Friday January 28, 2022

Biden invites Pakistan to Summit of Democracies

Prime Minister Imran Khan could attend the summit virtually, but the final decision would be made early next week.

November 27, 2021
President Joe Biden. File photo
President Joe Biden. File photo

ISLAMABAD: President Joe Biden has invited Pakistan to attend a two-day international “Summit of Democracies” being held on December 9-10 in Washington. Pakistan has yet to make up its mind for participation. Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood and spokesman Asem Iftikhar didn’t respond to a query about Pakistan’s decision of attending the summit. The diplomatic sources told The News Friday that Prime Minister Imran Khan could attend the summit virtually, but the final decision would be made early next week. Hectic consultations are underway in the Foreign Office on the subject, the sources pointed out.

The US president has extended invitation to 110 countries from various regions of the world, including Taiwan and India. According to the State Department, the summit will concentrate on the challenges and possibilities facing democracies and will give a forum for leaders to declare both individual and collective pledges, reforms, and efforts to safeguard democracy and human rights at home and abroad. The ‘Summit on Democracies’ will have three key themes, according to the US State Department. These would be, defending against authoritarianism, addressing and fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights.

The Freedom House analyses that the current mix of invitees includes liberal democracies, weaker democracies, and several states with authoritarian characteristics (such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Pakistan). Rather than limit participation to a core group of committed democracies, Biden’s team opted for a big tent approach. The majority of invitees — 77 countries — rank as “free” or fully democratic, according to Freedom House’s 2021 report. Another 31 invitees rank as “partly free.” Finally, three countries fall into the “not free” camp.

According to the White House announcement, the summit would be similar to the climate change "goals". "For the United States, the summit will offer an opportunity to listen, learn, and engage with a diverse range of actors whose support and commitment are critical for global democratic renewal. It will also showcase one of democracy's unique strengths: the ability to acknowledge its imperfections and confront them openly and transparently, so that we may, as the United States Constitution puts it, form a more perfect union," the US State Department said. Combining Freedom House’s index scores with tallies from the Varieties of Democracy project yields revealing results. Eight invitees fall exceptionally low on these democracy rankings, raising troubling questions about their invitations: Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Serbia, and Zambia. Four additional invitees prompt serious backsliding concerns due to heightened levels of autocratization or big declines in freedom of expression over the past 10 years: Brazil, India, the Philippines, and Poland.

When it comes to regional representation, Europe leads the world with 39 invitees, followed closely by 27 participating countries from the Western Hemisphere. The Asia Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa also enjoy robust participation with 21 and 17 invitees, respectively. In contrast, the Biden administration extended invites to fewer countries in the Middle East and North Africa and South and Central Asia. In the Middle East, only Iraq and Israel received invitations, while South and Central Asia obtained just four invites (for India, the Maldives, Nepal, and Pakistan).

According to Steven Feldstein, senior fellow in Carnegie’s Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program, the broader US strategic interests also mattered in extending invite. Pakistan, the Philippines, and Ukraine are all flawed democracies with endemic corruption and rule of law abuses. Yet they are important partners of the United States — whether to counterbalance Chinese influence (Philippines), withstand Russian encroachment (Ukraine), or assist with counterterrorism (Pakistan). Undoubtedly, the State Department’s relevant regional bureaus made the case on those grounds. He said generally the big democracies receive a ‘pass’, notwithstanding troubling reversals on individual rights and freedoms. Brazil, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Pakistan are experiencing serious democratic backsliding, populist politics, and regular political violence.