Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is currently in New York to attend the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly. His maiden visit to US as prime minister comes at a time when the relationship between the two countries is on a downward trajectory in the wake of US President Donald Trump's Afghan and South Asia policy.
In his various interactions with American media and think tanks, Abbasi — who is said to be media shy — had to face some compelling questions.
Here's our round-up:
On Pakistan's blasphemy laws
Ken Roth of the Human Rights Watch asked Abbasi during a session at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) think tank whether he as prime minister would speak out against the blasphemy law under which a Christian man was recently sentenced to death for a poem he sent on WhatsApp that was deemed blasphemous.
Abbasi replied: "The laws in the country are very clear, and it’s only up to the parliament to amend the laws. The job of the government is to make sure that the laws are not abused and innocent people are not prosecuted or prosecuted."
When stressed by the moderator that the prime minister could still speak out on the issue, Abbasi said: "Well, as I said, the law is there. The law is in place. The law is in force. The courts can comment on the law. But until it’s in — it’s in force, it’s the job of the government to enforce the law."
On founding AirBlue
The prime minister was asked what lessons he was able to bring from his business relationship as the founder of AirBlue (a private airline) to the Pakistani economy.
Abbasi: "...Yes, it’s working well so far, I guess. But, no, basically this is a dynamic business. So it helps you— decision-making helps. So I think it’s good training for politics in some ways, although I think Mr. Trump’s airline didn’t do so well. (Laughter.) So we can really learn some lessons there. (Laughter.)"
On India's role in Afghanistan
An audience member at CFR asked Prime Minister Abbasi what he thinks the role of India should be in Afghanistan.
Abbasi: "Zero. (Laughter) India—we don’t foresee any political or military role for India in Afghanistan. I think it will just complicate the situation and it will not resolve anything."
On Hafiz Saeed
The New York Times journalist David Sanger asked PM Abbasi how an independent candidate was allowed to display posters featuring Hafiz Saeed's photos during his election campaign for the recent NA-120 by-poll in Lahore.
Abbasi responded: "If you’re talking about Hafiz Saeed, he belongs to a proscribed organisation. We have taken action against him. He’s in house arrest. In the recent by-election, the candidate did use his poster, his picture as an election poster, which is illegal to do, and action will be taken against him by the election commission. But he polled about four per cent of the vote. So we do not condone such activity, and we will take action where it’s required. And we have taken action in the past. He has been under detention for over two to three years now."
On not wearing a tie
Many took to social media in Pakistan to point out that Abbasi had not worn a tie while attending sessions at the UN and even during his meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence, terming his look 'informal' or 'unprofessional'. Abbasi explained the reason behind that at the end of his session at CFR.
Abbasi: "Just a — just an off-the-cuff remark. It’s about the tie. I went to school in California. So in California, they said you only wear a tie on the day you get married or [on the day] you die. (Laughter.) So it’s neither of those events, so. (Laughs.)
Sanger (of NYT): "If I could be king for a day, that would be my rule."
On US military bases in Pakistan
The prime minister was asked by journalist David Sanger whether Pakistan currently hosts any American bases or operations on its territory.
Abbasi responded: "No, no."
Sanger: "Regular bases? None?"
Abbasi: "None. No bases at all."
On his adventurous side
In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, PM Abbasi talked about his passion for skydiving.