced trade with Iran, better bilateral ties and also the gas pipeline project running from Iran to Pakistan. While the US will obviously not be pleased with these pronouncements, there is much scope in this for Pakistan, which needs to find friends to help it in economic, social and political terms.

The two heads of state during their meeting on the sidelines of the Summit also discussed the wars in Afghanistan and Syria. While this may have been a little more than symbolic, it indicated a readiness to work together and adopt a perspective on the world different than that beamed out from Washington. The Summit was also significant in that it provided a valuable opportunity for Mr Zardari to meet India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The two leaders discussed the trial of those held for the Mumbai attack of 2008, as well as other matters. Such discussions among various world leaders can help patch over divides and even if the Summit does not produce long-lasting solutions to problems plaguing countries, it may provide some hope that conflict between nations can be resolved through dialogue.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2012.

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