NEW YORK - The Prime Minister’s speech began with a description of his resurrection as third-time Prime Minister. “I feel exonerated, as my supporters and I stood firm…in the long years of exile, exclusion and state oppression.”
The first real political point scored came early in the address: Kashmir. With a meeting between Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif now confirmed for in New York, rumours were rife that certain conditions had been attached to the Indians accepting the invitation. One of these conditions was said to be the absence of the Kashmir issue from the PM’s address. This appears not to have happened, and Mr Sharif instead took the opportunity to reestablish credibility with those who have accused him of being ‘soft’ on India, and deliberately evasive of Kashmir. Moving it to the top of the speech was an easy way of looking like a hero at home.
On India, the PM took credit for extending an invitation for a meeting to PM Singh. Casting himself as a sort of ‘India-whisperer’, Mr Sharif reminded of the 1999 Lahore Accord and sought to reassure the international community that he was the man to get the job done.
But why the PM then felt the need to speak about the stereotyping of Muslims, just a week after the attack in Peshawar on a church that left 85 dead, is difficult to understand. For Mr Sharif to assume that racial/religious profiling and its application to Muslims is the most pressing issue that the world community wishes to hear the Prime Minister of Pakistan speak on, indicates an unfortunate failure of judgement.
Pakistan is not the beacon of religious tolerance, or of non-judgemental attitudes towards race and faith. It is difficult to comprehend why the PM had to weigh in on this topic with the whole world listening, and expecting something about the growing insecurity in Pakistan. Instead, they received a liberal arts college declamation contest entry on religious freedom.
Speaking of the “insidious form of contemporary racism in the name of religion”, Mr Sharif referred exclusively to perceived attitudes about Muslims in the world at large, but this seemed to imply that Pakistan was a haven free from any such practice. “Peaceful Muslim communities are profiled and subjected to discriminatory practices.” Cringing, one could help but wish the PM had remembered Pakistan's talent for not just non-Muslims, even sects within Muslims being ‘profiled’, and subjected to ‘discriminatory practices’. Remember Gilgit? Or Quetta? Apparently not.
“Their faith, culture, holy personalities and scriptures are under attack.” The closest example of this might be the attack in Peshawar. Or on Joseph Colony. For the Prime Minister of Pakistan to be lecturing the world on religious tolerance and non-discrimination, is a bit incredulous at this point in time.
“Those who perpetrate terrorism are enemies of Muslims and Islam itself.” It’s too easy to disown something as ‘not your problem’. And it rings especially hollow when just a moment later, there is mention of “winning hearts and minds” and efforts to “wean young extremists off extremism”.
Also a bit difficult to digest was the PM’s description of Pakistan’s “impeccable credentials” to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group. While Pakistan has indeed been the subject of discriminatory practices, as compared with India, but the reality remains that our much-feted hero Dr AQ Khan is the man to thank for Pakistan’s nuclear programme losing credibility.
Notable by its absence was any coherent strategy by the PM on countering the security situation in Pakistan. “Dialogue”, “sacrifices”, “eliminate terrorism”; the usual language was repeated. Everyone is aware that there can be no bigger problem that Mr Sharif faces than the security situation. But what the UNGA wanted to hear was that the Pakistani PM has a plan. And so far, it looks like he doesn’t.