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Pakistan At UNGA: It Will Take More Than Speeches To Persuade The World

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Instead of justifying that terrorists are ‘desperate people’, PM Khan could have mentioned the reality that groups such as Al-Qaeda,  ISIS, and TTP target Muslims far more than any other group and that there is no justification for the targeting and killing of innocent civilians, writes Meriam Sabih.

Imran Khan’s speech on Friday, at the 74th United Nations General Assembly was aimed at garnering support for Pakistan’s narrative in Kashmir, appeasing domestic audiences, and gave the PM a chance to fulfill his long-standing desire of speaking out on behalf of the Muslim World.

The Pakistani delegation to the United Nations was named ‘Mission Kashmir’, stressing that Kashmir would be the main issue Pakistan would highlight. His speech focused on several matters including Islamophobia, money laundering, and climate change, but the greatest emphasis was on the crisis in Kashmir. He said directly to the leaders of the United Nations, “I’m warning you it’s not a threat…but you have granted the Kashmiri’s the right to self-determination, they are suffering because of that…this is the time to take action.”

He went on to say that first and foremost, India must lift the curfew that has been placed for over 55 days, release political prisoners, especially the 13,000 boys who have been incarcerated, and grant the Kashmiri people the right to self-determination.

He also spoke of the use of the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ a term which falsely attributes terrorism to the religion of Islam, as one of the main reasons for the spread of Islamophobia. This reigns true especially as there has been a rise in terrorism related to white nationalists around the world.

Prime Minister Imran Khan also mentioned that suicide bombings were done by the Tamil Tigers long before 9/11 and the religion of Hinduism was not blamed the way Islam is blamed.

Yet two world leaders he may have been referring to, who regularly use the phrase, are President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Modi. At the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, both Prime Minister Modi and President Trump separately vowed to continue their war against ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ and both received the loudest round of applause and even a standing ovation precisely on that point.

PM Should Have Mentioned Global Terror Threat 

But Prime Minister Imran Khan could have made greater mention of the threat Pakistan (and the rest of the Muslim world) itself faces by terrorists, who have aimed to destabilise and isolate Pakistan and are responsible for the spread of false information on Islam. Instead of justifying that terrorists are ‘desperate people’, he could have mentioned the reality that groups such as Al-Qaeda,  ISIS, and TTP target Muslims far more than any other group and that there is no justification for the targeting and killing of innocent civilians.

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The 9/11 hijackers, for example, were far from ‘desperate people’, who did not get justice, just like ISIS are simply cold blooded murderers. Islam itself does not allow taking the law into one’s own hands, but terms it the job of qualified armies.

At a point when the global community is looking to see what steps Pakistan is taking to curb extremism, he could have stressed that Pakistan has fought a successful war against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, taken action against other extremist groups, and significantly reduced terrorism and extremism within its own borders.

He could have brought to light the various steps taken within Pakistan including details of the National Action Plan (NAP), which was initiated by the previous administration and highlighted by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his previous address to the UNGA, so the world community has more confidence in Pakistan.

And while it was Pakistan with the help of the United States that armed and trained the Taliban, Prime Minister Imran Khan misspoke at an earlier talk at an American think tank when he said Pakistan has trained Al-Qaeda and therefore the army of Pakistan and terrorists have links. The training was to free Afghanistan from Russia, but there remains no justification to condone terrorism against one’s own people, fellow Muslims, or anyone with whom Muslims have a treaty. And such misstatements can be unfairly used against Pakistan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan went on to give a personal anecdote, that he himself would ‘pick up a gun’ if he had been in Kashmir after which we heard loud unsettling gasps in the audience.

Although he said Pakistan will fight till the end, in another press conference he also stated to the media that Pakistan “cannot attack India, but is doing everything else…” Actions speak louder than words. It’s been over 50 plus days of debilitating curfew of Kashmir and there has been no military action by Pakistan, not even a symbolic one as India had done after Pulwana.

Whereas showing restraint can be a positive thing, if the international community knows that Pakistan is not going to act militarily, unless forced to do so, then they may be assured that the situation will not escalate and may not have a pressing concern to  have a more firm stance on the issue.

At the same time Prime Minister Imran Khan warned of a ‘blood bath’ once the curfew is lifted, but such words may even serve as justification by India for why the siege is in place in the first place.

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Opposition party members were denied access, many put under house arrest in Kashmir, boys as young as 14 imprisoned, and the press banned from covering the conflict while deeply harrowing accounts of abuse and human rights violations came to light by the Indian government in Kashmir.

But Pakistan itself is not in the strongest position to speak on human rights and freedom of press. It certainly does not help that Pakistan’s own internal matters are so dismal, its economy suffering, leaders of its two main opposition parties jailed, and a severe crackdown occurring on the free press that many have said is far worse than even under military dictatorships in the past. All this weakens Pakistan’s stance.

The truth is that Pakistan is at an important crossroads and remains a key player for peace in the region which is another fact that should have been stressed. America and Iran are both seeking Pakistan’s arbitration. It is also an important partner for a lasting peace in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan could have used this opportunity to express how important Pakistan’s role for the global community is.

Imran Khan recently promised to be Kashmir’s ambassador and that he has passionately done. But this is something he should have been doing long before the crisis emerged.

In his previous trip to the United States his speech at a rally in DC consisted more of insults to his political opponents who are already jailed and disturbingly petty issues of removing air conditioners rather than substantial policy and issues of global concern. He did not mention Kashmir once in his speech to Pakistani Americans. Instead he is now having to play catch up.

To be taken more seriously on the global stage, Pakistan must show the world that it is headed on a more prosperous path, can strengthen both its troubling economy and dismal state of its democracy. In order for its words to carry more weight, Pakistan should also assure the international community that it can offer citizens, including Kashmiris, more freedom and rights than what they can get in India.

It must also show the global leaders why it is a vital player to a more peaceful world and that it is busying itself not just in rhetoric but implementing the values it espouses in its own country as well.


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