Within next few weeks, Imran Khan, PM of Pakistan, is once again going to improve Pakistan’s soft power on international stage. He is likely to address the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) via video link – where among other issues he will again take up climate change.
This is likely to be scheduled for September 25, according to an initial list of speakers officially released on Tuesday. The general debate of the 193-member assembly, which is traditionally a high-profile annual UN event, will open on September 22.
Over the past two decades, Pakistan has often been in the international spotlight for the wrong reasons. Despite being at the forefront of the United States-led war on terror – having sacrificed hundreds of thousands in lives and billions in operational costs – the country has often been treated with suspicion by not only western diplomats and international organizations, but also by the western media.
As a result of the massive misinformation campaign that arch-rival India launched against Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks of 2008, Islamabad has, more often than not, felt isolated on the world stage. However, in the past two years, under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the country has made a comeback on the global stage, forcefully projecting a softer, more humane image to dispel the negative perceptions.
During his tenure as prime minister, Khan has not only strengthened Pakistan’s relations with other countries, but also promoted environmental rehabilitation, advocated for occupied Kashmir at international fora, and encouraged tourism by sponsoring international travel bloggers to highlight the beauty of Pakistan. He has also stepped in to reduce tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran to maintain the status quo in the region.
Climate, blasphemy and occupied Kashmir
As mentioned at the outset, in the coming weeks, PM Imran Khan is likely to address the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) via video link on September 25. The general debate of the 193-member assembly, which is traditionally a high-profile annual UN event, will open on September 22.
However, this year it is expected to be a slimmed-down affair, with world leaders staying away from New York because of the coronavirus pandemic. They will be contributing set-piece speeches via video link. According to the list, Khan, who last year made his debut at the UN as head of state, is the sixth speaker in the afternoon session on September 25.
Last year, when PM Khan addressed the UNGA, he spoke on climate change, eliminating money laundering and tax heavens, Islamophobia, the issue of blasphemy, and freedom for Kashmir. PM Khan focused on climate change, its importance and global response to counter it. He urged world leaders to show seriousness to cope with the challenge.
Similarly, he questioned the selective morality of the West while dealing with Muslims on the questions of Hijab and blasphemy, causes pain to everyone who loves their Islamic faith and desires to practice it. “I want the world to understand that the issue of blasphemy is very sensitive for us, like the Holocaust is for the Jewish community in the West,” he said.
Bringing Pakistan into the international political discourse
In his successful visit to the UNGA, the premier met many leaders, appeared on international media, and spoke to scholars at policy think tanks to present the case of Pakistan. He appeared on CNN and spoke to the Asia Society in an open talk. The premier also spoke at Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit.
He met Amnesty International Secretary General Komi Naedo, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, UK premier Boris Johnson, the top diplomat of China, US President Donald Trump, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President World Bank David Malpass, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, among others.
This interaction of the premier with world leaders brought Pakistan into international political discourse after decades. Pakistan emerged as the representative of the Muslims being persecuted across the world. “I expect PM Imran will once again raise the cause of the Kashmiri people at the UN,” Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, Munir Akram, told APP.
Akram added that the prime minister will also talk about Pakistan’s facilitation of and hopes for the peace process in Afghanistan, its successful response to the coronavirus crisis, debt relief for developing countries, and other international issues in his wide-ranging address. US President Donald Trump is set to address on the morning of September 22.
Tackling domestic issues of abuse, torture
Earlier this week, PM Imran directed authorities to release women prisoners from jails, whose imprisonment was unjustified or had been made on shaky grounds. In a tweet he made on Thursday, the PM said he had also spoken to the interior ministry about expediting the tabling of an anti-torture bill in the National Assembly,
He added that torture was “unacceptable in a civilised democratic society.” It was reported on Wednesday that when the issue of female inmates was brought to the notice of the prime minister, he asserted that the large number of female prisoners who were facing imprisonment only because they were unable to pay petty fines.
The prime minister vowed that the government would bear all expenses for the release of women prisoners whose remaining sentence was less than three years and were serving imprisonment due to non-payment of petty fines, the source added. He also directed authorities to generate funds for the purpose through social welfare departments.
In his tweets, Prime Minister Khan said he had issued the directions after a meeting with Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, the attorney general, and Barrister Ali Zafar. He also asked for “immediate reports on foreign women prisoners and women on death row for humanitarian consideration”.
Human Rights minister, Shireen Mazari, hailed the prime minister’s decision, calling it a “great move forward for human rights and humanitarian approach to prisoners”. She further said PM Imran had also asked the ministry to provide him “a complete timeline on prison reforms implementation”.
In the meeting, the prime minister referred to an interim order issued in April, in which the apex court had directed the government to release prisoners suffering from a physical or mental illness, under-trial prisoners who were 55 or older, male under-trial prisoners who had not been convicted in the past, as well as female and juvenile prisoners.
Playing role of mediator boost international prestige
Pakistan, during the recent escalation in tensions between United States and Iran, categorically stated it will only be part of the peace initiative and will never be the part of any conflict. Pakistan has always worked for promoting peace and prosperity, the premier said, directing his foreign minister to visit Gulf countries and United States to deescalate.
PM Imran, on a number of occasions, has reiterated that Pakistan wants strong brotherly relations with all the neighboring countries, including India. There is little doubt that the premier has a charismatic personality, and his words definitely impact listeners. He is making all out efforts to highlight the soft and positive image of the country.
The anti-corruption mandate
There is no doubt that Pakistan has made serious efforts against money laundering and terror financing. This has not only been admired by FATF, but by former US Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells, who hailed Pakistan’s efforts in compliance with Financial Action Task Force. India is making all out efforts to include Pakistan in FATF blacklist but eventually Pakistan’s policies will definitely take it out from FATF grey list, experts say.
Legal expert Shahid Hassan Siddiqui has said that Prime Minister Imran Khan has conveyed a message to the world that corruption is a global issue. If Pakistan is blamed for money laundering then the countries giving protection to the money of money launderers are equally responsible.
PM Imran has also championed an anti-corruption mantra in domestic politics, often appearing tough on opposition politicians and even members of his own cabinet who have been found to be involved in some financial wrongdoing. The premier has implemented austerity measures in the government to curtail spending as well.
Due to his undying efforts, a recent popularity study shows Prime Minister Imran Khan has become the ninth most followed world leader on microblogging site Twitter. A study by Twiplomacy revealed the data. The data shows a growth of 22% in the following of PM Khan on Twitter.
GVS News Desk with input from legal correspondent Maneha Tariq.