In the past three days, I have attended three seminars in my neighbourhood in Islamabad; one by Centre for Culture and Development with speakers from Iran, Sweden and Pakistan; one about Oxfam’s annual report, this time (as always) about the devastating inequality in the world; and the third one at ISSI where the United Nations General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Sepinoza Garces spoke about the role of the multilateral cooperation organisation. Further away, at the foot of the Swiss mountain in Davos, the impressive annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) goes on this week, and I will ‘attend’ several sessions on my laptop, perhaps having a better seat than those who have paid more than my annual income to be in Davos physically. Besides, just now, it is cold enough in Islamabad, not to speak of in the Murree Hills above the city – competing with the beauty of Davos.

The keyword behind the meetings I have mentioned, and many more, since at WEF in Davos they have planned 333 meetings, plus informal ones and media talks, is cooperation, compromise and togetherness rather than competition, separateness and conflict. That is the only way ahead, they say at WEF in Davos, and they have said that for several years. This year the theme is: ‘shaping the future together’. They want us to be interdisciplinary, not sector-fixated; they want us to be multicultural, not allowing one culture or group to dominate; they want experts on the scene, but never let them decide alone unless they have discussed with others, and so on. WEF wants the whole world to discuss issues – together. That includes governments and oppositions, private sector companies either they are huge, medium or small, civil society and interest organisations, campaigns and movements of different shades, and so on.

WEF wants the youth from everywhere and of every persuasion and creed to have a special place in shaping the future. They are today more than sixty percent of the inhabitants of our globe, and in some years, they will become one hundred percent, to state the obvious. Well, then others who are younger will breathe down their necks. But in future the percentage of youth relative to the middle-aged and older will be smaller than today if trends continue, and if we believe the forecasts of the highly reputed Swedish physician and thinker Hans Rosling (1949-2017) and his son Ola and his wife Anna. In the book ‘Factfulness’, they claim convincingly that the world isn’t as bad as we think, neither in population growth, climate change or poverty. Things have improved in recent decades. But we must still keep the eye on the ball because things don’t improve by themselves and trends don’t quite become reality automatically. Rosling’s statistics show that the poor have mainly lifted themselves up through their own efforts. Government policies, indeed in population, have some effect, but more important in that field is it that social betterment happens. Then people can sort out their own lives, including having fewer children.

To develop a better world, do what Rosling and WEF in Davos advocate, we have to cooperate, locally, regionally and globally – and cooperation means to discuss, agree and disagree, and eventually find solutions together, and it means to curb the old profit-makers selfish agendas. Well, they are inbuilt in the capitalist world order we live under; hence, there is need for quite a few changes there in a world with development but greater inequalities, requiring new laws and tighter regulations. There will certainly be need for diplomacy and compromise, but also much old-fashion labour union negotiations. I hope we still have some such unions; otherwise we need to train new ones. Remember, the workers’ fight for better salaries and work conditions – even through strikes and militancy, not only pleasant negotiations – is part of the cooperation that leads to an improved world for all. Today, even the owners of the means of production and capital, and their organisations, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have realised that greater equality makes countries more stable and progressive. The IMF boss Christine Lagarde said that at WEF in Davos a few years ago. I hope she repeats it this year. She has realised that we cannot be in the pocket of the profit-makers; we need to put restrictions and control measures in place. That is also part of cooperation and of shaping the future together.

Let me now turn to some recent Scandinavian examples of cooperation in politics. First, about Sweden, where they finally got a new cabinet approved last Monday 21 January 2019, after about four months of negotiations since the result of the parliamentary elections on 9 September 2018 led to a virtual draw between the traditional left-right blocks, with just one seat majority to the left. All parties in parliament refused to cooperate with the far-right party, the Swedish Democrats (SD). If they had cooperated with that quite extremist party, the several conservative parties would have had a clear majority.

For some further details about the election results in Sweden, I refer to my column in this paper on 13 and 20 September 2018. It can be useful for us even in Pakistan to compare notes with Sweden, although the country is certainly also very different from Pakistan. It is an important point that in Sweden, they say and show that parties should cooperate, even across major divides, but also that there is a limit to whom to cooperate with; leaving out SD because of its New Nazi and racist origin; today, it still uses harsh words about immigrants.

In Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg from the Conservative Party expanded her coalition government on Tuesday 22 January 2019. The new cabinet will be a majority cabinet, made up of four parties; the Conservatives (H), the Right-wing Conservatives (FrP), the Liberals (V) and the one that just joined, the Christian People’s Party (KrF); the two latter are small parties but have a balance vote and can decide on the colour of the government. They all have to take and give in order to rule the land together. Is it good? It is alright since this is how the parties now have decided to work based on the election results a year and a half ago. The newcomer in government, KrF, had a long debate about whether to join the Conservatives (H) rather than Labour (Ap). If they had voted for Ap, the current PM and cabinet would have been voted out of power. Not quit democratic, many would say, but these are the rules. My point is that the various political parties have to discuss with each other and compromise. That is healthy even in politics.

Pakistan has a charismatic PTI leader and Prime Minister in Imran Khan. I hope the other political parties, the judiciary and military weigh their approaches and actions in the way they oppose the government and its struggle for ‘Naya Pakistan’. Of course, when the opposition is genuine and based on principles, it should also argue for alternatives in a constructive way. But it is also important that the opposition ‘swallows a few camels’ when needed, and even support the government of the time. That is decent behaviour in politics, in love and hate, in private and public affairs. Indeed, it should be like that at Pakistan’s current, crucial juncture, turning a new leaf in the land’s history. Lessons from the level-headed and pragmatic Scandinavians can be learnt.

In future articles from the World Economic Forum in Davos, and about lessons from experiences in other countries, I shall give more space to the role of the private sector and civil society, as they, too, play key roles in deciding on how we can shape the future together – given that the word ‘together’ really should be used. Maybe we have to be more militant in order to reach the ‘promised land’? We should also realise that the populist parties are unknown and unpredictable and can shatter politics, and also, that the globalisation in recent years have gone too far and has been tilted. I mentioned above at that above that the role of the labour unions and the leftist politics, is essential in shaping one common future for all – be it in Pakistan, Sweden, Norway, or anywhere else on the globe. A few days ago, David Attenborough said to Prince William in a TV interview at WEF in Davos, when he was talking about climate change and more, that the key word is ‘care’. He stressed that we must all care for one another, not only ourselves. That is essential in order to shape a better future for all.


The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid.