Pakistan’s hard talking at the UN
PAKISTAN Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi took a tough line with India in his maiden speech to the UN General Assembly on September 29, 2018. For years, India has been accusing Pakistan of complicity in terrorism but Qureshi sought to turn the tables on India in his UN speech. He accused India of being actively involved in terrorist attacks in Pakistan by providing financial assistance to extremists.
He said that Kulbhushan Yadav, an Indian serving naval officer, who has been arrested in Pakistan, had planned terrorist attacks inside Pakistan “on the behest of the Indian government.” Qureshi said Yadav was but one Indian state-sponsored official terrorist. “Many more have been launched inside Pakistan to create terror and mayhem”. Pakistan is facing terrorism that is “financed, facilitated and orchestrated” by India. This had created violence in its cities and towns and caused tens of thousands of casualties of innocent Pakistanis. He said that “Pakistan shall never forget the mass murder of more than 150 children in a Peshawar school, the terrible Mastung attack and many others that have links with terrorists supported by India”, nor could Pakistan forget the terrorist attack in India against Samjhota Express carrying innocent Pakistanis, whose confessed perpetrators are being allowed to walk free.
Referring to the situation in Kashmir, Qureshi accused India of state-sponsored terrorism. He said Kashmir has remained on the UN agenda for over seventy years and was a blot on the conscience of humanity. This dispute hindered the realization of the goal of durable peace between the two countries. There can be no lasting peace in South Asia without a just settlement of Kashmir dispute, based on UN Security Council resolutions and the will of the Kashmiri people. Qureshi welcomed the report by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights which chronicles the massive ongoing violations of human rights in Indian-occupied Kashmir. The report vindicated Pakistan’s position. “No longer can the excuse of terrorism be used to systematically oppress the Kashmiri people.” He called for early institution of a Commission of Inquiry under UN auspices to investigate and fix responsibility. Qureshi accused India of frequent violations of the LoC to divert the world’s attention from its brutalities. Regarding the latest Indian threats of a “surgical strike” against Pakistan, Qureshi warned India of Pakistan’s “strong and matching response.”
Taking his condemnation of India a notch higher, Foreign Minister Qureshi accused it of sponsoring terrorism and aggression against all its neighbours. It was a matter of concern for the international community as “humanity is being crushed and human rights being violated all over India, where people have stood up against oppression, occupation and to demand their fundamental rights.” Qureshi said Pakistan desired a relationship with India based on sovereign equality and mutual respect. Dialogue was the only way to address the issues that have long bedeviled South Asia. But India had backed out of the agreed meeting of Foreign Ministers.
The Modi government preferred politics over peace. Due to intransigence of one state, SAARC, the regional body in South Asia, has been rendered ineffective. Qureshi said Pakistan is ready to engage with India for meaningful confidence-building, risk reduction and avoidance of the arms race. It has long been advocating a Strategic Restraint Regime for South Asia.
The foregoing was the most scathing attack on India made at the UN by a Pakistani leader, accusing it of complicity in the Peshawar School mass murder and other acts of terrorism in which thousands of Pakistanis had been killed. Qureshi needs to be reminded that restraint in speech is a great virtue in diplomacy. A tough speech of this kind may win applause back home, but the likelihood of any resumption of talks with India has receded even further.
Turning to global issues, Qureshi painted a bleak picture. He said that the very foundations on which the edifice of global order is constructed are under assault. Forces of protectionism, populism and isolationism are gaining currency. “Intolerance is ascendant over acceptance, rhetoric over reason, and power over principle. Where the world needs bridges, we see fortifications; where it needs highways, we see blockades, and where it yearns freedom, we see cages.” New forms and manifestations of imperialism are appearing. Multilateralism is on a path of retreat. Unilateralist tendencies are growing. Long-standing legal norms are being eroded for strategic and commercial considerations. Dark clouds of trade wars are looming large on the horizon.
Challenges of climate change, environmental degradation, pandemics, transnational organized crime and sustainable development are becoming ever more complex. The post-world war idealism is giving way to a hardened, militaristic approach. This trend is not only regressive but downright dangerous. This kind of philosophizing is impressive in its own way, but the overall impression was that the Pakistan Foreign Minister was, without naming USA, criticizing US policies under President Trump. Qureshi could have considered whether this was the best preparation for his meeting with US Secretary of State Pompeo on October 2, where he hopes relations would be reset towards a more positive direction.
In his speech, Foreign Minister Qureshi rightly condemned the blasphemous cartoons that had deeply hurt Muslim sentiments. He said Pakistan would continue to collaborate with friends and partners to reverse the growing tide of bigotry, build cross-cultural understandings, and promote dialogue amongst civilizations. On changes in the UN, Qureshi said Pakistan wanted comprehensive reform of the UN Security Council to make it more democratic, representative, transparent and effective. “We will continue to oppose the creation of new centres of privilege and prestige in defiance of principles of democracy, and the Charter’s core tenet of sovereign equality of member states.” Regarding Afghanistan, Qureshi stressed there was no military solution.
A negotiated settlement has assumed urgency in the face of growing presence of Da’esh. Pakistan will continue to support an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led process for peace and reconciliation. On a bilateral plane, Pakistan and Afghanistan have operationalized their cooperation. Qureshi pointed out that Pakistan had hosted the longest refugee presence of modern times, which contrasted with the rising tide of anti-immigrant sentiments in nations with more resources. Pakistan looked forward to the safe return of Afghan refugees to their homeland.
The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.
By Shahid M Amin