With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resultant end to the Cold War, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) lost much of its earlier relevance. But with many of its members still nostalgic about the days when they could claim having global influence, the Movement has continued to sputter on.
Its importance now lies primarily in the platform that it provides the Summit’s hosts to enhance their domestic credibility and international image. And, of course, these gatherings provide a great opportunity for world leaders to engage in quiet diplomacy, away from the glare and publicity of bilateral visits. The just-concluded Non-Aligned Summit in Tehran was no exception, coming at an opportune moment for Iran, given the mounting diplomatic pressures on it, not only with regards to its nuclear programme, but its human rights policies as well. This explains Iran’s massive effort to ensure a successful Summit, both to weaken US-led efforts to isolate it and to reassure its own populace that government policies were bearing fruit.
The US and its European allies, on the other hand, have never been enamoured of the NAM and even less of the Islamic Republic, which accounted for their effort to minimise the Summit’s importance and to urge the invitees to stay away. On this score, both sides can claim a degree of success, as Iran is using its assumption of the Movement’s chairmanship and the Summit declaration to claim having broken out of isolation. It is, however, debatable whether Tehran was able to achieve all its objectives. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, contrary to his usual reticence, used his meeting with the Iran’s supreme leader to publicly question the country’s domestic policies. In the process, he may have pleased the US, which had tried to dissuade him from travelling to Tehran, but it is doubtful whether he was able to enhance his personal standing or the credibility of the organisation he heads. The Egyptian president, currently engaged in a difficult tightrope walk on critical domestic and foreign policy challenges, chose to use the Summit to come down hard on the Syrian regime, signalling his displeasure with Tehran’s blanket support to the Assad regime, while reinforcing his credentials to promote a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian crisis, which led some observers to detect hints of future cooperation between Cairo and Tehran on this issue.
The Pakistani delegation, headed by President Asif Ali Zardari, had to walk a fine line between wishing to demonstrate some solidarity with the hosts while steering away from any initiative that could negatively impact the country’s strategic ties with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Pakistan did, however, decide to join countries that warned against foreign interference and military intervention in the Syrian civil war. This surprised some Arab delegations but was understandable, given Pakistan’s own concerns about foreign interference in its domestic affairs. The Bhutto family’s emotional ties to the Assad regime may also have been a factor in it, though Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was right to warn that “prolonged instability in Syria would have serious consequences for the region, the Muslim Ummah and for the entire world. It is time to find commonly agreed solutions to stop the blood bath in Syria”. Earlier, Pakistan had abstained from voting on an anti-Syrian resolution in the UN Security Council.
The Summit also provided an opportune moment for another ‘cordial’ meeting between President Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in which they reaffirmed their common desire to keep the normalisation process on track. PM Singh, however, refused to give any indication as to when he would undertake an official visit to Pakistan, thus confirming continued reservations with Pakistan’s antiterror efforts.
The Summit was a welcome reprieve for Iran, boosting its morale, but it is doubtful if Israel and its sympathisers are going to be dissuaded from pursuing their objectives because of the Summit’s declaration.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2012.
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