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Global Village Space: A journey of 21 months

Moeed Pirzada, the Editor Global Village Space; a prominent TV Anchor and a known columnist, explains GVS’ journey of 21 months that begins with a dream to build bridges and create common grounds of understanding between different points of view within Pakistan and beyond.

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What happened, where, how and when? These are the basic, the primal, the fundamental questions we are supposed to ask in the news industry. But the scope of these enquiries is not limited to news alone. This is true for everything that happens, that develops, that grows. So one may ask why Global Village Space exists and what this toddler has achieved in 21 months of its existence.

Global Village Space is an idea that grew between a close circle of friends – most of them from SIPA, Columbia University. But it did not happen overnight, it kept germinating, in discussions over dinner, around coffee tables and in countless exchanges over the past several years.

It developed as we looked at the mushroom growth of Urdu TV channels, Talk shows, images flying across WhatsApp – “Received as forwarded” narrative wars between the countless factions inside Pakistan who have changed their forms, shapes and loyalties so many times that we wonder if they now even know who they are and what they stand for.

Along with the “desi fratricidal wars” among the natives, we occasionally peeped at the screens of western TV channels, or read what the supposedly best publications of the world wrote about Pakistan, about India, Afghanistan and this region and our reaction was: “Oh! my God!” We wondered if they have any idea, any sense, of what they are writing about.

Global Village Space is borne out of this state of chaos where bridges of understanding between this part of the world and the rest of the planet are collapsing – – and as Francis Fukuyama argues in his latest book, “Identity” that societies are breaking down into newer groups of combatants replacing the old Marxist definitions of rich and poor, haves and have nots.

There is no dearth of angry voices, protest marches and narratives from all sides – but what is missing is a “common ground” beneath our feet. Global Village Space, GVS as it is increasingly called by its readers on the net is a reaction, a response to these “collapsing bridges” and is an effort to search for and define the common ground between different points of view from within Pakistan, from east and west and from across the world.

These days’ media platforms grow from the wallet vision of a rich entrepreneur, a corporate giant or a government; five year plans are made on spreadsheets, budgets allocated, offices acquired, expensive HR teams hired, marketing gurus are put in place for brand consciousness and relationship building and success is predicated on bombastic market entry with guns blazing.

Global Village Space (GVS) had none of these. It started from a storeroom, with one laptop, then occupied a bedroom in the family home before finally finding a small humble office in Islamabad. But in the last 21 months, GVS’s small team managed to publish almost 10,000 pieces of news, analysis and opinion and has been read over 17 million times – about 13 million times since September 2017.

While 70% of our readership is geographically in Pakistan, we have 30% of our readers spread across the United States, UK, Middle East, India and many other parts of the world. A major breakthrough came with the launch of the GVS Magazine which was received well by the commentators, readers and writers.

Since December 2017, when its first print issue appeared, we have introduced a tapestry of intellectuals, decision makers and celebrities from different corners of the world – the kind of which has seldom been assembled by a Pakistani publication in such a short time.

In our first issue, we examined the fault lines across the Middle East with a brilliant analysis by James Dorsey who now teaches at the University of Singapore but has worked extensively as Bureau Chief, the Middle East for Wall Street Journal. Dorsey’s analysis of growing discord across the Middle East is a regular feature on pages of Global Village Space (GVS).

We also sat down for an in-depth discussion with Prince Turki Al Faisal, Ex-Head of Saudi Intelligence on how Pakistan, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia collaborated against the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

But in the very next issue, we had Andrew Korbyko and Leonid Savin writing from Moscow; Savin outlined Kremlin’s viewpoint on information warfare being waged against Russia and Korbyko examined how the west is playing with regional fault lines to restrict the success of China’s One Belt One Road initiative.

Since then a galaxy of opinion makers have appeared on GVS’s pages; these included: Cameron Munter, ex-US Ambassador to Pakistan, Prof. Marvin Weinbaum of Middle East Institute in Washington, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay historian of BJP and Hindutva from Delhi, Prof. Graeme McQueen former director of the Center for Peace Studies at MacMaster University, Canada, Author and historian Yaqoob Bangash from FC College University, Lahore and Ambassador Munir Akram, Pakistan’s ex-permanent Representative to the UN.

CPEC has remained a persistent and recurring theme in these pages. If Korybko had argued, from Moscow, that western powers are playing with the regional fault lines to restrict China’s OBOR vision, then Saeed Afridi, from University of Westminster, writing in the very first issue had argued that of all the routes of BRI (OBOR) material progress is only taking place in Pakistan; however, the Nawaz government had not done the necessary due diligence to protect Pakistani public and corporate interest, while other countries are busy negotiating and fine-tuning the deal with China – an argument that saw much resonance with policymakers in Islamabad in subsequent months.

In April issue, China’s Ambassador, Yao Jing – interviewed by Global Village Space (GVS) – explained that Pakistan’s mounting debt problem relates to the initial phase due to the import and erection of heavy machinery; in the same issue Arif Rafiq, fellow Middle East Institute, Washington, pointed out that CPEC exposes a paucity of planning by Pakistani government and Andrew Small, author of “The China Pakistan Axis: Asia’ New Geopolitics” examined the potential great power rivalry around CPEC, whilst, Sudheeendra Kulkarni, from Mumbai, argued that India must shed its paranoia and join CPEC.

Robert Grenier was CIA’s station chief in Pakistan at the eve of 9/11; he wrote the brief attack plan that was followed by the U.S. and British forces, against Taliban, between October to December 2001.

His account later appeared in his bestselling book, “88 Days to Kandahar”. In our May 2018 issue, Grenier offered this sobering perspective that while Pakistanis see hedging towards the “Haqqani network” and Afghan Taliban as an exercise in “realpolitik”, to Americans this is a “moral issue”, since Haqqanis are terrorists and the conversation stops at that.

But what was sobering was his analysis that even if Pakistanis turned around and use all their might against the Afghan Taliban it won’t change the ground situation for the US.

We hope this realization is sinking in when the world hears of Alice Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, making direct contact with the Taliban representatives in Doha. Fault lines across the Middle East are certainly a topic that interests and disturbs GVS Editors and readers alike.

Pakistanis – despite their own sectarian problems – romanticize the Muslim world through the lens created by national poet, Iqbal, “Aik hoon Muslim Haram ki pasbani kay liye; Neel kay sahil say lay kar tabakak e Kashgar” (There is only one Muslim nation from the edge of Nile to the sands of Kashagar); In our first issue we had examined in-depth the centrality of Al Jazeera and Qatar’s cultural and political uniqueness defining this new and disturbing fault line across GCC countries.

But it is certainly Doha’s uniqueness that is providing a diplomatic middle ground between the US and Taliban. In recent issues, Mani Shankar Aiyer, ex-petroleum minister of India, South Asia’s most prominent living romantic, and Manish Tewari, Congress spokesman have written in these pages.

Both have more or less argued that India and Pakistan need a sustained, uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue to reach somewhere.

However, when new Pakistani PM, Imran Khan, suggested a meeting between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the UNGA, and Modi government had at least accepted the proposal for a day, the charge from Congress against this meeting was led by none other than Manish Tewari – which only serves to underscore the complexity of domestic politics in India – and perhaps Pakistan. Global Village Space (GVS) is built on the idea that you don’t have to be based in London or New York to be global; there is no marked centre of the world.

In today’s world defined by Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and other bridges its not the location but the ideas that matter. Center of the world has always been a moving concept from ancient Nile valley to Mesopotamia, from Athens to Rome, from Baghdad to Constantinople, from London to Washington and it may change again.

Pakistan with its geographical location, its shared borders and intertwined history and cultures with Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Middle East and its situation as a potential bridge between the Middle East and the Mediterranean on one hand and western China on the other is in the center of its own unique world.

When PM Khan talked of an international standard university in Islamabad we thought, in all fairness, that he or his team stole our idea. We believe that Islamabad can and should emerge as a center of study and research for the histories, art, culture and politics of the near east. Students and scholars from Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Central Asian Republics and Middle East can be together in a new university in Islamabad – to forge a new mosaic. Reality is always borne out of dreams!

But Global Village Space (GVS) is not all about regional and international issues. Its quintessentially about Pakistan, its people and society; it is to provide a lens, its own lens, to Pakistani intelligentsia to see and examine itself. Focusing on Pakistani national institutions, corporate world, celebrities, fashion models and the issues that challenge the state and society all interest us.

Asim Imdad, in a series of analytical pieces, has done a great job in bringing judiciary and civil services under a brutal microscope; Asif Aqeel has done wonders in explaining Pakistan’s Christian minority; Murtaza Shibli, from Srinagar, has provided us a better understanding of tragedy in contemporary Kashmir; Saud bin Ahsen and Prof. Zafar Bokhari have dealt with issues of water, governance and smaller provinces.

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We brought the Magazine’s first issue in December 2017; we could not bring its second issue in January 2018 – for we had run out of advertisers. We admire that Pakistan – unlike India where English developed as a lingua franca between North and South, East and West – assiduously developed Urdu as a national connect, and so we exist in a small market of English readers, serious reading is on decline; the proliferation of TV channels and audio-visual messages through all sorts of media has further weakened the reading habit.

But we believe that real thinking, the cerebral act lies in reading; tv is not the medium for dissemination of substantive ideas and Pakistan needs its bridges with the world outside – possible only through its colonial heritage: English. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s business and corporate circles have not developed to a stage where they can appreciate that supporting publications like Global Village Space (GVS) is to their own larger advantage.

Despite this we have developed sincere support of corporate mentors without whom we would have ceased to exist. We are thus grateful to JS Bank, National Bank, Nestle, Coke, Askari Cement, Murree Brewery, Roots Millennium TMUC, NLC, Mari Petroleum, Afeef Packages, Halal Travels, FFBL, Askari Cement, AKD Investment Management, Lateef Ghee, State Life Insurance and others who have supported us in this 21-month long journey. Not to forget those sponsors like Brentwood and Bestway Cement that supported the seminars we conducted on different policy issues. Our journey continues.

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