Reflections on a voyage of rediscovery to Qatar |
Gulf Times - 10 June, 2012
Author: Arif Kamal
Visiting Doha eight years after the end of my mission as the Pakistani ambassador to Qatar is indeed a “journey of rediscovery” on two counts: It revives my memory lane of one decade back of persons and places and of the vision that had set in motion the process of change in this country. Secondly, it provides me an opportunity to experience the “new rise of Qatar”.
The change to date has been rapid and carries with it a high visibility that transcends places and time. The accent is on institution-building. The change represents a blend of simplicity and spontaneity with the dynamics of progress. Truly, the actionable agenda translates into a right mix of progress with heritage and tradition.
Today, the phenomenon of change in Qatar is quantifiable with a growth rate (15 % or so) that brings the state amongst the first-ranking nations in the contemporary arena. The visibility of change, regardless of the size, is no less overwhelming than what is demonstrated in modern China. Indeed the nature-given wealth is harnessed and reinvested within the state for the economic upturn underway.
Of course, Qatar’s per capita income, now the highest in the world, speaks for itself of the wheel of progress that have been set in motion. There are innumerable firsts that attest to the country’s new rise: Al Jazeera in the media domain and Qatar Airways in aviation are illustrative.
Notwithstanding the above, the real progress does not merely rest with statistical data on growth and per capita income levels. The hidden strength of the state’s new rise relates to the unparalleled agenda for human resources development and educational advance. What could be a surer guarantee for sustainable development? The vision of HH the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and his consort, HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, is being translated into reality.
It is logical indeed that commensurate with its standing in the economic domain, Qatar takes up a role in the international arena with a focus on questions of peace and security, economic co-operation and promoting a new culture of tolerance and mutual accommodation in settings that are inter-state or intra-regional.
Surely, the country has taken a quantum jump in this direction over the past decade. This role is likely to grow and attain refinement.
One would welcome this role coming into fuller play in the Middle East (e.g. Arab-Israeli scenario) and/or Afghanistan as it moves towards the endgame.
Qatari engagement with the South Asian region (home to one-fifth of humanity), as it matures, should have a longer-term perspective for peace, security and stability in its neighbourhood. The engagement has yet to attain the efficiency that it deserves.
Working hands from South Asia and supply of energy products to the region are just one traditional element in the linkages. It will accord with longer-term interests of the Gulf, Qatar very much in the lead, to promote durable settlement of disputes such as Kashmir, consistent with the wishes of its 16mn inhabitants, and thus outweigh the nuclear race between India and Pakistan.
The western part of the South Asian landmass, stretching from the Chinese border to Gwadar port (next to the Straits of Hormouz) is indeed critically important from the standpoint of securing trans-regional trading routes, whether the “new silk route” or another variant, and for stabilising the sea lanes vital for oil and gas outflow. It is therefore important to invest in Pakistan’s stability and look beyond its current peril.
Choices viz. the international partnership made by Qatar over the years, rest upon real-politik of sorts. It has unfolded the indigenous potential for reinvestments, institution-building and emergence of a new generation-educated, trained and capable to run the affairs for a better tomorrow.
At this junction, it is important to keep in view new realities in the larger setting: declining unipolar order and move towards multipolarity.
While interests remain permanent, the pathway for the country’s advance will have to be adjusted in the dynamic environment. Concurrently, gains of progress can be preserved and advanced by way of casting a big negative vote against any war in the Gulf or in its neighbourhood.
* The writer is a former Pakistani ambassador to Qatar (2000-2003), now chairing Global Studies at National Defence University in Islamabad. He and his wife, Surraya, are on a short visit to Doha.