PM Khan Speaks his heart out at UNGA (Editorial October 2019)
September 27 came as yet another day when Pakistan vociferously advocated the right to self-determination of the Kashmiris, and raised their voice with full vigour at the world’s most prestigious forum, the United Nations General Assembly. Before an audience of world leaders, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, delivered an impassioned – ‘blistering’ for some – speech in which he poured his heart out on the plight of Kashmiris who have been under a curfew almost two months now. In total, he spoke on four key challenges that the world is faced with at present, and that, if not tackled soon, may jeopardize the world peace – a dreadful prospect that may not be too far, given the world’s community’s indifference. Logically building his narrative, PM Khan very eloquently commented on burning issues like climate change, money laundering, Islamophobia, and lastly — and most importantly, since it was the main purpose of his visit — Kashmir.
Prime Minister Imran Khan started with the most critical global issue of present times, that is, climate change. Making it the first point in his speech, PM Khan chided world community for not realizing the “urgency of the situation”. And, he was absolutely right in making this issue his top priority as countries like Pakistan with limited means to adapt to the worst impacts of climate change are likely to be ground zero for the havoc that the climatic changes are going to wreak on the planet. Isn’t it perplexing that Pakistan contributes less than 1pc to global greenhouse gas emissions yet it is the seventh most-affected country in the world? More terrifying for us is the scourge of extreme heat-waves that are now becoming a new normal in Pakistan. The country’s cities are now setting temperature records; for instance, in 2018, Nawabshah saw temperatures hit 50.2 degrees Celsius — the hottest day of April ever recorded anywhere in history, and a week later, that record was broken when Jacobabad hit 51°C. The menace will also hit hard Pakistan’s agro-based economy as 80 percent of its water comes from the glaciers that are melting at an alarming pace, which means Pakistan may run out of water, even to grow crops.
That’s why PM Khan, while mentioning the efforts Pakistan has been putting in to fight this menace – plantation of a billion trees in 5 years in KP and the target of planting 10 billion more in the next five years, asked the world community to fund such efforts because “one country cannot do anything. This has to be a combined effort of the world.”
The second issue he took up was that of money laundering. He criticized the rich countries that have made laws to protect that filthy money, earned through corruption, laundered into their banks from the poor countries. This flight of money is making the poor countries rank persistently low on all indices to gauge the development. This is further impoverishing the victim countries, and when people from such countries somehow manage to find a source of earning a livelihood in developed countries, they have to face xenophobia and Islamophobia, if they are Muslims. This also is a cause of prevailing anti-West sentiments in Third World countries as the monies of the poor countries are used to build the rich ones. This divide can be bridged only if tax havens are dismantled and countries adopt such laws that allow only the legal money to come into their banks.
The burning issue of Islamophobia was another important pillar of Imran Khan’s speech. He delivered a very pertinent message on the divisions a hate-filled mindset creates. Indeed, it is a vital concern in a world that is increasingly seeing tragedies such as the one in Christchurch. Categorically discarding notions like radical Islam, he said, “There is only ONE Islam and that is the Islam of Prophet (PBUH).” Khan said that the use of “radical Islam” by Western leaders had created an association between a whole religion and terrorism, and put people in the position of suspecting all Muslims. He defended Muslim women’s right to wear Hijab, and said, “Muslim women wearing Hijab’ has become a problem. It is seen as a weapon. A woman can take off her clothes in some countries but she cannot put more on?” He also chided those who tried to commit blasphemy against the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and warned them by saying, “Our Prophet (PBUH) lives in our heart, and when he is maligned, it hurts us … In western society, the holocaust is treated with sensitivity because it hurts the Jewish community. So that’s the same respect we ask for; do not hurt our sentiments by maligning our Holy Prophet (PBUH). That is all we ask.”
He spoke of Islam but he used references like Charles Bronson’s “Death Wish” movie, Monty Python and Japanese kamikaze pilots during World War II.
In Kashmir part of his address, PM Khan forewarned the world that there would be a “bloodbath” in Kashmir when the curfew is lifted. He also invoked the spectre of a potential nuclear war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, if the UN and the international community did not act soon. Comparing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s association with the Hindu nationalist RSS to Hitler and the Nazis, he asked how the world would respond if it were Jews, and not Muslims, under curfew — a scenario that might resonate more with an international community that for decades has viewed the Holocaust as amongst the worst atrocities in history. In delivering an unequivocal, thunderous message to the world on Kashmir, Mr Khan did the right thing for millions of Kashmiris living under siege. He framed his plea to the international community by calling out the UN: “You are the one who guaranteed the Kashmiris the right of self-determination. This is not the time for appeasement like that in 1939 in Munich.”
The podium of the United Nation General Assembly (UNGA) rarely witnesses impassioned, strongly contested speeches. This is the place where leaders deliver conventional, customary speeches, long and short, despite knowing that every word spoken here carries the weight of history. However, Imran Khan’s was a passionate speech that came across as more spontaneous, hard-hitting, non-conventional and extemporaneous advocacy for the case of the Kashmiris. He deserves kudos as well as the backing of the nation in his quest to raise the Kashmir issue on all available fora.