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January 12, 2020

‘Erosion of rules-based global order, tech advancement impacting future of nation states’

Lahore

January 12, 2020

LAHORE : The biggest strategic threat the world faces today is the erosion of the rules-based international order coupled with the emergence of digital world that is impacting the idea of nation states, said Sir Mark Lyall Grant, former UK High Commissioner to Pakistan and lately UK National Security Advisor.

Speaking on International Governance and the Future of the Nation State, which is part of a discussion at two-day ThinkFest 2020 here Saturday, Sir Mark Lyall Grant shared his views in conversation with Ahmed Rashid. He said that the emergence of powerful multinational technology companies had weakened the power of national governments. “The widespread acceptance of the Internet and other technologies also helped spread knowledge across the borders. Actually, the Internet does not respect any international border. Various countries like China, Turkey and India tried to block access to the Internet to restrict its impact. India recently totally blocked the use of the Internet,” he added.

Talking about the power of data, he observed, governments were used to know first but it was no more a reality. “Now, it is the digital media including social media and twenty-four seven news channels that know information first even before intelligence agencies. That is in effect a shift of power from government to non-government organizations,” Grant added. “There is a big struggle nowadays between governments and tech companies as the enterprises have comparatively more data. The balance of power has been shifted to the big companies. The big four tech companies now have come up and they are operating globally. The Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Alphabet are not just richer but also own more data than governments,” he maintained.

Throwing light on other factors, he said, religious identity also now tends to impact national identity negatively. “India’s citizenship law is one such example of putting religious identity ahead of national identity. Despite some strategic advances we have seen in recent years like fewer conflict deaths today than has been for the last two hundred years, life expectancy is increasing all over the world, 800 million people have been taken out of poverty in the last thirty years, for first time last year more money is being invested in renewables than fossil fuels. Yet, these are very important strategic answers. But despite that there is no doubt we are seeing a range of major threats and challenges such as the big power rivalry conflict, instability, terrorism, cyber and technology, climate change and the current tension between the US and Iran,” he opined.

“Geopolitical changes like the extraordinary rise of China have increased their right and ability to set the international agenda. But in the West, there is a big question mark about China’s intention. The Chinese leadership has already suggested that China might move into the space vacated by the US particularly on climate change and trade. But since then, China has proposed more ambitious plans including a ‘new made in China new world order,” he maintained. Talking about the increasing role of China, he observed, the US leadership has come up with the intention of challenging China on the military, economic and technological trend. “The last front is important as China has emerged a leading player in the field of emerging technologies of Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Genetic Engineering and other biotechnologies. President Trump said he would fight for maintaining the supremacy of America,” he observed.

“We are witnessing few rounds of differences between the two superpowers that have been affecting the whole world and countries like the United Kingdom and Pakistan are now in a difficult position in choosing between the US and China. In the UK, there is an argument going on for choosing Huawei for acquisition of 5G technology,” he said. “Regionalism is also becoming a threat to the nation state. In recent decades, countries are binding together in order to tackle global issues. The emergence of the European Union is one such example of a powerful regional entity. This model is being imitated in ASEAN or African Union. Interestingly, SAARC is probably the weakest regional organization of all. The debate in the UK about Brexit is basically about loss of sovereignty to regional cooperation organizations,” he viewed.

At another session, former Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that Afghanistan deserved its sovereignty to be respected after anticipated US withdrawal from its territory, it must also act as a sovereign nation and take responsibility of its people living as refugees in Pakistan. She was speaking at a session on “PakAf: After the Withdrawal” along with Barnett Rubin from New York University, USA, on the opening day of ThinkFest here at Alhamra Hall-II on Saturday. Najam Sethi moderated the session.

She said that Pakistan was facing its own challenges to the economy and security on its eastern and western borders, therefore, it was unable to bear the burden of 3.5 million refugees from Afghanistan. “Had Pakistan’s economy been fantastic, it could have kept feeding the refugees from Afghanistan,” she said, adding that at the moment Pakistan had its own set of challenges to deal with, and could not take the burden of the Afghan refugees. “Even prosperous economies like the US are not ready to take refugees from Mexico,” she added.

To the Indian threat from Afghanistan, she said that India’s subversive activities in Pakistan were no secret, but now India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and ministers were publicly making outrageous statements reflecting their designs against Pakistan. “Under the current circumstances, Pakistan has very little room not to doubt India’s hostile intentions towards it,” she added.