Shahid Khaqan Abbasi at UNGA: Pakistani media coverage betrays its desperation to improve perceptions

By Nitish Rampal

In his maiden address to the UN General Assembly on Thursday, an otherwise "media shy" Pakistan prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi took to the role of aggressor as he called out India for the 'persistent human rights violations in Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK)', and urged the United Nations to appoint a special envoy to Kashmir.

Abbasi accused India of indulging in terror activities against his country and warned of a "matching response" if it "ventures across the LoC (Line of Control)" or acts upon its doctrine of limited war against Pakistan.

"The Kashmir dispute should be resolved justly, peacefully and expeditiously. As India is unwilling to resume the peace process with Pakistan, we call on the Security Council to fulfil its obligation to secure the implementation of its own resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir," he added.

File image of Pakistan's prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. Reuters

"To this end, the UN secretary-general should appoint a special envoy on Kashmir. His mandate should flow from the longstanding but unimplemented resolutions of the Security Council," Abbasi said.

On the other hand, in what many are calling as an indictment of US president Donald Trump's new Afghanistan policy, Abbasi said that his country will not be a "scapegoat" for Afghanistan's bloodshed and refused to endorse any "failed strategy" that will prolong suffering of the people in the region.

Speaking a month after Trump warned Islamabad against providing safe havens to terrorists, Abbasi made clear his displeasure with the renewed onus on Pakistan and claimed that there are no Taliban safe havens in his country.

"Having suffered and sacrificed so much due to our role in the global counterterrorism campaign, it is especially galling for Pakistan to be blamed for the military or political stalemate in Afghanistan," Abbasi said.

"We are not prepared to be anyone's scapegoat. Taliban 'safe havens' are located not in Pakistan but in the large tracts of territory controlled by the Taliban in Afghanistan,” he said.

The response of the Pakistani media to Abbasi's stand at the UN and his "regional diplomacy" betrays the country's insecurity over the recent slide in its ties with the United States and shows that there is more to his stance than chest-thumping.

Abbasi's visit, according to several Pakistani media outlets has brought forth several positive arenas for Pakistan to work on.

Pakistan-Afghanistan diplomacy

The Nation argues that Afghan president Ashraf Ghani’s speech on the UNGA floor has reiterated the need to sustain talks with Pakistan to establish peace and security in the region of South Asia.

"This call for dialogue is a reflection of Afghanistan’s realisation that the answer to Afghan stability does not lie in blaming Pakistan, rather including Pakistan in the peace process.
While Afghanistan, following the narrative of India, has maligned Pakistan a lot in the past; this speech can mark and outline the future frame of action," the report said.

Dawn elucidates further on the need for strong Pakistan-Afghan ties by stating, "The contours and breadth of proposed dialogue between the two countries must not become a sticking point at this stage; it is more important for dialogue to be continued before it is expanded to include all areas of mutual concern."

But the report also reflects on Pakistan's growing concerns over the chilling of its ties with the US since Trump's tough talk.

"The differences between the US and Afghanistan on one side and Pakistan on the other are deep. The so-called South Asia strategy of the Trump administration has triggered alarm in Pakistan and it remains to be seen what, if any, punitive measures beyond the further curtailment of economic assistance to Pakistan the US may attempt,"

"Pakistan has rightly pressed the issue of anti-Pakistan sanctuaries in Afghanistan and the incendiary US invitation to India to deepen its involvement in Afghanistan, but it must also pay heed to some of the legitimate demands of the latter. (Ghani’s) speech urged regional cooperation against extremism, which must be taken seriously by Pakistan," the report says.

Rebuilding US ties

Another significant development, as per The Nation, is Abbasi's meeting with the vice-president of the United States Mike Pence. In this meeting both the parties established the need for working with each other and taking the collaboration a step forward, the report said.

"They emphasised on following a constructive approach, which would ultimately lead towards peace, stability and economic prosperity in the region. What both of these gestures highlight is the fact that if we ignore the ill-will caused by Trump’s ignorant remarks on Pakistan, all the major parties caught in this regional conflict — Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US — want a way out through negotiations and cooperation."

"This is the best opportunity that Pakistan has had in a long time to cut through the difference that has developed over time in the relationship between these countries and start anew," the report said.

With an eye on 2018 General Election, is Abbasi pandering to anti-India constituency?

Rejecting US' claims that Pakistan was not taking enough measures to stop terror on its soil, Abbasi said in an interview to CNN International that terrorism is a threat for everyone. "For us, India was the force that we have fought three wars with. India is a threat to Pakistan, we accept that," Abbasi said.

In a direct attack on India, Abbasi called India an “existential threat” and said that Pakistan has developed short-range nuclear weapons to counter the ‘Cold Start’ doctrine of the Indian Army.

At a time when India has been scoring brownie points at home, with its open indictment of Pakistan serving as a major electoral boost — a point perhaps best highlighted by the massive BJP victory in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections — Abbasi's stance at the UN can perhaps be understood as an attempt to replicate the results by pandering to the anti-India constituency in his country.

As this report in The Wire states, "As for the surgical strikes, we can have little doubt that domestically they have enhanced the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a decisive leader... What is also clear is that contrary to the ‘Nation First’ sloganeering by the media, the BJP absolutely and completely intends to own the surgical strikes."

The surgical strikes perhaps best illustrate the importance of the anti-Pakistan constituency for the ruling dispensation in India. Similarly, Pakistan also has a constituency that is swayed by anti-India rhetoric. Abbasi's effort seems to be tailor-made to cater to this section of people.

Moreover, India has been successful in recent months in showing Pakistan in a poor light on several international forums — Trump has already castigated Pakistan several times on terror and its all-weather ally China too called out the country for sheltering terror outfits. This has led to a loss of face for the nation. Hence, Abbasi's efforts at UN can be seen as an attempt to regain positive perception in the country, which can help reinforce his claim ahead of the elections.