By Air Cdre® Mansoor Malik

Towards the end of this month, leaders from the Developing Eight (D-8) Muslim Countries i.e. Turkey, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt, Nigeria, Bangla Desh and of course, the host Pakistan, would be getting together at the eighth D-8 Summit in Islamabad, the beautiful capital of Pakistan, for a strategic review of their current policies visa- vie the fast changing Global Political and Economic Environment. My memories quickly flash back to Sept. 1995 when a few major defense exhibitors from Pakistan had gone to Ankara to attend the IDEF International Defense Exhibition and Conference. We had gathered a day before at the Pakistan Embassy in Ankara to invite our Ambassador to come visit us at our Pakistan Pavilion and attend the Pakistan specific press conference in the afternoon to give a boost to our defense exports in the lucrative Turkish Defense Market. To our horror and surprise our Ambassador was continuously on the phone for more than an hour and was desperate to talk to our then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to have her intervene and dispatch immediately the two keynote speakers from Pakistan who were detailed to speak in the next day morning session of the International Defense Conference to be presided by the President of Turkey. Their files were still under scrutiny at the MoD.

After a long wait, the Ambassador did finally have our attention at around 7 pm. We volunteered to speak instead of the two stranded speakers to avoid any embarrassing moments for Pakistan on the next day. The topic proposed by us was, “The Technology Triangle: Vision 2000” and I volunteered to speak for the 40 minutes slot (twenty minutes for each speaker) given to us by the Turkish Defense Ministry. The whole concept evolved on how to bring Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia together for long term defense technologies collaboration. The miracle paid off and we were declared the best speaker of the conference. In the audience that day, some of the leading parliamentarians from the Islamic Rifah Party of Professor Dr. Erbakan were also in attendance. A few of them came to our hotel the same evening and wanted more elaborate discussion on our approach. After having a long session on our concept, they produced their party document which talked of the same thing but much more in-depth cooperation not only in defense field but inclusive of Political, Socio-Economic and Education disciplines as well of not three but eight like minded Muslim Countries. This was our first exposure to the Turkish initiative of the Developing Eight Muslim Countries.

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Islamic Rifah Party won the general elections in Turkey in 1996 for the first time and Professor Erbakan became the Prime Minister of Turkey. His foremost international initiative was the formation of the D-8 Muslim Countries. All 57 Muslim countries were grouped under a loose arrangement of OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) since the partial burning of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem in 1970 but most of the Muslim masses and intellectuals were disappointed with its performance during all these years. A well knit, like minded group of Muslim Countries which could influence the world events was a dire need of the hour. Turkey, under the leadership of Professor Erbakan held the first summit of D-8 in Istanbul in the year 1997 and since then it is being held regularly after a gap of two years by its members in rotation. It is coming to our shores for the first time. Pakistan would be chairing this group for the next two years starting from 22nd November, 2012.

The D-8 countries represent more than a billion people which constitute almost 80% of the global Muslim population and have a combined GDP of nearly 2 Trillion US Dollars which would place it at number six out of the top ten economies of the world. The foot prints of this political grouping cover North Africa, Middle-East, South-West/Central Asia and South-East Asia. All these regions are hotbeds of foreign interventions and conspiracies. The two wars of the last decade i.e. Iraq and Afghanistan along with the internal strives in Tunisia, Libya and now Syria has totally de-stabilized these regions but the war mongering is now on the decline and peace dividends could be round the corner. Professor Erbakan’s vision of the 1990s’ is slowly coming to light through his protégés in the present Turkish government.

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The last D-8 Summit at Abuja, Nigeria had given itself a   “Ten Year Action Plan” which would be continuously reviewed and revised according to the progress achieved at each summit. Apart from establishing an “Economic Union” including Free/Preferential Trade Agreements amongst themselves, political grouping of this kind would also push the other OIC member countries into emulating some of their programmes. New political leaders from Egypt and Nigeria would be attending the D-8 Summit in Islamabad for the first time and it would certainly be exciting to listen to their views. Dr. Mahathir Muhammad of Malaysia, the passionate leader of this group would be badly missed and the void he has left behind would be difficult to be filled.

Turkey, over the years has re-established itself as a Muslim World leader and a lot depends on it to take the D-8 group to new heights as this concept was germinated on the beautiful shores of Istanbul. Most of these countries can be called Medium Technology ones but they do have the potential of reaching for high technologies through their bilateral/multi-lateral “Technology Transfer” agreements. Investments in new technologies can pay itself off due to a large captive market of more than a billion people. With more than 500 Universities and R&D Institutes in this group, Science & Technology Innovations could lead to viable new products and services for a large population due to its economy of size. Our real competitors could be India and China but we are likely to fare better due to our physical presence in the two fastest growing continents of Asia and Africa.

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The success of D-8 countries would depend on the quality of leadership that emerges out of these eight countries. Their success could be a beacon of hope for the 57 OIC member countries some of whom could be on a fast track while others can be put on a medium track of development. Most of the Muslim World is in a state of flux and lacks visionary leaders who can take us out of this quagmire. Pakistan which is hosting the current summit in end of November this year and would be its chairman for the next two years would have to meet new challenges on the Political, Economic, Social, Defense, Technological and Human Development fronts. The global competition is becoming fierce and regional groupings could be a way forward to meet the growing challenges of a fast moving world. Most of the Muslim countries are still living in the 20th century mind set and the D-8 leadership can jolt them from their deep slumber to bring them closer to the 21st century realities. We owe it to our next generation to give them a better and well prepared Muslim World.