When the prestigious luxury travel magazine Condé Nast declared Pakistan to be the world’s number one holiday destination for 2020, little would the authors have known that the most representative global figure by virtue of his office — the UN secretary-general — would come to endorse the view with a high profile visit even if it was, strictly speaking, more oriented to the business end of things.
António Guterres left with resounding notes of gratitude and even managed to say at a presser with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Islamabad that one of the main purposes of his visit was “to spotlight the real Pakistan — with all its possibility and potential”. It was quite the pitch Condé Nast raised in its coveted choice!
Indeed, the live pictures of the UN secretary-general meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan (himself an author of a travelogue); opening his heart in admiration for Pakistan being an open-door country for its compassion and generosity in a world of closed doors at a conference marking 40 years of Afghan refugees in the country; sharing a meal at the world’s largest Gurdwara Sahib at Kartarpur with the country’s Muslim religious affairs minister and Sikh custodian of the shrine; addressing the youth at a university, meeting the country’s showbiz queen Mahira Khan (a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador) and enjoying a musical evening in the cultural capital Lahore — all symbolised the transformation of a confident, changed Pakistan that the world is now keenly embracing.
But even before he landed, Prime Minister Khan had just capped a fortnight of impressive personal diplomatic engagements that have reinforced Pakistan’s status as perhaps, the most important Muslim power in the world with its ability to take along all other states in spite of their often disparate nature of regional and global interests.
Only three months ago, Pakistan had taken the difficult and painful decision to pull out of a summit of Islamic countries in Kuala Lumpur to allay concerns of division in the ranks of the Muslim world. This led Doubting Thomases to cast aspersions on Islamabad’s direction with some analysts jumping to the conclusion that it would now be at the mercy of one dictating country.
Prime Minister Khan resoundingly put to rest all such conspiracy theories by undertaking an official visit to Kuala Lumpur earlier this month where his counterpart Mahathir Mohamed received him as warmly as ever. The personal chemistry underlined the ‘business as usual’ spectrum with a slew of agreements. He courageously regretted missing out and promised to be at the summit next year.
A week later, Khan hosted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with not a trace of weariness as he personally, drove him to the PM House in Islamabad. In hindsight, it was just a warm-up for the events over two days which saw both the countries sign 13 MoUs after Erdogan addressed the joint session of Pakistan’s parliament for a record fourth time. The two leaders also presided over the 6th High Level Strategic Co-operation Council meeting.
In his parliamentary address, Erdogan, who has been placed by the Gallup International’s annual index as the most popular Muslim leader in the world, was unequivocal in his support of Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir and also pledged to back the country to have it removed from the grey list at the ongoing Financial Action Task Force meeting in Paris. China, which is the current chair, Malaysia and Turkey have all steadfastly supported Pakistan’s bid to fend off attempts by a rival camp to have it blacklisted.
Turkey and Pakistan also agreed to begin negotiations in April to finalise a Free Trade Agreement. Later, Prime Minister Khan and President Erdogan addressed a forum attended by more than 100 Turkish and Pakistani businessmen and investors. They converged on the idea to lift the current volume of trade from $804 million to $1 billion in the short term and eventually, to $5 billion.
The reinforcement of ties with Malaysia and Turkey is manifest in Islamabad’s bold foreign policy reset that is premised in uniting the Muslim world and expanding its reach across the globe.
But to return to the visit of the week, unlike a few of his stiff-upper lip predecessors, the 67-year-old Portuguese chief of the world body, did not shy away from addressing fundamental issues, including seeking de-escalation of tensions in the region, Kashmir for which he offered his offices for mediation “should parties to the dispute ask”, and Afghanistan during his four-day visit.
He paid a visit to Gurdwara Sahib Kartarpur — the last resting place of Baba Guru Nanak Dev, founder of Sikhism — opened recently by Pakistan to facilitate members of the faith whose largest concentration is in next-door India. Moved by the experience, the UN chief hailed the peace initiative and said it was “a practical proof of Pakistan’s desire for peace and interfaith harmony”.
Guterres also paid tribute to the country for its unreserved support to the UN missions with one of the largest and most consistent contribution of peacekeeping forces across the world over a long period of time.
The UN chief reserved his best at the Islamabad conference co-hosted by the UNHCR entitled ‘40 Years of Afghan Refugees’ Presence in Pakistan: A New Partnership for Solidarity’. Apart from the UN chief and Prime Minister Khan, it was attended by Afghan second vice-president, top US officials and delegates from 20 countries.
Said he: “The story of Pakistan and Afghan refugees is a story of compassion to be celebrated for many reasons, one of which is that such compassion is missing from much of the world. For 40 years, the people of Afghanistan have faced many crises, for 40 years, the people of Pakistan have responded with solidarity. This generosity now spans across decades and generations and this is the world’s largest protracted refugee situation in recorded history. On every visit here, I have been struck by (Pakistani) resilience, exceptional generosity and compassion. The generous spirit is in line with the best description for refugee protection in Surah Al Tawbah of the Holy Qur’an and I quote: “And if anyone seeks your protection then grant him protection so therein he can hear the words of God. Then escort him where he can be secure”.
The writer is Features Editor. He tweets @kaamyabi
STORY OF COMPASSION: UN Secretary-General Ant?nio Guterres, left; Prime Minister Imran Khan, centre; and Afghan second vice president Sarwar Danish at the conference on Afghan refugees, in Islamabad early this week. He hailed Pakistan’s solidarity and compassion against all odds. (AFP)