Perennial challenges to Pakistan

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By Munir Akram

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s week of global diplomacy at the UN General Assembly has illustrated his ‘star appeal’, strong commitment to Pakistan’s security and the welfare of its people and a desire for justice and peace among and within nations.

In contrast to Pakistani leaders of the last decade, whose presence at the UNGA was little noted and even less influential, Imran Khan was warmly acknowledged at every event he attended in New York and sought out by the leaders of UN member states, international organisations, global corporations and the mainstream media.

Despite his focus on the Kashmir situation, the prime minister’s foray on the world stage has also thrown into bold relief the external challenges Pakistan faces at every point of the compass — in Kashmir, Afghanistan, Iran and the Gulf. It also revealed the important role which Pakistan, under a charismatic leader, can play in world affairs.

The prime and perennial challenge emanates from the east. India’s unilateral and brutal attempt to annex occupied Jammu and Kashmir is what took the prime minister to the UN. His much-anticipated address to the UNGA was impassioned, eloquent and substantive, forcefully projecting the real nature of the BJP-RSS government, the grave human rights violations it is perpetrating in Kashmir, and the danger of a potentially catastrophic war between two nuclear-weapon states.

Even though the conscience of the global champions of human rights appears to be dulled by the promised profits in India’s large market, and most of the world’s chancelleries have yet to publicly acknowledge the impending threat of genocide and war between Pakistan and India, most states are concerned and desire a peaceful resolution of the crisis created by India’s actions.

The Security Council’s meeting of Aug 16 was a significant affirmation of its responsibility to address the Kashmir dispute and a refutation of India’s assertion that it is its internal matter. The statements in the Human Rights Council of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 50-plus countries, the European Union, several UN special rapporteurs, and human rights groups are another illustration of international concern.

In the UNGA, important states like China, Turkey and Malaysia, have so far openly asked for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute on the basis of the Security Council resolutions. And, despite its strategic partnership with India, the US State Department issued a  statement, following Prime Minister Khan’s meeting with President Donald Trump, calling for an immediate lifting of the curfew and restrictions in occupied Kashmir.

What happens next depends to a large extent on ground realities. When the curfew is lifted by India, or even if it is not, the Kashmiris are likely to rise in unified resistance against India’s unilateral annexation and repression. As the prime minister surmised, India will blame Pakistan for this revolt, leading to another Pakistan-India confrontation. The international community will then be obliged to address the crisis or allow a catastrophe.

It will be the task of Pakistan’s diplomacy, at the current UNGA session and in major capitals, to keep exerting pressure on India to: lift the clampdown in Kashmir, prevent it from resorting to mass repression and genocide and accept a resolution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the resolutions of the Security Council.

While Kashmir was the central focus, Prime Minister Khan also raised three other vital issues in his address: climate change, which poses an existential threat to all humanity; money laundering, which is further impoverishing the developing countries; and Islamophobia, which justifies discrimination and oppression of Muslim individuals, communities and nations and is the root cause of radicalisation and extremism.

To give substance to his objectives, Pakistan’s diplomacy will need to advance effective proposals for action by the international community. Thus, for instance, the Security Council could be asked to adopt a binding resolution, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, obliging States to implement the provisions of the Paris Accords (on climate change).

On money laundering, an additional protocol to the Convention against Corruption can be proposed, incorporating articles on the return of the proceeds of corruption. And on Islamophobia, Pakistan, with the OIC countries, can revive the proposal for an international convention outlawing discrimination against Muslims and defamation of Islam, its Prophet (PBUH), its practices and shrines.

During Imran Khan’s UN visit, Pakistan’s diplomatic relevance was affirmed on two other critical issues. In his interactions with President Trump, he urged the early resumption of the US-Afghan Taliban talks and conclusion of the already negotiated agreements on the withdrawal of foreign troops and counterterrorism. This will open the way for intra-Afghan talks and steps for the reduction if not end of violence in Afghanistan — objectives which Pakistan has actively promoted. Hopefully, the Afghan presidential elections (Sept 28) which are opposed by the Taliban, will not disrupt the peace process.

Significantly, as mentioned by Prime Minister Khan, he was asked by both President Trump and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to help in defusing their escalating confrontation with Iran. The prime minister initiated a mediatory effort in his meeting with President Hassan Rouhani.

A de-escalation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and steps to normalise their relations, are in Pakistan’s national interest for multiple reasons. This mediatory endeavour must be pursued actively and boldly by outlining a feasible path to: reduce tensions, disavow the use of force and external intervention, promote political solutions to the conflicts in Yemen and Syria, Shia-Sunni reconciliation in Iraq and stability in Lebanon. At an appropriate time, a regional peace conference with the participation of the GCC, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan could be a useful modality to advance these objectives.

In the person of a bold, honest and dedicated leader, Pakistan has been offered an historic opportunity to address its multiple external challenges, play a constructive role in resolving regional disputes and promote critical global objectives. Success will depend crucially on the skill and diligence of Pakistan’s foreign ministry and its security agencies. They must be provided unstinted moral and material support by the government to continue to fulfil their role and responsibility.

(The writer is a veteran diplomat and has been reappointed on Monday [30th September 2019] as Permanent Ambassador at the United Nations. Article courtesy Dawn)