There are many takeaways from the just-concluded speech of the Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. At least from the Indian point of view. Some shock you, some make you smirk, some make you ponder, some make you applaud, some will have you express solidarity and then some will make you want to switch off the television.
There will be a deluge of articles in the coming days focused just on his speech. And also on the speech of the Indian Prime Minister. Inevitable comparisons will be made of the content.
And motives would be imputed. However, for me, what stood out was the apparent last-ditch attempt by Nawaz Sharif to salvage a sinking political career.
During his speech, an instantaneous news ticker on TIMES Now read something about ‘the Pakistan PM ‘shamelessly’ referring to Kashmir’. It was a bit harsh by journalistic standards.
One must understand that it is in a nation’s interest to invoke anything that will portray it in a positive light and its competitors in a bad light. Speaker after speaker from Pakistan kept reminding the irreconcilable Arnab Goswami that Mr. Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister of Pakistan.
It would have been interesting if they had tried saying the same thing to Imran Khan. However, Arnab Goswami kept badgering them with the same question in his trademark style.
Most of Pakistan sees the United States as a guardian angel that provides. It gently raps the beneficiary when it does something untoward, but that is all. The funds and help don’t stop. So, when Mr. Sharif raises Kashmir in his UN speech, less than three months after agreeing to a bilateral solution, it sounds as if he is complaining.
Mr. Nawaz Sharif spoke with all guns blazing by blaming India for failing to hold bilateral talks at the Foreign Secretary level. It is something that will be analyzed ad infinitum in the Indian media in the coming days. I need not dwell on that.
There are four points from Sharif’s speech at the UN General Assembly that I would like to focus on. The first is Pakistan’s expression of solidarity with the Palestinian State and its condemnation of Israel.
There were no surprises here. Mr. Sharif went along the expected line. And while he did condemn the Israeli action, he did not feel the need to mention anything about the rockets fired into Israel by Hamas. It is obvious the Prime Minister of Pakistan is not loathe to taking a partisan view on any matter. And it is also evident that on most issues his government’s stand would not be determined by the long-term interests of his country, or his people, but by the bogus ideas like religion, race and sects.
Nothing much seems to have changed in Pakistan’s thinking even after so many years. The country is still defined by religion and religion is what keeps it back in almost all spheres that really matter.
Second, Pakistan is fixated on Kashmir issue so much so that it has almost become an existential issue for it. However, one should also note that Pakistan is not bothered much about Kashmiris’ right to self-determination. Pakistan would support Kashmiri separatists only till the point they continue troubling India and would definitely turn against them the moment they talk of real political independence. From both India and Pakistan that is.
The third is the stark fact that PM Sharif’s raising of plebiscite issue brings to focus. That he has started speaking in a language that the Pakistani Army would like him to speak. It is disappointing because till a few days back, it looked as if he was a strong-willed leader who was not afraid of taking bold steps and trying to resolve difficult issues.
Recent political turmoil, however, has weakened him. So much so that now he has to do what the Pakistan Army asks him to do, at least in a few areas, including that of foreign affair and defence.
Pakistan will try hard to play the victim on terrorism issue too, no matter how weak its efforts may appear to be. In his speech, Nawaz Sharif did try to present Pakistan as a country that is suffering the adverse effects of terrorism. And he tried hard to convince the world that terrorism was ‘planted’ on Pakistani soil and that Pakistan itself is not responsible for it. The problem is that the world knows about Pakistan more than it is credited for. The world does not see Pakistan very sympathetically as far as terrorism is concerned.
Personally, I believe that the Prime Minister of India should gently ignore the provocation from Nawaz Sharif and should focus on issues that are dear to him, namely development and trade and commerce.
I sense that there will be countless occasions in the future where Kashmir can be the sole content of his speeches. For now, he should stick to his strategy of presenting India as a pro-development nation and as a strong global partner in everything, ranging from technology to trade. It is very crucial for him to set the record straight at a time when the world believes that India has a negative outlook on global trade agreements.
Lastly, Mr. Nawaz Sharif in his speech also made a veiled attempt to foil a bid by India for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. It shows nothing but desperation on Pakistan’s part. Mr. Sharif explicitly said that there should be no new permanent seats in the body to ensure that the current Security Council remains ‘equitable, accountable and transparent’.
India should not worry about such grandiose statements. Pakistan is in no position to make a negative impact on India’s bid for a permanent seat. If India does raise this issue on the sidelines of PM Modi’s visit, it will do so with the confidence of being a force to reckon with in South Asia. The success of its Mars Mision has come at an opportune time. No country can deny that India has everything it takes for a country to be one of the permanent members of the UNSC.
Will India make a firm push for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council during this particular UNGA? Will the Pakistani diplomatic establishment burn the midnight oil to undermine Indian efforts? These are questions that will be answered in the days to come. For now, it is safe to say that the stage has been set for the most interesting global diplomatic engagement for India.
Like most Indians, I too am not someone who wishes bad for Pakistan. How can one wish bad for a country that produces singers like Ghulam Ali and Reshma and writers like Sadat Hasan Manto?
However, I do wish that Pakistan succeeds in breaking the chains of religion.
What Mr. Sharif has conveniently forgotten to mention is the fact that Pakistan has continued to focus too much on religion and as a result has suffered all its concomitant side-effects.
And while he did talk about human rights and peace, he forgot to mention about the minorities and the sectarian violence against them in Pakistan. Someone should ask him about the number of minorities in Pakistan at the time of its creation and the number of minorities left in the country now. The gap in numbers would throw some light on the state of minorities in that country.
Only a few hours back, a policeman has reportedly attacked and wounded a British man jailed for blasphemy in Rawalpindi jail. The incident shows the condition of minorities in Pakistan.
The problem is that Pakistan has consistently resisted adoption of modernity and has continued to wallow in backward ideas that can keep any nation away from real development. This is the reason why you find health workers administering polio vaccines being attacked in the country. India too has had to face similar situation, but in India, thanks to its largely secular structure, religion has never been able to subvert the nation’s focus in the larger sense. So, despite hiccups, India and Indians have managed to save their sanity. However, in Pakistan’s case, religion has had a dominating influence from the very beginning. And it is my personal opinion that it is too much of religion that keeps, and will continue to keep, it back from the path of real progress.
It does the same in India too. But, in our country, we do somehow manage to pull ourselves ahead despite the opposition from regressive and obscurantist religious forces.
In India, with the spread of education and modernity, we are slowly moving towards turning into a largely secular and non-religious society. However, Pakistan needs to work hard on getting rid of its age-old and largely disproved theories and ideas. I strongly feel that real progress of Pakistan will be directly proportional to the speed with which it rejects religion. As far as performance on this count is concerned, India is far ahead of Pakistan.
Freedom from God and religion is what pushes India ahead. On the other hand, the clutches of god and religion are what keep, and will continue to keep, Pakistan back.
(This article was originally published by The Avenue Mail).