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October 1, 2019

Maleeha concludes UN term on a high note


October 1, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Dr Maleeha Lodhi completes her term on a high note, having served with distinction as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United Nations for the past four and half years .She was Pakistan’s first female Permanent Representative at the UN and now returns to the country to take up an important assignment. Her tenure at the UN saw Lodhi put Pakistan back on the multilateral map after a period of lacklustre representation of the country in the world body.

She always said that this was her greatest professional challenge, being Pakistan’s ambassador to the world at a time of profound global flux and multiple foreign policy challenges for Pakistan.

Lodhi was well suited to navigate the shoals of this complex terrain, bringing rich diplomatic experience to this assignment. She previously had two successful terms as ambassador to the US and five years as a high-profile and popular high commissioner in the UK.

At the UN, she effectively articulated Pakistan’s position on Kashmir. She had the distinction of ensuring the first meeting of the UN Security Council on Kashmir last month after more than five years.

On Kashmir and Afghanistan, her speeches in the UN Security Council were invariably listened to with rapt attention. On Afghanistan, she often clashed with the representative of Kabul, rebutting his attacks on Pakistan in a robust but dignified manner. No critique of Pakistan ever went unanswered by her. However, the main theme of her presentations in the Security Council and General Assembly was always that a negotiated end to the war was urgent and that there could be no military solution.

Her fearless advocacy of the Kashmir cause provoked the ire of the Indians while winning her public appreciation from the All Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders, including Syed Gilani. She raised the Kashmir issue at every forum she could and her response in the UN General Assembly to the Indian Foreign Minister’s tirade against Pakistan in 2016 went viral, attracting millions of hits on UTube.

On issues of vital importance to Pakistan, such as Security Council reform, she played a leadership role with representatives of like-minded countries to counter the effort by the G4 ( India, Japan, Brazil and Japan) to steer the negotiations toward securing permanent seats for themselves.

She was also able to effectively blunt efforts by India and another unfriendly state to malign Pakistan in the UN Sanctions Committee on terrorism issues.

Ambassador Lodhi also worked tirelessly to maintain Pakistan’s leadership role in the area of UN Peacekeeping and organised for the first time a grouping of Troop and Police contributing countries led by Pakistan.

On Palestine, she spoke out frequently and passionately, while in the OIC Ambassadors forum her was a voice that was listened to and mattered on a range of Muslim issues. Her energetic engagement on a host of global issues, from migration, child rights to green energy and the SDGs, was evident from her countless formal statements as well as participation in side events on these issues.

Her active involvement in the various reform processes at the UN earned her frequent appreciation of the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who repeatedly conveyed to visiting Pakistani officials what an effective envoy she was and how the UN had benefitted from her powerful presence.

This view was shared by other diplomats at the UN who saw her active role as bringing much credit to Pakistan – and popularity for her. She frequently organised side events on key issues such as counter terrorism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and forced migration, which were always largely attended.

Ambassador Lodhi brought special flair to the projection of Pakistan’s soft power and set an example for other diplomats to follow in cultural diplomacy. The first ever concert in the General Assembly organised by Pakistan on its national day took place in 2017 with the Qawali of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan rocking the audience in the packed hall. Allah Hu echoed in the world’s parliament for the first time in its history with a proud Ambassador Lodhi taking the stage to declare ‘Sufi night” part of her country’s rich spiritual tradition and cultural heritage.

Another concert was organised in the following year, again in the General Assembly, this time a performance by Sachal Jazz group from Lahore. Her cultural diplomacy efforts went beyond this to set other ‘Firsts’. She organised the first ever Pakistan Film Festival outside the country in 2017 which also says a glittering reception at the UN with Pakistani starts mingling with top UN officials and diplomats from over 150 countries.

A second Pakistan Film Festival followed in 2019 , again with a packed to capacity reception at the UN to introduce Pakistani stars. Ambassador Lodhi also organised a celebration of Eid for the first time at the UN where the UNSG was chief guest. She staged an exhibition of contemporary Pakistani art at the UN which was attended by the UN Secretary General. Other exhibitions at the UN she put together were on Pakistan’s role in Peacekeeping and on Pakistan’s female trail blazers.

Showings of both documentary and feature films were also part of Lodhi’s nonstop public diplomacy efforts. Funds were often generated by her for some of these activities from young members of the Pakistani diaspora in New York. From both her substantive policy role and public diplomacy efforts the legacy she leaves at the UN is one that will help her successor but will also be a tough act to follow.

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