New York - The UN General Assembly isn’t all handshakes and photo ops. There’s also the matter of the countries of the world coming together to share progress and discuss problems they all face. Poverty, food insecurity, disease, climate change, and so on. Who decides what issues everyone has in common? The UN and its member countries do. And why should Pakistan care that there are protocols in place to monitor and measure progress on these lines? In the words of a senior Pakistani diplomat, “Because they just make sense”.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight markers of progress to be achieved by the year 2015 are up for review this year, as the year before. The targets are in numerical measurement, to establish trends in primary education, maternal health, gender empowerment, child mortality, extreme hunger and poverty, environmental sustainability, development and the incidence and care of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria.
Pakistan is on track to miss the MDG targets. All eight of them. And not by small margins. “These were not empty commitments,” read the PM’s statement at the roundtable on MDGs. Admitting ‘many shortfalls’, the tone of the statement was explanatory, to justify the embarrassment of not having made progress comparable to the nations of sub-Saharan Africa, “Our dilemma is that large portions of our resources have been consumed by the war on terrorism.” It may be uncomfortable to be detailing and excusing your misfortunes and failures to the world, but it is a necessary exercise. The question to answer is, why has Pakistan not done what is clearly in Pakistan’s own interest to do?
The PM at multiple forums stressed on an increase in education spending from 2% GDP to 4%; and health expenditure from 1 to 2%. “This…is modest, but it is a beginning.” The game doesn’t end in 2015 and there is no prize for those who do achieve these set targets – save for a healthier population and a more prosperous future. Pakistan, among other nations, is likely to extend the MDGs deadline further into the future. We’ll keep trying; it’ll just take longer than it should.
On the issue of insecurity and terrorism, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif according to sources privy to the exchanged during the relevant meetings, has been clear and unequivocal during bilaterals that the Taliban have an “unacceptable world view”. But in public, and most recently in an interview to the Wall Street Journal, Mr Sharif has been conscious to hedge his bets every which way, “This incident which took place in Peshawar [a church bombing on Sept 22] has been disowned by the Taliban. They have specifically said that they haven’t done it and they disowned this. They haven’t said that before. On this particular incident, they have said it. Our intelligence agencies are trying to determine that.”
The changes in tone, and degree of certainty, are for two different audiences. In private meetings with world leaders, Pakistan hasn’t a prayer of being able to justify any kind belief in the Taliban and their statements. But in public, Mr Sharif is not just Prime Minister, he is also a politician. And back home, Imran Khan and Khurshid Shah are making news, pushing for opening a political office for the Taliban, and starting talks, respectively.
The Americans are not particularly bothered about Pakistan talking to the TTP. “We certainly don’t object,” said Special Representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Dobbins, in response to a question. The worry for the US is the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan’s problems are its own, but the Afghan Taliban are a US problem. There are reports that although Senator Kerry’s call on the PM was cordial, and materialized in a final date for the US-Pakistan bilateral in Washington, the focus during the meeting remained mostly on security in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With respect to Pakistan, concern was voiced about “extremist elements overwhelming” the state. In a conversation with the Prime Minister on Wednesday evening, Mr Sharif revealed that a Pakistani ambassador was “soon” to be appointed to Washington DC. From the confidence of the statement, it appears a name is close to being finalized.
Minister of Water and Power, Mr Khawaja Asif, and Finance Minister, Mr Ishaq Dar, have been working alongside the Prime Minister during the visit. Particular emphasis is being paid to energy projects. On energy, the advice has been for Pakistan to be present where the decisions are being taken. The push is to get funding, and to get technology. Adopting the approach of drawing up a plan in Pakistan, and hoping that will be enough for international help to materialize, will not work. Pakistan must penetrate the mainstream discourse, which in international diplomacy is centered around human rights. Also known in Pakistan as a “sazish”. Environment is another topic of concern in the international community. The Pakistani government’s talent in the environment ministry was described by an official with experience of working with them, as “blunt knives”. That the environment ministry is considered unimportant and unattractive in Pakistan and relegated more as a favour than with any sense of urgency, is one of the illustrations of the government’s underestimation of the importance of the ministry.
Tailpiece: Iran is likely to be assisting financially with IP funding. Loans on easy terms may be extended, since Pakistan has made no allocation for the pipeline in the budget of 2013-2014, and the project is to be completed January 1, 2013 if a daily penalty of $3 million is to be avoided.