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Pakistan’s diplomatic offensive

Whether one agrees with PM Imran Khan’s political philosophy or not, one just cannot disagree with what he said on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) during his momentous address of September 27, 2019.

This was the most powerful speech ever made by a Pakistani leader at the highest forum in the last four decades or so. He primarily dilated on four issues – climate change, money laundering, Islamophobia and Kashmir. Khan started with climate change and money laundering, then moved on to Islamophobia in order to build a context on the core issue of Kashmir. While he was talking about the plight of people of Kashmir; one could feel the passion behind his words.

The Pakistani premier not only built a strong case on Kashmir very diligently at the UNGA but also figured out the concerns of 1.3 billion Muslims around the world. During his six-day visit to New York, Khan undertook about 70 engagements with the media, think tanks, influencers and various world leaders including US President Trump. Imran Khan made the visit look like a test match – build a momentum and then peak at the right moment. Resultantly, his address to the UNGA proved to be the icing on the cake. The critical question now is: what is the way forward on Kashmir?

The first and foremost is to keep the momentum going on Kashmir. Pakistan might not have been able to garner the desired support on Kashmir but one thing is certain: Pakistan did succeed in sensitizing the world on Kashmir. Now, it will be difficult for the world to put the Kashmir issue on the back burner.

Second, Pakistan must engage all the major power centres of the world including the powerful five permanent Security Council members, the EU and other important countries like Japan, Australia, South Africa and Brazil. Out of the Security Council members, only China stood with Pakistan and made last month’s Security Council meeting on Kashmir possible amidst strong Indian pressure. The UK and France have a clear tilt towards India for obvious reasons. Russia is weighing its options on Kashmir.

As far as the US is concerned, Pakistan should not attach much hope with Trump – despite his repeated offers on mediation over Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Apart from major economic interests, the US has strategic relations with India that provides it lot of leverage against China as a counter-balancing force. Yet Pakistan needs to play its cards carefully while dealing with the US, particularly in the context of Afghanistan. If Pakistan is able to link the Afghan peace process with Kashmir, the US will be forced to do something on Kashmir. The least the US can do is make both India and Pakistan sit across the table over Kashmir.

Third, human rights organizations like Amnesty international, Human Rights Watch and international media played a major role in exposing Indian atrocities in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Pakistan needs to work closely with these organizations. Furthermore, the UN must be pushed to force India to work out some kind of mechanism to allow United Nations Military Observers (UNMOs) move freely in Indian-occupied Kashmir. It must be kept in view that the said mechanism is already in vogue in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJ&K).

Fourth, the lacklustre response on Kashmir by Saudi Arabia and the UAE may be disappointing for many in Pakistan but there is a silver lining in the shape of vocal support from Tayyip Erdogan and Mahatir Muhammad at the UNGA. The proposed joint international channel by Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan is a welcome initiative that must be implemented in the earlier timeframe. Furthermore, Pakistan needs to learn and translate its relationship with Turkey and Malaysia into long-term economic ties.

The bold and unambiguous stand on Islamophobia by Imran Khan at the UNGA would certainly raise his stature in the comity of Muslim nations. Therefore, Pakistan must take a lead role alongside Turkey and Malaysia and other important Muslim states to develop a strong counter-narrative against the popular narrative regarding radical Islam being propagated by the West.

Of course, India too will start repeating the old rhetoric of radical Islam in an attempt to malign and undermine Pakistan through false accusations to divert attention from Kashmir. Therefore, Pakistan must be ready to take on the Indian onslaught anytime soon. However, Pakistan need not be apologetic and it must apprise the world community about what all has been done against terrorism and extremism under the National Action Plan.

Finally, one thing which PM Imran Khan must understand is that the foreign policy is a reflection of domestic policies. Interestingly, the political clout of a country is measured in terms of its economic strength. If the incumbent government’s performance of over one year is reviewed, it failed on two counts – governance and the economy. Therefore, the PTI’s top leadership must sit together for a little introspection before it is too late.

The prime minister must throw out all those ministers and functionaries who are not performing. Notwithstanding his differences with opposition parties, Imran Khan must take into confidence all parliamentary leaders on his recent visit to help promote solidarity on Kashmir. This gesture by the prime minister might earn him the stature of a national unifier.

Ironically, the fact is that performance in the real world is not gauged by words but actions. The diplomatic overture at UNGA was just an attempt by the Pakistani premier to jolt the world’s conscience and let it be seen as to how far he has been successful in this regard.

Sabur Sulehria, "Pakistan’s diplomatic offensive," The news. 2019-10-01.
Keywords: Political science , Political philosophy , Climate change , Domestic policies , Foreign policy , Political clout , International media , Action plan , Opposition parties , Islamophobia , UNGA , PTI