Not enough can be said or cherished about Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s heartfelt speech at the United Nations General Assembly, on Friday. It was persuasive; it was gutsy; it was emotive; and above all, it was honest.
I, for one, cannot recall the last time that a Pakistani leader – nay, a Muslim leader – spoke with such passion and poise at the international stage.
Truth be told, this is an unfamiliar feeling for Pakistanis: to be proud of our political leader. For too long, we had gotten used to bumbling demagogues who had trouble pronouncing the cyclostyled words written on a teleprompter.
History recalls a time, generations ago when the likes of Ayub Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto addressed the world with some measure of dignity and national pride. But that was a different era, and those leaders did not face the sort of odds that Imran Khan was up against: a country on the brink of financial and moral bankruptcy; a nation fraught with entrenched corruption; a religion dubbed synonymous to militancy; an international community that is impervious to our plight; and an enemy driven by ideology of hate and fascism.
Violation of the Simla accord and bilateral treaties. Eleven different resolutions of the UNSC guaranteeing ‘right of self-determination’ to the Kashmiris, and consistent non-compliance by India.
In the circumstances, no one had put much stock in Imran Khan’s moment under the sun. After all, just a few days ago, we saw the American President participate in a Bollywood political rally, and a world eager to surrender its promise of human rights at the altar of a 1.2 billion market place. What could Imran Khan or Pakistan do? Who would ever listen? Why would anyone care?
And then it happened.
Khan started his speech with the mention of climate change – an issue that he has tried to pursue in Pakistan, through the ‘billion trees’ program in KPK. This was his attempt to demonstrate concern about issues that face our planet, and identify how Pakistan is participating in the remedial measures. Standard stuff for a UN speech.
Next, his message came closer to home, with a mention of money laundering and how it amounts to a “plunder of the developing world”. He pointed out how “elite” from the developing world launder national wealth to their accounts in the Western capitals, thus impoverishing the local economy and increasing the gap between rich and poor.
I believe that only a fearless and honest person like Imran Khan can say sitting in the heart of the west that rich western countries are actually supporters of money laundering because they get benefits from that money. #UNGA #PMIKInUSA pic.twitter.com/7JcWVJ8QzP
— Team Aleem Khan (@TeamAleemKhan) September 26, 2019
He was also candid in identifying that even after his government “located properties in western capitals, bought through money laundering”, the relevant laws have made it extremely “difficult” to reclaim this money and spend it on domestic development. He asked why such laundered money is not considered at par with “drug money” or “terror financing”, even though it is the proceeds of a crime committed against the hapless people of the developing world.
After that, he turned to the issue of “Islamophobia”, and how Western leaders (read: Trump) have participated in the endeavor of cultivating this ideology, through the use of phrases such as “Islamic terrorism” and “radical Islam”. In so doing, Khan was also critical of ‘Muslim leaders’, who never took the time to explain to the West what Islam meant to us all, and how Islamophobia was resulting in further marginalization (and, by extension, radicalization) of the Muslim world.
But the crux of his speech – the very essence of why he claimed to have attended the UN session – was focused on Kashmir, and the brutalities being committed by the Modi government. And this, above all, is what made Khan’s speech special. Historic, even. An address that will live and be remembered in the sub-continent history for times to come.
— Hülia Turkiya🇹🇷 (@Huliaturkiya) September 25, 2019
After narrating a brief history of his government’s efforts to initiate dialogue with the Modi regime – pre and post Indian elections – Imran Khan went on the offensive to argue the case of Kashmiri people, and expose RSS’s Nazi ideology of hate. 8,000,000 people incarcerated for no crime at all. 900,000 troops deployed with pellet guns, and live munition. 100,000 civilian deaths over the past 30 years. More than 11,000 women raped by security forces. A history of false flags, and suppression of indigenous freedom struggle of the Kashmiri people. Kulbushan Jadhav, and India’s sponsoring of terror inside Pakistan. Violation of the Simla accord and bilateral treaties. Eleven different resolutions of the UNSC guaranteeing ‘right of self-determination’ to the Kashmiris, and consistent non-compliance by India.
I have come here to tell the UN: you are the one who guaranteed the people of Kashmir the right to self-determination. They are suffering because of that. And this is the time not to appease, like in 1939.
This was powerful stuff. These were undeniable facts. More importantly, this was the first time that such a case was being constructed against India, at the world stage. It was a shot through the heart of India’s well-orchestrated tolerant secular mantra. And it was delivered extempore, as a statement of incontestable facts.
Most damaging to India’s image and its fascist policies in Kashmir was Khan’s exposé on the ideological underpinnings of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (the RSS), of which “Modi is a lifetime member.” He talked about how Modi, during his tenure as Chief Minister of Gujrat, permitted “RSS goons”, wearing Nazi “brown shirts”, to massacre thousands of Muslims in his State. Khan alluded to the founders of RSS – all Nazi supporters – who believed in and propagated racial superiority and ethnic cleansing. And, to this end, he challenged the world to verify his facts.
As it turns out, the world was listening. Immediately following Imran Khan’s speech, RSS and its founders were among the top 5 google searches of the day. People, all across social media, dug up the history and philosophy of individuals like MS Golwalkar and VD Savarkar, whose RSS ideology led to the assassination of “the great Mahatma Gandhi”. It was discovered, or re-discovered rather, that Modi’s ideological forefathers never made any secret of their love for Adolf Hitler and Mussolini. Savarkar wrote manifestos and delivered speeches in support of Hitler, his propagation of ‘superior race’, and his persecution of the Jews.
In fact, even Jawaharlal Nehru, in his letter to the heads of provincial governments in December 1947, wrote that “we have a great deal of evidence to show that RSS is an organisation which is in the nature of a private army and which is definitely proceeding on the strictest Nazi lines, even following the techniques of the organization”. And this Nazi ideology, couched behind a thin veil of economic progress, is playing havoc with minorities across India… and especially in Kashmir.
In the circumstances, Khan asked the world a straightforward question: “What is the world community going to do? Is it going to appease a market of 1.2 billion people? Or is it going to stand up for justice and humanity?”
Asking himself the same question, Khan was unequivocal in his answer: faced a choice between surrender and death, we will fight till death! Confirming the gravity of this commitment, Khan warned the world that “when a nuclear-armed country fights to the end, it will have consequences far beyond the borders. It will have consequences for the world.”
Before we all head in “that direction”, PM Pakistan, Imran Khan asked the UN to play the role for which it was created. In his own words, Khan said, “I have come here to tell the UN: you are the one who guaranteed the people of Kashmir the right to self-determination. They are suffering because of that. And this is the time not to appease, like in 1939. This is a time to take action.”
I am not threatening here about nuclear war; it is a worry. It is a test for the United Nations. You are the one who gave Kashmir right to self-determination.
– Prime Minister Imran Khan#ImranKhanVoiceOfKashmir #UNGA #UNGA74 #PMIKInUSA pic.twitter.com/Xr8fUqOh7K
— Govt of Pakistan (@pid_gov) September 27, 2019
And what “action” should be taken, the Prime Minister identified three: 1) “that India must lift this inhuman curfew which has lasted for 55 days”, 2) “it must free all political prisoners, and especially those 13,000 boys that have been picked up” and then 3) “the world community must give the people of Kashmir their right of self-determination”
These three demands, presented without mincing of words, are an articulation of Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. Viewed in the historical context, as presented by the Prime Minister, these demands also form a charge-sheet against Modi, his RSS, the Muslim leadership, and the international community at large.
Maybe nothing will come of this speech, and Prime Minister’s demands from the United Nations. Maybe this will increase Indian barbarity in Kashmir, and the overall bigotry of Islamophobia across the globe. Maybe the impending war, and all its horror, is inevitable. But just for this brief moment, let us pause to recognize how a man stood up before the world, and spoke to truth to power. And let us rejoice that this man is the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has an LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Twitter: @Ch_SaadRasool. This article was originally appeared at The Nation and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.