WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Imran Khan reached New York on Saturday to highlight the Kashmir issue in the world’s parliament, the UN General Assembly.
“This is mission Kashmir for the prime minister and for Pakistan,” said Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi. “His message will be clear: the occupation must end, and a peaceful solution found for the Kashmir dispute.”
The prime minister joins a galaxy of world leaders on Tuesday when the 74th session of the UN General Assembly begins its annual debate on issues of peace and security.
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“He will highlight the plight of the Kashmiri people who continue to suffer a suffocating lockdown and a brutal occupation,” said Ambassador Lodhi, adding the prime minister would meet world leaders and the UN secretary general.
She said the prime minister’s visit had attracted intense interest from the international community and the US media and his engagements in New York include a number of media appearances.
This is the prime minister’s first General Assembly visit and “he will be the voice of the Kashmiri people at the UN,” the ambassador said.
Mr Khan is staying at New York’s Roosevelt Hotel, which is partially owned by PIA. This’s where most Pakistani leaders stayed till September 2008, when former president Asif Ali Zardari and then prime minister Nawaz Sharif abandoned it for grander hotels like Waldorf Astoria, which cost at least 20 times more than Roosevelt.
The prime minister arrived in New York during the weekend, which gives him the time to consult with Pakistani diplomats and prominent members of the Pakistani American community before meeting world leaders.
Mr Khan’s first informal engagement on Monday is breakfast with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. As always, the Pakistani prime minister’s first official engagement at the UN is with Chinese representative on Monday when the PM meets Vice President Wang Qishan.
At around 1am on Monday, the prime minister meets US President Donald Trump, which could be the first of the two meetings Mr Khan is expected to have with the US leader during the UN session. This would also be President Trump’s second meeting with a South Asian leader in less than 24 hours.
President Trump is scheduled to address a joint rally with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Houston, Texas, on Sept 22, hours before he meets the Pakistani leader. President Trump and Mr Modi are also expected to have a separate meeting before or after the rally, focusing on India-Pakistan relations.
Most world leaders will be in New York on Monday, to participate in the general debate, which begins on Tuesday.
Both Pakistani and Indian prime ministers are scheduled to address the UN General Assembly on Sept 27. Mr Modi will speak first, on Friday morning, while Prime Minister Khan will speak later in the afternoon.
Prime Minister Khan has already announced that he will highlight the Kashmir issue in his address, exposing the ethical and legal bankruptcy of India’s Aug 5 annexation of the occupied valley.
The Indian media reported earlier this week that Prime Minister Modi will not talk about the annexation or its consequences in his address. Instead, he would repeat New Delhi’s claim that Pakistan may send militants into the valley to take advantage of the volatile situation.
Mr Khan has made it clear that Pakistan not only opposes all such activities but has also increased its vigilance to prevent militants from taking advantage of the situation. Islamabad fears that India may carry out violent attacks inside Kashmir and blame Pakistan.
On Wednesday, Mr Khan warned citizens against joining the fight in held Kashmir, saying that Indian authorities were waiting for “any excuse” to crack down on the people of Kashmir.
President Trump’s recent comments on the Kashmir dispute have triggered speculations about an indirect dialogue between the two South Asian neighbours during the UNGA, with Washington playing the role of a facilitator.
Earlier this week, President Trump told reporters at a White House briefing that “a lot of progress” has been made in defusing India-Pakistan tensions and his statement strengthened these speculations.
Mr Trump’s expected meetings with both Indian and Pakistani prime ministers before and during the UNGA have enhanced the possibility that he may use this occasion to discuss the situation in held Kashmir.
After annexing the disputed territory, India has placed millions of Kashmiri people under military siege, and is keeping them incommunicado, with thousands thrown in jails.
UN secretary general
On Thursday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he would raise the Kashmir issue during his discussions with various leaders attending the 74th UNGA.
“I think he will also use the opportunity of discussions during the General Assembly to raise it,” the UN chief’s spokesman said, without naming the leaders the UN chief would talk to about the situation in India-held Kashmir.
The prime minister will also co-host a meeting at the UN with Turkey’s President Erdogan on Countering Hate Speech.
A trilateral summit is also planned with Malaysia and Turkey.
He will address the UNGA on three more occasions at the Climate Change Summit, Summit on Universal Health Care and Financing for Development.
Outside the UN, the prime minister will address the Asia Society and the Council on Foreign Relations, New York.
US and UN officials have made massive security arrangements around the United Nations complex on the banks of East River to protect the world leaders attending the session.
Barricades have been erected on the roads leading to the UN building while some streets have been closed to general traffic.
Published in ThePublic, September 22nd, 2019