Nawaz and Modi in New York
State and government leaders do not always depart on foreign visits with spirited send-offs. But at the very least they depart with ‘good luck’ wishes from the people. For his New York departure in an air force requisitioned plane Nawaz Sharif’s entourage of 74 reportedly including cooks – which became
State and government leaders do not always depart on foreign visits with spirited send-offs. But at the very least they depart with ‘good luck’ wishes from the people.
For his New York departure in an air force requisitioned plane Nawaz Sharif’s entourage of 74 reportedly including cooks – which became the main issue – and all else, including ‘good luck’ wishes, got lost in the clamor of ‘74’.
Nawaz Sharif’s gawky departure was not made up with a ‘celebratory’ arrival in New York on September 26. The city was caught in the throes of the Pope’s visit and had little time for anyone or anything else.
New York was also caught up in the campaigning for mayoral elections and for nomination of the 2016 US presidential elections. This would not have mattered except that the two aspirants for nomination as presidential candidates came out with statements one of which was less than convivial for Muslims and thus also for Pakistan, while the other was explicitly hostile towards Pakistan.
Ben Carson, a Republican from Michigan, said a “Muslim should never be president of the US” and declared Islam, a faith practised by three million Americans, to be “unconstitutional”.
Donald Trump, real-estate tycoon and Republican from New York, said “India should be used to keep Pakistan in check”. He also called for Indian intervention if “Pakistan became any less stable”. Both statements, with surveys showing that 51 percent Americans share Carson’s bias against Muslims, defined the sentiments into which Nawaz Sharif landed.
As if all that was not enough, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had arrived in New York two days earlier, and there was no way the two prime ministers could escape becoming the focus of attention for their own and each other’s compatriots in the US, and for their respective home media.
Both prime ministers were booked at New York’s top hotel, Waldorf Astoria, but their paths did not cross for reasons probably of different routes within the hotel to Modi’s ‘modest’ suite and to Nawaz Sharif’s not so ’modest’ suite. Nawaz is reported to have avoided the PIA-owned Roosevelt Hotel in New York for fear it was ‘bugged’ by home agencies.
Modi was greeted on arrival at the hotel and everywhere he went by large groups of resident Indians. Nawaz was not jeered as his Finance Minster Ishaq Dar was earlier, but resident Pakistanis largely left him alone.
Modi’s reception in San Jose by 18,000 NRIs matched the gathering for his Madison Square speech in New York in 2014; it also showed the massive presence of Indians in the Silicon Valley in the IT industry.
No meetings were scheduled between the two prime ministers. However, a dossier on the activities of India’s RAW in Balochistan and Fata was carried by the Pakistan delegation.
Who the dossier was meant for became an uncertainty from Nawaz’s response to a question that it would be handed over at the ‘meeting’. Was the Pakistan delegation expecting a Nawaz-Modi meeting that did not happen? The dossier was handed over to the UN secretary general’s representative towards the end of the visit.
The highlight of Nawaz Sharif’s visit was his address to the 70th UN General Assembly session. It was powerfully drafted and represented a much needed turnaround from the pussyfooting on the Kashmir issue which was beginning to make Pakistan appear to be suffering from ‘Kashmir fatigue’. However, as powerful as the draft was on Kashmir, much of its force was lost for coming from a country high on the list of countries counted as ‘soft on terrorists’, and in its tired delivery by Nawaz.
India was livid, its government and media going almost berserk in their reaction. Both could have saved their aggravation. What damaged India’s image many times more than the speech was the lynching in Delhi by a crazed Hindu mob of an old Muslim man for ‘eating’ beef. The lynching created a worldwide stir.
India’s image as a secular democracy lay in tatters, particularly the ‘secular’ bit. The violence most recently against a Muslim parliamentarian in Indian-held Kashmir by legislators for serving beef at his reception has reinforced the image of growing religious bigotry in India under Modi and his BJP.
The highlight of Modi’s US visit was his meetings with the glitterati of the IT industry. He met Mark Zukerberg of Facebook, the Indian CEO of Google Sunder Pichai, CEO of Apple Tim Cook, and other top names in IT.
Nawaz Sharif had a brief meeting with Microsoft founder Bill Gates in which Anusha Rahman, the minister of state for IT, was not present probably because the subject was mainly Microsoft’s work on elimination of polio in Pakistan.
From what can be made out from the fairly inclusive video on Facebook of Modi’s meeting with the Facebook founder, there was wide interest within the IT industry for collaboration with India in the IT field, and for expanding IT companies presence in India.
Modi spoke in Hindi and his remark that he was a son of a tea seller, lacking education, and had benefited immensely from exposure to IT and Facebook to make up, more than just a little, for his academic deficiencies brought a thunderous response.
The thought did occur that if Nawaz Sharif had delivered the powerfully drafted speech before the UNGA in vibrant Urdu, or in even more vibrant Punjabi, instead of in his tired English, it may have made the delegates sit up, listen, take notice; the media too may have paid more attention. It would have made a bigger impact.
The writer is a former corporate executive. Email: husainskcyber.net.pk