The 3rd Islamabad Security Dialogue commonly known as ISD was arranged by the Strategic Policy Planning Cell of the National Security Division housed at the Prime Minister’s Office on the 10th and 11th of May. Organizing ISD after 9th May is indeed a very commendable achievement. The theme for this year was, “Beyond Conflict? Resetting the Global Agenda in a Divided World”. The venue for this premium forum of intellectual discourse and policy was the magnificent Pak-China Friendship Center which stands in the capital of Islamabad as a testimonial to the friendship of two brotherly nations. The previous edition of ISD also took place at the same venue and as luck would have it was also during extreme uncertainty.

The ISD this year had an unmatched presence by the diplomatic corps in Islamabad. Representatives of almost all embassies were present at the dialogue. Other attendees were military officers, retired ambassadors, university professors, the think tank community, members of civil society, and students.

Traditionally the forum is inaugurated by the Prime Minister of Pakistan but this year due to his unavailability, ISD on behalf of the Prime Minister was inaugurated by the Minister of Planning and Special Initiatives. The other ministerial representation included both Federal and Minister of State of Finance, Minister of Climate Change, and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. The ISD also had some remarkable foreign speakers like Peter Frankopan, Andrew Small, Judge Bruno Simma, Ian Fry, a country representative of the World Bank, and Zhang Nijeng.

However, the star attractions of this year’s ISD were the Commanders Forum which was hosted by the Institute of Strategic Studies Research and Analysis (ISSRA) at the National Defence University, and the National Security Advisors Forum which was hosted by the National Security Division. The commanders’ forum was attended by a Chinese senior military official and the Commander of the Indonesian armed forces and the National Security Advisers forum was attended by the advisors of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. A true reflection of the convening power of Pakistan as stated by one of the moderators.

The commander’s forum discussed the evolving nature of warfare and the national security advisor forum was stitched around regional security. It is important to mention here that the former NSA of Pakistan and former president of National Defence University General Nasser Khan Janjua also spoke at the session as a keynote speaker.

The other sessions were on economic statecraft, climate change, international law, the global transition of security, and economic security which makes the ISD an excellent mix of both traditional and non-traditional challenges. With two sessions on the economy and both state and federal ministers attending them, it is clear that the organizers want to highlight the economic turbulence Pakistan is going through. Unfortunately, not a lot was discussed during these sessions except for the fact that both ministers were very forthcoming with an understanding of problems.

Another highlight of ISD was the participation of other think tanks that not only hosted sessions at the event but also had very elaborate booths where attendees were able to receive printed literature on the think tanks. This again is a tradition of the dialogue and is a reflection of the inclusive mindset of the team that organizes this dialogue.

Although the ISD is a policy conference, it should address some serious political and regional challenges as well. For example, it should highlight the Kashmir issue. Maybe a special session on IIOJ&K should be a feature at ISD and the world needs to be continually reminded of the atrocities that are carried out by the Indian army. Another thing that should be done is that ISD should have some more speakers from the Muslim world. Pakistan is losing its influence in the Middle East and forums like ISD can provide a platform to engage with these countries at the highest policy level.

It seems that the Middle East is completely ignored by the organizers, a discussion on the recent thaw between Saudi Arabia and Iran would have been beneficial for the audience. One more suggestion to the organizers is that a special session on terrorism should also be arranged as the menace has started to resurface in the country.

The ISD was a success in terms of quality discussions and how they will shape the policy-making process in Pakistan and beyond.

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