The World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting 2004 this year was a success story for Pakistan. While the President Gen Pervez Musharraf had many one-on-one meetings and also addressed a Plenary Session on Thursday Jan 22, the inter-active Presidential Breakfast on Friday Jan 23 hosted in cooperation with Global Agenda, the official magazine of the World Economic Forum (WEF) was a tremendous success. The President also held a Press Conference on Jan 23, this had standing room only. We have probably never had such a targetted multi-country high level audience focused on Pakistan under one roof except at international institution meetings like the UN General Assembly, etc, the list of persona reads like a world “who’s who”. Almost everyone present in Davos got a detailed knowledge of Pakistan, courtesy Global Agenda’s special Pakistan Supplement. Global Agenda honoured Pakistan by giving the President’s interviews both in the main magazine and the Supplement. Since the Supplement was brought out by a neutral entity, its credibility was for real. However because of the small number of Ads, the number of pages was limited to 32. It was frustrating to note that entities like PIA, Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), Board of Investment (BOI), Adamjee Insurance, Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB), etc which otherwise give Ads in every conceivable international media neglected this important print media circulation that is read by almost all the decision- and/or influence makers in the world, whether in government, academic, media or corporate entities, etc.
One can gauge the enthusiasm to hear the Pakistani President speak from the fact that the Breakfast was planned initially for 50 guests, because of the large number of requests for invitations being made, the number was raised first to 100, then 150, ultimately 190 were seated and 15-20 persons had standing room only in the crammed “Belvedere Lounge” of Steinberger Belvedere, the premier 5-Star Hotel in Davos. Many tried to gatecrash but had to be turned away.
Among those attending the breakfast at the very early hour of 7:30 am Friday 23 Jan 2004 were, from the US (1) Mr Strobe Talbott, former US Deputy Secretary of State (2) Mr Samuel Huntington of the Harvard Academy for International Studies, famous for his controversial study on the “Clash of Civilization” (3) from Time Magazine came Michael Elliot (4) from Newsweek, Lally Graham Weymouth, Arlene Getz and Fareed Zakaria (5) from Washington Post Richard Cohen and David Ignatius (6) from Boston Globe, Hugh Greenway (7) Fortune Magazine, Robert Friedman (8) The Wall Street Journal, Alan Friedman and Constance Ford (9) Harvard University Graham Allison, Richard Cooper, David Gergen (Director of Communication in the Clinton Cabinet), Andreas Halvorsen, Joseph S Nye Jr and Kenneth Rogoff (10) Rand Corporation, Bruce Hoffman (11) World Bank, Katharine Marshall (12) University of Pennsylvania and (13) CBS, Patrick Harper (14) Edith Lederer of the Associated Press (15) Richard Levin and Ms Florencio of Yale University (16) Ellen Laipson of Henry L Stimson Center (16) Joseph Stiglitz from Columbia University, etc. From the UK came (1) BBC’s Nik Gowing, Stephen Cole, Jonathan Charles, Kevin Marsh and Richard Sambrook (2) Sheikh Zaki Badawi of The Muslim College (3) Tom Fenton of CBS (4) Dr Anthony Grayling of University of London (5) Mark Halper of TIME, UK (6) Julian-Le Grand, Bridget M Hutter and David Held of the London School of Economics (7) William Lewis of Sunday Times (8) Christopher Keljik of Standard Chartered Bank (9) Sri Mark Moody-Stuart, former Chairman Shell (10) Farhan Nizami of Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (11) Richard T. Pascale of Oxford University (12) Peter David of the Economist and (13) Marc Champion of the Wall Street Journal Europe. From France there was (1) Arnaud Theirry of La Tribune (2) Craig Capetas of Bloomberg (3) Peter Gobel and James Graff of TIME from France (4) Prof Ethan Kapstein of INSEAD (5) JM Vittori of Le Echos and (6) John Rossant of Businessweek. From Canada there was (1) Steven Davis of Carleton University (2) Lysiance Gagnon of La Presse and (3) Kim Samuel-Johnson of Samuel Group of Companies. From India there was Ajit Gulabchand, the Bajaj brothers, the Godrej brothers, Shekhar Gupta, Dhruv Sawhney, Shekhar Kapur and Ms Tavleen Singh. Dignitaries from Mexico, Norway, Italy, HK, Germany, Ghana, Egypt, Brazil, etc were also present.
Both at the Breakfast and the Press Conference, the President was extremely eloquent in describing the multi-dimensional problems facing Pakistan, many of them not of Pakistan’s making. He spoke about our economic and political problems that Pakistan faced when he took over and how they had been generally overcome, and of how the economy had been turned around and a foreign exchange deficit changed into a healthy surplus. The questions he was asked about terrorism, nuclear proliferation, religious fanaticism were tough but it was a privilege to see a Pakistani leader keep his cool under (initially at least) hostile questioning and give detailed and deliberate replies with maturity. He brushed aside the assassination attempts as being part of his job profile in a very tough neighbourhood in the world. A hard-bitten cynical lot, it was a matter of pride to see that the audience was visibly impressed by the answers to the rather tough questions posed. Such a lot does not give its approval easily, it was an opportunity for those assembled to form their own opinion, Pervez Musharraf changed a number of perceptions about Pakistan by his blunt and forthright candour.
The theme this year for the WEF Annual Meeting 2004 were the three words “Partnering-Security-Prosperity” and how they relate to each other. After Dr Klaus Schwab of the WEF and President Josef Deiss of the Swiss Confederation had welcomed the delegates, President Khatami of Iran made an eloquent appeal for constructive dialogue between Islam and the West. Then President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria with Nobel Prize Laureate Prof Elie Wiesel highlighted the central focus on the 5-day conference. On the stage also were UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Hewlett Packard’s Chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina, Former President Costa Rica Jose Maria Figueres, co-CEO WEF. Earlier former US President Bill Clinton spoke about the need for developed countries and the wealthy to reach out to the poor, under-nourished and the ailing of the developed world. It is impossible to list all the 150 plus sessions here but among the important one was the C-100, a Council of 100 western and Islamic leaders formed to remove the misunderstanding between the west and Islam while the initial promise was less than satisfactory. Leaders present were Archbishop Carey of Canterbury, HE Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Richard Haas, Shaikh Fawzi El Zafzaf of Al Azhar University, Abdullah Omar Nassef of World Muslim Congress, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf of American Sufi Muslim Society, HRH Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, Christianne Amanpour of CNN, Ayatollah Mohajerani of Iran, Lord Putnam, etc.
Another major emphasis in the WEF this year was on the ongoing “war against terrorism”, a number of panels debated the issues, of particular interest was the panel on the “business of terrorism” chaired by Bruce Hoffman of Rand Corporation. The panelists were Harvard Lecturer Jessica Stern, Michael Elliot of Time Magazine, Robert Beauchamp of BMC Software USA, Arat J de Gris of Synopsis, from Pakistan I had the honour and privilege of presenting the whole gamut of the country’s unrelenting “war on terrorism”.
Pakistan should always be represented by a Head of State and Government in the WEF Annual Meeting once, the stellar reception given to Musharraf by a heavyweight audience confirmed my repeated assertions that the DAVOS network affords tremendous public relations (PR) for any entity, be it an individual, a corporate entity, a think tank or a nation, etc. Where else in the world will you have so many Heads of State and Government, academics and intellectuals, heads of multinationals (MNCs), world NGOs, media giants, etc under one roof at one time? These are the people who influence and/or shape policy on all major issues, political, economic, academic, cultural, etc at the very apex of decision-making strata, and DAVOS afforded a special occasion for the President to get Pakistan’s message across very early in 2004.