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FM at the UNGA: Shah Mahmood has a busy day ahead of speech

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The foreign minister of Pakistan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, has had a busy schedule soon after arriving in New York to attend the 73rd United Nations General Assembly session. He left for New York on Saturday, the 22nd of September, accompanied by the foreign secretary, Tehmina Janjua. Some of the interactions he had included an important meeting of a contact group for the Organization of Islamic Conference(OIC), meeting with representatives of Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), a huddle with a US congressman, pressing for Pakistan’s case against India’s building of water reservoirs that may affect water flow to Pakistan with the World Bank and a cordial meeting with his Dutch counterpart, Stef Blok.

US Congressman Joe Wilson called on the Pakistani FM on the sidelines of the UNGA session. Wilson, a Republican, is the US Representative for South Carolina’s 2nd congressional district and has been serving since 2001. He serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Armed Services Committee. During their meeting, foreign minister Qureshi discussed his government’s priorities and the steps taken to achieve the goals outlined. He also focused on the PTI government’s over-riding agenda on delivering education and job opportunities to the youth, which comprises nearly 60% of the population of Pakistan.

The Nagorno Karabakh issue is an ethnoterritorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh is a land-locked region in the South Caucasus within the mountainous range of Karabakh. It is disputed between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Ties between Islamabad and Washington had reached new lows in recent years. President Donald Trump even accused Pakistan of ‘nothing but lies and deceit’ in a tweet at the beginning of the year. However, after the recent ‘cordial’ visit by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff to Islamabad, improvement in bilateral ties is considered likely. Congressman Joe Wilson congratulated the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf(PTI) on the election victory. The Pakistani foreign minister appreciated congressional support for enhancing Pakistan’s counter-terrorism capabilities and said that his country has been successful in the war on terror at a huge cost in men and material.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi also attended a ministerial meeting of Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA). There are 26 member states of CICA, including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Iran, and China. CICA began its activities in 1993 and is a forum for dialogues and consultations on regional security issues in Asia, with the main objective to enhance cooperation through multilateral confidence-building measures. The foreign minister congratulated Tajikistan for assuming chairmanship of the CICA and welcomed Sri Lanka as a full member of CICA. He also said that Pakistan would continue its engagement with the Conference.

Read more: Hope for peace talks tumble as India calls off UNGA meeting

The FM also attended a meeting of a contact group of the Organization of Islamic Conference(OIC) on the Nagorno Karabakh issue. The Nagorno Karabakh issue is an ethnoterritorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh is a land-locked region in the South Caucasus within the mountainous range of Karabakh. It is disputed between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Internationally, the region is recognized as a part of Azerbaijan. However, in practice, most of the region is governed by the self-declared Republic of Artsakh and comprises of an Armenian ethnic majority. The conflict began in 1988, culminating in a war in 1994.

Pakistan supports the stance of Azerbaijan on the Nagorno Karabakh issue and has demanded an unconditional withdrawal of Armenian forces from the region. Shah Mehmood Qureshi reiterated the country’s stance in the meeting of the OIC contact group. The foreign minister also met his Dutch counterpart, Stef Blok. Mr. Blok belongs to the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy and has been in office since March of this year.

A neutral expert appointed by the World Bank in 2007 announced that New Delhi would have to reduce the height of the Baglihar dam to comply with the Indus Basin Treaty.

The Pakistani FM commended the efforts of both countries in putting an end to the blasphemous cartoon competition organized by the leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, Geert Wilders. Mr. Wilders is a Dutch populist politician well known for his Islamophobic viewpoints. The Dutch foreign minister assured Mr. Qureshi that the government did not support the activities of Mr. Wilders which were designed only to provoke outrage. Shah Mehmood Qureshi also asserted that the cartoon competition hurt the sentiments of over a billion Muslims.

In a statement, the two sides expressed satisfaction over bilateral ties between the two nations. The Pakistani FM appreciated Dutch Businesses investing in Pakistan. The Netherland is the 5th largest trading partner of Pakistan within the EU. Bilateral trade between the two countries was estimated to be $1.21 billion in 2016. The need for further enhancement of trade and investment was stressed by their joint statement.

Read more: Foreign Minister arrives in New York for United Nations General Assembly…

One of the most significant meetings the FM has had so far could be the one with the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim. The foreign minister raised the issue of India’s illegal construction of water reservoirs on rivers- whose exclusive right belongs to Pakistan under the Indus Basin Treaty. The reservoirs being constructed may hinder water flow to the lower riparian state which is a violation of international law.

“Water issue should not be politicized and should be dealt as a humanitarian issue,” Qureshi said to the World Bank President. India had previously built the Kishanganga and Baglihar dam on the Jhelum and Chenab rivers or their tributaries, respectively. Pakistan gained a partial victory, as far as arbitration over these dams are was concerned. A neutral expert appointed by the World Bank in 2007 announced that New Delhi would have to reduce the height of the Baglihar dam to comply with the Indus Basin Treaty.

Read more: Water scarcity in Pakistan

New Delhi also intends to construct the Pakal Dul and Kulnai dam on Western rivers. The hectic schedule of Shah Mahmood highlights the challenges facing the new PTI government; however, Shah Mahmood’s hands-on and busy approach seems to indicate that Islamabad is very serious in mending its international image and bilateral relations with different countries.


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