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Threat of US sanctions may persuade states to attend democracy summit

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WASHINGTON: The US democracy summit, being held in Washington this week, will lead to imposition of sanctions on undemocratic forces, adding another reason for the invitees to attend.

Pakistan is among 110 countries invited to the Dec 9-10 summit but has not yet confirmed its participation.

Various US media outlets reported on Sunday that the US Treasury Department will impose a series of sanctions this week to mark the summit, targeting people engaged in practices that undermine democracy. The sanctions will also target those involved in serious human rights violations and corruption.

“Treasury will take a series of actions to designate individuals who are engaged in malign activities that undermine democracy and democratic institutions around the world including corruption, repression, organised crime, and serious human rights abuse,” a department spokesperson told reporters in Washington.

The department will also announce a series of measures for closing loopholes that encourage corruption.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think-tank, notes that the Biden administration “opted for a big tent approach” while inviting governments to the summit. The invitees include liberal democracies, weaker democracies, and states with authoritarian characteristics as well.

The US Freedom House Index for Democracies 2021 places seventy-seven invitees among “free” or fully democratic states.

Another thirty-one rank as “partly free” and three — Angola, Congo and Iraq — as “not free.”

India, the world’s most populous democracy, dropped from “Free to Partly Free” status in 2021, along with Pakistan. The index, while explaining India’s new status, notes that “rather than serving as a champion of democratic practice and a counterweight to authoritarian influence,” India’s rulers were “tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism.”

The Carnegie report says that eight summit invitees — including Pakistan — fall exceptionally low on democracy rankings, four — including Brazil and India — have slipped to heightened levels of democratisation over the past ten years.

Europe leads the list with thirty-nine invitees, followed closely by twenty-seven in the Western Hemisphere. The Asia Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa have twenty-one and seventeen invitees, respectively. In contrast, the Middle East and North Africa and South and Central Asia have fewer invitees. In the Middle East, only Iraq and Israel received invitations, while South and Central Asia obtained just four invites — India, the Maldives, Nepal, and Pakistan.

The report also looks at the considerations that were at play while drawing the list.

According to the Carnegie’s report, the first consideration was regional dynamics, particularly in the Middle East where only Israel and Tunisia qualified. Unfortunately, Tunisia is experiencing a slow-motion coup, and inviting Israel as the sole representative from the Middle East was a nonstarter. And this forced Washington to invite Iraq.

Second, broader US strategic interests also mattered. Pakistan, the Philippines, and Ukraine are listed as 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 counter-terrorism (Pakistan).” And that’s why they were invited.

Strategic consideration was the third factor. For example, the Biden administration excluded Hungary and Turkey because of Washington’s “reluctance to help the reelection chances of Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán or Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2021

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