UNGA speech

Updated September 29, 2019

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PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan’s trip to New York has culminated on a high note after a hard-hitting speech at the United Nations General Assembly.

In the presence of world leaders, Mr Khan delivered a speech focused on four key areas: climate change, financial corruption, the perils of Islamophobia and lastly — and most importantly, since it was the main purpose of his visit — Kashmir.

On the first three issues, Mr Khan made some valid points although more informed input from his advisers could have yielded greater impact.

The prime minister spoke of Pakistan’s melting glaciers and the PTI’s tree plantation initiative. But at the UNGA, where the existential threat of climate change was a major theme, there was a need to underscore how Pakistan — a country that is seeking opportunities to grow its economy — needs the international community’s assistance to expand with the least possible damage to the environment.

His appeal to countries to assist Pakistan in combating the menace of money-laundering was also relevant, though at times the prime minister meandered into dharna-style politics which might have been lost on his international audience.

On Islamophobia, Mr Khan delivered a very pertinent message on the divisions a hate-filled mindset creates — indeed, it is a vital concern in a world that is increasingly seeing tragedies such as the one in Christchurch. Pursuing this theme on the international stage required more focused observations on the difference in perception between the Western and Islamic worlds.

But all shortcomings were compensated for by the subject Mr Khan saved for the last: the appalling situation in India-held Kashmir. He spoke with heartfelt conviction: “What I know of the West, they wouldn’t stand for eight million animals to be locked up. These are humans,” Mr Khan said as he spoke of the pitiable conditions that people are living under in occupied Kashmir.

“I have pictured myself locked up for 55 days … Would I want to let this humiliation continue? I would pick up a gun” are words that are likely to stay with those who listened.

Besides drawing attention to the plight of the Kashmiris, Mr Khan framed his plea to the international community by calling out the UN. “It is a test for the United Nations. You are the one who guaranteed the Kashmiris the right [of self-determination]. This is not the time for appeasement.”

Comparing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s association with the Hindu nationalist RSS to Hitler and the Nazis, he asked how the world would respond if it were Jews and not Muslims under curfew — a scenario that might resonate more with an international community that for decades has rightly viewed the Holocaust as amongst the worst atrocities in history. In delivering an unequivocal, thunderous message to the world on Kashmir, Mr Khan did the right thing for millions of Kashmiris living under siege. For that, he must be given credit.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2019