New York - It is a surprise how little happens when a few dozen heads of state and government get together. At the UN – which is primarily a large, slow-moving bureaucracy – Pakistan has traditionally thrived. Benefiting from one talented diplomat after another, the permanent mission to the UN enjoys an excellent reputation. If this is surprising, it deserves a clarification; clout and influence at the UN is not necessarily a marker of all-round success in governance, or economic progress. To give an example, the first country to speak at the UN General Assembly every year is Brazil. Even the President of the United States comes second.
An occasion like the UN General Assembly session is the perfect opportunity for ‘known quantity’ and third-time Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, to reintroduce himself to the world. His schedule is a mix of old friends and new. Bill Gates will call on him to talk about his initiatives to eradicate polio – ie, Bill Gates’ initiatives, not the Prime Minister’s. Christine Lagarde, IMF MD, paid a visit to remind Mr Sharif that it’s time to play taxman. The Tunisian President also met with the Pakistani PM. The meeting was arranged at the request of the Tunisian government. One can only imagine that both leaders exchanged lists titled “What Not To Do”. The Iranian President has met with the Pakistani PM, and the Emir of Qatar is expected to meet; both representing old ties with new faces.
It’s not just the Prime Minister who has a jampacked dance card. Advisor on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz is working alongside, and sometimes in parallel. Water and Power Minister, Khawaja Asif flew in on Saturday. Finance Minister, Ishaq Dar arrived on Monday, in the PM’s plane.
Mrs Kulsoom Nawaz is also in New York for the session. She was in attendance at a lunch hosted by First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, in Harlem for spouses of visiting dignitaries. Partners of world leaders are expected to attend several sideline engagements; it is in fact considered odd, and a manifestation of a crisis of confidence if spouses are not present alongside. Mr Karzai is notable for never having brought his wife to the session, he is known to scrupulously avoid even referencing her in conversation. This year, Mr Karzai surprised with a last-minute change of plans, opting to visit China, instead of attending UN session in New York. A bilateral security arrangement with the United States is marketed as being very much the decision of the Afghan government. The mercurial Mr Karzai’s change of plans may or may not be an indication of the Afghan government’s leaning.
The Prime Minister will address the UN on Friday, September 27, at 11am local time. The Indian Prime Minister’s address is scheduled for September 28. A meeting between Mr Sharif and Mr Singh is expected over breakfast on September 29, although the invitation extended by the Pakistani government has not yet been officially accepted. A variety of conditions are rumoured to be attached to the event occurring. At present, the Foreign Office is reluctant to play up even the possibility of the meeting, anticipating the potential embarrassment, should the Indians regret at the last minute.
The Prime Minister in his speech is expected to make a reference to drones. The matter has already been raised by Pakistan at the Human Rights Council, mentioned at several meetings related to the Security Council, and is to be discussed during a meeting on small arms and light warfare. An official complaint has not been registered, nor is it likely to be, just yet.
The Peshawar attacks have placed the Prime Minister under sharp criticism at home. In New York though, the unofficial chatter is along the lines of “A very sad incident…but life goes on…steps must be taken to ameliorate the situation…” It is safe to say, the worst of Pakistan’s problems are at home, not in New York. The stage is set, there is an audience, but it remains to be seen whether the Prime Minister has a story to sell. If the question is, “What is Pakistan radiating positively to the world?” – does Mr Sharif have an answer?