UN Secretary-General’s Visit
Pakistan’s New Global Image
For decades, having been on the top of many negative lists including those of world’s most dangerous, most violent, most unsafe and most corrupt countries on earth, it was indeed heartening to see Pakistan being hailed by UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, as a ‘trustworthy and benevolent nation’ committed to peace and security regionally as well as globally. Not too long ago, Pakistan’s recognition in the comity of nations was only as a ‘breeding ground’ for religious extremism and militancy, and as a country afflicted with terrorism. Every act of violence anywhere in the world was traced back to our country in one way or the other.
Pakistan’s name instantly raised fear and concern. We were seen both as the problem and the key to its solution. For the first time in decades, we heard all the good things about our country during UN chief’s four-day visit to Pakistan at the invitation of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Secretary-General Guterres was the chief guest and keynote speaker at an International Conference on ‘40 Years of Hosting Afghan Refugees in Pakistan’. His presence at this conference was itself a recognition of Pakistan’s generosity and resolve in hosting Afghan refugees for the past four decades, and also appreciation of its efforts for Afghan peace and stability.
On this occasion, he acknowledged loud and clear: “Here in Pakistan, we see solidarity in action. Despite Pakistan’s own challenges, it has protected afghan refugees with the limited support from international community. One can imagine how unstable the region might have been without Pakistan’s stellar contribution.” During his visit, Secretary-General Guterres also delivered special talks on UN’s three key areas of current focus, namely, sustainable development, climate change and peacekeeping. At all these events, he was all praise for Pakistan. He especially lauded Pakistan’s singular contribution to UN peacekeeping operations through its valiant soldiers.
For the first time in decades, we heard a top world diplomat acknowledging Pakistan’s role and relevance regionally as well as globally. His script was indeed music to our ears. The world should step back and look at Pakistan through a wider frame was the most remarkable message that the UN Secretary-General sent across the world at his press conference in Islamabad. He praised Pakistan for its commitment to peace, for its generosity in hosting millions of Afghan refugees, for its role in Afghan peace, for its contribution to multilateralism, to the United Nations and UN peacekeeping operations, sustainable development and on climate change issues.
All these compliments were being heaped on Pakistan in the backdrop of India’s Narendra Modi constantly smelling blood in the region. UN Secretary-General’s visit to Lahore and Kartarpur was indeed a curtain raiser for him on Pakistan’s history as well as on its new identity. After his visits to Kartarpur Shrine and a Sikh Temple, as well as Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, he seemed moved by the show of religious unity that he witnessed in Pakistan. Guterres called the Kartarpur Corridor a “corridor of hope” and said: “When we see so many parts of the world fighting in the name of religion, it’s necessary to say that religions unite us for peace and the best symbol is this shrine.”
Lauding Pakistan’s rich culture, the UN chief thanked the people of Pakistan in a tweet.
“I concluded my visit to Pakistan after enjoying the rich history and vibrant culture of Lahore—from the Lahore Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to the majestic Badshahi mosque,” the UN chief tweeted. “This is a very emotional moment. It is wonderful to see interfaith dialogue” said the Secretary-General, on the last leg of his visit to Pakistan. No wonder, this visit was not a mere protocol event; it marked a real diplomatic plus for Pakistan which, it seems, is beginning to find its new place in the comity of nations as a peaceful, tolerant and responsible state.
Among his meetings with Pakistani dignitaries, the most important was the one he had with Prime Minister Imran Khan whose personality has been largely instrumental in bringing about the change in world’s perception of Pakistan. No diplomacy at any level could yield this change. In his meeting with the Secretary-General, Prime Minister Imran Khan briefed him on all aspects of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, especially the situation arising from India’s military vandalism and aggression in the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir. Since August of last year, occupied Kashmir has been turned into an open-air prison, not unlike Gaza, with a crippling lockdown.
Prime Minister Imran Khan minced no words in urging the UN to seriously involve itself in averting a human disaster in Kashmir which has been under siege for more than six months now and needs UN’s help in its ordeal under a complete military shutdown with no access to the outside world. Promotion and protection of human rights is a global responsibility which the United Nations must discharge in respect of the people of Kashmir who are facing the worst holocaust of the 21st century. The prospect of an impending genocide in occupied Kashmir is a clarion call to the world community to act now, before it is too late. The UN must intervene to prevent mass murder in Kashmir.
The world must also not ignore Imran Khan’s warnings that this time an India-Pakistan conflict could erupt into a nuclear apocalypse that must be averted at all costs. On his part, Secretary-General Guterres was forthright in speaking out on the gravity of the situation. He expressed “deep concern” over aggravating India-Pakistan tensions, calling for India to respect “human rights and fundamental freedoms” when dealing with discontent in the occupied territory. “I have repeatedly stressed the importance of exercising maximum restraint and taking steps to de-escalate both militarily and verbally, while reiterating my offer to exercise my good offices should both sides ask,” he said. He also reiterated UN position on Kashmir as governed by the UN Charter on peaceful settlement of disputes and by relevant Security Council resolutions.
All said and done, UN Secretary-General’s visit to Pakistan was a good opportunity not only to project a positive image of Pakistan but also to flag to the world community that no matter what the Indians claim, beyond UN Security Council’s resolutions, there is no compact formula or tailor-made solution for resolving the long-outstanding Kashmir issue. But India has thwarted all attempts by the United Nations to organize a plebiscite in the State. But that does not exonerate the UN of its Charter responsibility.
There are many things the UN can do at least to alleviate the Kashmiris’ suffering. But no matter how well-meaning the UN Secretary-General may have been in whatever he said in Pakistan, we should have no illusions on the UN’s capacity to deliver on its Charter obligations or on Security Council resolutions. The “overriding” vested political and economic interests of the more powerful players known as P5 have seriously constricted UN’s functioning. As in the case of the League of Nations, the UN is no longer the sole meaningful arbiter on issues of global relevance and importance. Nor is it governed by the rule of law or universally established norms.
It has resolved no major disputes; nor has it prevented any conflicts. Decisions on major issues are taken in Washington, not in New York. Even the Secretary-General will be looking towards Washington when seeking second tenure end of next year. No wonder, President Trump is all the time trumpeting his own ‘arbitrary’ credentials to play a decisive role on Kashmir. To what extent can the UN play any role is there for all to see.
Will the United Nations meet the same fate as its predecessor the League of Nations, or in other words, will the United Nations survive the constant erosion in its credibility, role and authority? The answer is simple. The United Nations can remain relevant only if it defends what is “good and just” and opposes what is “evil and unjust.” It will have to revive the moral and multilateral core of its raison d’etre. This requires it to be strengthened to make it more representative and more effective inter-governmental organization where ‘one-state, one-vote’ principle will underpin its pluralistic, democratic and participatory character.
Emerging from the ashes of World War II, the United Nations was meant to save humanity and its succeeding generations from the scourge of war. It was established to pursue the twin goals of peace and prosperity. For the realization of these goals, it was hailed as “mankind’s last best hope”. It was meant to provide a moral edifice in reordering of the global system, which would be based on justice and equity and which would be governed by rules, laws, values and cooperation.
The post-war generation saw in the UN a guarantee against big power domination as well as the promise of a helpful hand to those struggling for a life free of poverty, disease, illiteracy and hunger. Multilateral cooperation was to be the norm for resolving all global problems, political, economic and social. With this norm, the UN was to pioneer the way to a new and better world. It was a pragmatic response to imperatives of the fast-changing world as a result of increasing global inter-dependence and phenomenal technological advances.