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Editorial

September 23, 2017

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Diplomacy at the UN

Diplomacy at the UN

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi faced a delicate balancing act in his first appearance at the UN General Assembly session in New York. He had to make clear to the US – and the international community at large – that Pakistan outright rejects any assertion that is sheltering militant groups targeting Afghanistan while taking care not to anger the Trump administration. This he managed to do in his address to the session by refuting all the charges that have been levelled against Pakistan without ever mentioning the US by name. He was obliquely critical of Trump’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan by saying Pakistan could not endorse strategies that have failed before, while also making clear that we are not prepared to fight the Afghan war on our own soil or be scapegoated should it end in defeat. As always, Abbasi pointed out the sacrifices Pakistan has had to make ever since the US invasion of Afghanistan brought terrorism to our soil. As cogent a case as Abbasi made against the allegations the US has levelled against Pakistan, it is not clear if it will lead to a change of policy from the Trump administration. In the days before his speech, Abbasi had a brief encounter with Trump and a meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence where Pence is believed to have said he hoped for better relations. But, pleasantries aside, there has been no indication from the US that it plans on walking back its Afghan strategy or pursuing closer ties with Pakistan.

On other matters, Abbasi’s speech was a reiteration of themes Pakistan consistently hits at international forums. As his predecessor Nawaz Sharif did last year, Abbasi handed the UN secretary general a dossier of the crimes committed by India in Kashmir and used his speech to remind the UN that it has an obligation to live up to its promise of giving the Kashmiris a plebiscite. He condemned the occupation of Kashmir and singled out the use of rubber bullets, which have killed and blinded hundreds of people, including children. He used a carrot-and-stick approach, saying Pakistan was open to talks with India but only if the latter stopped sponsoring terror on our territory. As with the US, though, there is no indication India is considering improving ties with Pakistan or even coming to the negotiating table.    Immediately after Abbasi’s speech, the Indian first secretary to the UN Eenam Gambhir labelled Pakistan “Terroristan” and    accused us of coveting its territory. As a preview of India’s speech to the General Assembly     on Saturday, this provided a glimpse of the hard-line stance it is likely to take. Abbasi issued a call for action on the plight of Rohingya Muslims too, another human rights issue on which India has been actively working against justice and the US has mostly stayed out of the fray. Keeping everything in mind, Abbasi’s trip was mostly a fruitful one, as he met with world leaders and the business community. But the visit’s ultimate success will only be judged later, once there is time to see if the PM’s appeals to the US and the international community have had any effect. The UN speech was a start but there is still more diplomacy to be conducted if we are to change the policies of the US and India.

 

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