Model United Nations (MUN) – a realistic simulation of the procedures and debates taking place in the different committees of the United Nations – the idea inspires university and college students around the world to organize national or international conferences in their respective institutions, where participants take the role of delegates and for a couple of days represent the member states of the UN and their stances in different committees. Getting an insight into actual proceedings at UN level, formulating resolutions to deal with and find solutions for challenges and conflicts of international interest, as well as getting in contact with students from all over the world motivates young people to prepare for and participate in those conferences, which even current UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon appreciated on several occasions.
Looking back, admittedly, I got my first personal contact to Pakistan by meeting Pakistani participants at exactly such sort of MUN conference at my university in Muenster, Germany, and my first visit to Lahore also included taking part in a Pakistani MUN. For me this meant – at least to some extend – that I initially got to know more about Pakistan through its young students committed to debating and developing their diplomatic skills, rather than through the often negative media coverage or other sources solely focusing on the challenges and problems Pakistan is facing or stereotyping the Pakistani population.
After a while, however, I found some rather odd aspects about MUNs and the debating societies organizing them, some of them, from my experiences, more prevailing in Pakistan, others certainly to be found at other MUNs as well; and all of them purely subjective for sure. First of all, MUNs in Pakistan are highly competitive – probably fewer students take part partly due to the social events in the evening at the end of the simulation conferences. The best participants – those having been most convincing in their delegate role and showing best diplomatic skills – are usually awarded, which of course turns the whole conference into some sort of competition. And to me it seems like Pakistani students have developed their very own high level on that: On the one hand the debating skills of a lot of students are indeed impressive. But on the other hand, you witness people speaking as fast as no diplomat would ever do in an UN debate, everybody seeking to be the author of the final resolution rather than contributing to an existing document or forming strictly opposing blocs, which reminds you of a cold-war-like situation instead of a debate in the Committee on Social, Cultural and Humanitarian Affairs. Everybody wants to stand out, to make an extraordinary contribution to the debate, but not in order to find a solution to the challenge the committee is dealing with, but to be recognized by the judges who decide upon the awards. This is why one of the first questions of participants most of the time is: “How is the exact award policy in this committee?” I would sometimes even go as far as claiming that some participants are not really interested in the topic being discussed and its possible implications. One of the main reasons why participants are working so hard to win is certainly that many (Pakistani) universities send the most successful participants to other MUNs abroad, including to Europe, USA etc., of course expecting them to bring back best delegate awards.
The students organizing these conferences first of all deserve a good amount of appreciation, considering the time they sacrifice to the planning and organization of the whole ‘event’ and how they ensure quite a professional atmosphere and flow of procedures during the conference. However, to me it sometimes seems like MUNs in this context are yet another suitable occasion to establish or strengthen hierarchies between students, in favor of those organizing the MUN and those chairing the committees. Surely, me as a European, I might have different experiences and a different perspective than Pakistanis on (especially age) hierarchies, but organizing an MUN for the sake of enjoying the prestige of being able to command other students does in my view not relate to the ideal behind MUNs.
Finally, MUNs seem to be another convenient ‘self-exhibition spot’ for the next perfect facebook profile picture, which might be the second main ambition while participating, right after winning a best delegate award.
MUNs are based on this underlying idealistic idea of simulating the world’s largest and politically most important – though not necessarily most powerful – intergovernmental organization and developing solutions for international challenges. Interestingly, sometimes participants are really convincing in demonstrating that they can do better than the actual UN diplomats within the often slow moving decision making processes, characterized by a lack of commitment on behalf of the UN member states. On the other hand, participants might simply be equally successful in portraying a quite realistic image of UN procedures, which can also be characterized by hierarchies and power relations on state and on individual level, as well as by individual diplomats’ influence. In this regard, MUNs, combined with the uplifted position of (the heads of) debating societies, are often considered some sort of elite project, which – that is what I experienced in Germany – you justifiably only get funding for from institutions which support this very notion.
I agree with your point of view! I have also felt thing happening in MUNs I had attended one as an observer and since then avoided these "events” as more time, energies and intellectual capital is invested in organizing in the "Social Events”. The pattern of winning the best delegates awards that you have observed in the MUNs is visible in the conventional Urdu and English debates too. And yes it does gets one "high” literally. It’s the intense rush of Dopamine and adrenaline that motivates a debater not the conviction to make this world a better place.