By Frances Bulathsinghala
The democratic values of the American people will prevail over attempts at reversing the core principles of that country, a senior Pakistani defense and international trade expert believes.
Ikram Sehgal, a former military officer and a senior Pakistani defense expert who serves as a Board Director of the East West Institute (EWI), a US-based think-tank, told DailyFT that Islamic countries could depend on the goodwill of the people of the United States as well its judicial system to ensure that racial discrimination is not institutionalized.
Sehgal said that in an age when regional and global relations are held firmly by trade and industrial relations between the corporate sectors of the world, whether it be in the SAARC region or other parts of the globe, individual countries would find it economically disastrous to follow a closed door policy triggered by petty race based fears.
Sehgal feels that current ideological conflicts in the West, spearheaded by US nationalism, would pave the way for China to emerge as a world leader drawing upon itself the mantle of globalization, a role nobody would have conceived for the communist nation some years ago.
Having set up his business chain in 1977, specializing in trading, and establishing the Pathfinder Group in Pakistan, which includes two of the country’s largest private security companies, Sehgal is also affiliated to the World Economic Forum (WEF), WEF’s Global Agenda Council (GAC) for counter-terrorism and anti-corruption and money-laundering, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
“As a military-man I have always believed that war has to be fought only as a last resort and that this last resort has to be taken seriously. I believe strongly in peace and the emphasis on peace and winning human trust after a conflict is over,” Sehgal said.
“Countries cannot survive with narrow policies that look at human resources and trade through a racial lens,” he said speaking on the post-election scenario in the United States.
He maintained that he was not surprised at the protests seen soon after the inauguration of President Trump. Sehgal was referring to the biggest single day protest in American history when a virtual human sea flooded airports to voice dissent against Trump’s executive order banning refugees for 120 days and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days.
Sehgal’s comments came in the midst of continuous and ongoing protests of diverse nature within the United States.Trade, technology and advertising were up in arms against the intolerance of the new President.
The Budweiser Super Bowl Commercial (which has to date become the most viewed online ads) is an example of the innovativeness in the protest. Thousands of employees of global technology companies such as Google and Netflix had shown how technology that brings the world together is dependent on world unity to fight threats such as terrorism. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook had openly declared his sentiments against President Trump’s executive orders on immigration policy stating that the need to keep the country safe should be done by focusing on people who actually pose a threat.
Describing himself as ‘a good Muslim taught by Texas nuns in a Catholic school in what was then East Pakistan, Sehgal said that the inherent goodness and fair play inherent in the American people, inculcated over the years through movements such as the civil rights movement and the feminist movement of the 1960s, should not be under-estimated.
“We should believe in the goodness and fair play inherent in the American people,’ he underlined.
Sehgal also maintained that the core principles of the American constitution will not allow the reversal of democracy.
“We have already seen how the American legal system has prevented the travel ban. I certainly do not think there will be possibilities of institutionalizing water boarding and torture as stated by President Trump when the basics of the American constitution do not support torture,” Sehgal stated.
“Within days of his Presidency, Trump had distanced himself from many other Western countries which uphold democratic values. If he continues with this kind of foreign policy he will be defeated in the United States itself,” he predicted.
A strong advocate of the use of business and industrial relations to bring about peace in the troubled world, Sehgal feels that the full potential of SAARC is not used to further the collective good in terms of the economy and the lives of the South Asian people.
He is unhappy that the merged trade volume through South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), is a mere 5% of total transactions, while in comparison the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, records 52% of transactions within the region and Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) records around 22%.
“South Asia has its share of conflicts, mainly between India and Pakistan, but what we can see is that whatever the problems, the corporate sector continues to forge its ties through trade, despite the obstacles. We can only imagine how trade and prosperity would flourish within South Asia if its nations resolve to settle outstanding issues in the region, such as the issue of Kashmir and the conflict over sharing of water resources between India and Pakistan,” Sehgal said referring to the Indus Waters Treaty brokered by the World Bank in 1960, but which has fractured with time.
While India alleges that Pakistan is supporting cross border terrorism, Pakistan alleges that India is oppressing the people of Kashmir and is not adhering to the treaty on water sharing.
Sehgal described the South Asian economy as a ‘complementary economy,’ where the production of one particular item would need multiple resources from different South Asian countries.
“If we look at trade relations between nations, we could well say that the whole world is a complimentary economy which cannot afford racism. But if we specifically focus on South Asia, we certainly cannot afford conflicts with each other because we are dependent on each other. In South Asia, specifically, what we have is a closely connected complimentary economy, where for the manufacture of one product you need to have resources which are found in the other countries of the region,” he said.
He feels that the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry, set up to bring about improvement in the business environment in the region, is acting out the role as a keeper of sanity in the face of the India-Pakistan cold war.
(The featured picture at the top is that of Pakistani defense and trade analyst Ikram Sehgal)