Ukraine conundrum

Published March 6, 2022

AS international condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine rises to a crescendo, Islamabad may find it prudent to recalibrate its position.

Pakistan had briefly sleepwalked into the eye of the storm by virtue of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s unfortunately timed visit to Moscow. Though that visit was aimed solely at building trade and economic ties, as was later made clear, it had been expected that the foreign minister would subsequently lead a robust diplomatic effort to elucidate Pakistan’s stance on the Ukraine crisis.

Instead, Western capitals seem to have grown increasingly agitated at what is being seen as Pakistan’s abdication of its diplomatic responsibilities, with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi apparently giving most of his attention to political rallies in rural Sindh. Mr Qureshi was missing from the federal capital when more than 20 heads of foreign missions in Islamabad broke with convention to call on Pakistan, through a press release, to join them in voicing support for Ukraine in the UN General Assembly emergency session this past week. Among the signatories to that appeal were some of our oldest, closest and most important economic partners — countries that have substantially invested in and assisted Pakistan in charting a course for the prosperity of its people. Yet, Islamabad remained unrelenting.

Red Zone Files: Trouble with the West

It is true that some find the hypocrisy of Western powers’ insistence that Pakistan condemn Russia for the invasion of Ukraine galling. The fabrications and flimsy excuses used to legitimise the invasion of Iraq are still fresh in many minds. It is also not unreasonable to empathise with Russia on its valid national security concerns, especially with respect to the expansion of Nato on its western flank.

However, these factors should not prevent Pakistan from taking a clear, principled stand in line with international laws. Pakistan has a moral responsibility to condemn the invasion of a sovereign state, as well as the loss of life and humanitarian suffering it has wrought. So far, Islamabad’s near absence from the global stage in the midst of a global crisis has been jarring. A nuclear power representing more than 200m people should not excuse itself from participating while an issue of such world-shaking import plays out.

While it may be that Pakistan is finally at the cusp of a new era of improved ties with Russia, the country cannot be seen to be turning a blind eye to the latter’s violation of international law. It is morally imperative for Pakistan to unequivocally call for a cessation of hostilities, the immediate withdrawal of troops and a negotiated end to the conflict. Islamabad should also express in clear terms that it stands by the people of Ukraine in a war they did not provoke. Islamabad will not be afforded the luxury of watching from the sidelines for long — not when time-tested economic partners have come calling for support.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2022

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