When silence was golden

Why Nawaz Sharif kept so quiet at the US-Arab-Islamic Summit in Riyadh

Written by Khaled Ahmed | Updated: June 17, 2017 6:19 am
nawaz sharif, pakistan pm nawaz sharif, US-Arab-Islamic Summit, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Riyadh summit, pakistan news Nawaz Sharif was in the first row of the leaders gathered by the Saudi king, prominent and not really ignored, but his turn to speak didn’t come, although his speech-minders kept saying he was well-rehearsed to speak for Pakistan. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

The opposition and media in Pakistan have been crucifying Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for having sat through the US-Arab-Islamic Summit held in Saudi Arabia in the first week of June, without highlighting the grievances of the Pakistani people. Imran Khan of the main opposition party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), hauled him over the coals — a daily ritual till Sharif cries uncle — for not telling President Trump what a creep he was, how America had, again, sucked up to Israel and let the Islamic world down and, above all, how much Pakistan didn’t want to join any American conspiracy against Iran, which was what the Summit in Riyadh was all about.

Nawaz Sharif was in the first row of the leaders gathered by the Saudi king, prominent and not really ignored, but his turn to speak didn’t come, although his speech-minders kept saying he was well-rehearsed to speak for Pakistan. Back home, everyone in the country of 200 million wanted him to speak and say something insulting to the king and President Trump. Even those who thought the Summit was a good opportunity for Sharif to put forward Pakistan’s position vis-a-vis India’s current policy of keeping the border hot forgot that Sharif’s foray into oratory wouldn’t have benefited Pakistan at all.

Pakistan has always been close to Saudi Arabia. PM Sharif and his family are especially beholden to the Saudi king for saving their lives after General Pervez Musharraf overthrew Sharif’s government in 1999, and then gifting his bankrupt government a billion dollars after his comeback in 2013. Saudi Arabia’s influence in Pakistan is exercised through funded madrasas and an army that continues to be a favoured security glacis for the kingdom’s internal and external defence. The world fears that the kingdom, if it ever chooses to go nuclear, will be piggybacked by Pakistan.

But the catch at Riyadh was that Pakistan didn’t want to badmouth Iran, against whom the Summit had actually been convened. Making a speech, Sharif couldn’t have chosen either in favour or against Iran, without hurting himself back home.

The opposition wanted him to make the speech and thus fall on his sword. Clueless TV anchors were “drunk with the wine of nation worship”, as they say in Urdu, and misunderstood the Summit. Had Sharif spoken to please the Saudis, he would have offended not only Iran, but also Qatar, which the Saudis proceeded to oust from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as punishment for favouring Iran.

Sharif was in the unenviable position of being beholden in equal measure to Qatar, whose Prince Hamad will likely save Sharif’s life by bailing him out, through a letter, in a case of money-laundering being heard at the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Never had “low profile” in a conference favoured a participant as much as it did Sharif at the Riyadh Summit.

But there was sane analysis from Pakistan’s veterans of the Foreign Office. Writing in a publication of the Lahore-based Institute for Policy Reform, ex-Foreign Secretary and Ambassador Riaz Muhammad Khan stated: “Many Pakistanis feel let down by the manner in which Pakistan appeared to have been kept on the sidelines at the Riyadh Conference. Given the context of the Conference, our expectations should have been modest… Nawaz Sharif’s attendance was essentially a gesture to the Saudis. However, our eagerness for a meeting with Trump, even requesting Saudi intercession as reported by the media, was unwarranted.”

Ex-Ambassador Touqir Hussain opined: “I don’t have the facts on whether NS wanted to speak or not but I am glad he did not. Saudis would have never allowed it, knowing that he would end up saying something about Iran, and it would have queered the pitch… NS would have also said something about Pakistan’s fight against terrorism — not the theme of terrorism Saudis were trying to strike. Saudis were branding terrorism as an Iranian phenomenon, and posing themselves as leaders of counter-terrorism…”.

Ex-Ambassador Asif Ezdi wrote: “it was no tragedy that NS did not speak at the Summit, or that Trump did not name Pakistan as a victim of terrorism. In fact, I think NS should not even have asked to speak. His silence… would have sent a message to Iran of our neutrality… As for Trump’s failure to name Pakistan as a victim of terrorism, he did not even name Afghanistan… but spoke of innocent victims in Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern nations collectively…”.

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’

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  1. E
    Employ Ment
    Jun 17, 2017 at 9:33 pm
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    1. H
      Jun 17, 2017 at 3:54 pm
      Porkisthan is a poor begging money ($ $ $ s )country and also play dobble gameas snake show head to othre snake and tail to fish ! ! ! Nawaz Sharief is a culprit voleur robber he support TURKEY, I S terrorists, Irak, Lybia, Qatar etc., for money and also other side he send Pakis troops to clean the Arab country Palaces and clean the shoes of Arab Prince and the UAE Emirs and send some Pakisthanis ladies to make massage for the Qatar sheiks just for some million dollars. Nawaz Sharief is not a gentle man fraud and he is well corrupt panama leaks etc., his daughter and brother all are looters of Pakisthan. One side they play Kashmir freedom just for Drama they nothing to do with Kashmir. Mr.Modi should reclaim the India's territory ASAD KASHMIR which Pakisthan is occupied ! ! ! Jai Hind.
      1. J
        Jun 17, 2017 at 2:54 pm
        HA HA! Its a mother of catch - 22 situation which Pakistan thoroughly deserves! Many more of these to come - stay tuned. What a joke of a nation!
        1. S
          Jun 17, 2017 at 1:58 pm
          Who funds Taliban?
          1. K
            Jun 17, 2017 at 1:57 pm
            If Islamic world has to move forward and live like the rest of the world, the most urgent and fundamental change it requires is change in it's outlook and treatment of women.This required change is not just about giving women equal rights, driving licences or jobs, it is about looking and thinking about women as EQUAL HUMAN BEINGS HAVING EQUAL LIBERTIES regarding choice of clothing, parti tion in public life and moral norms.Unless, a society NORMALIZES female public parti tion and liberties, it can not prosper in true sense.
            1. K
              Jun 17, 2017 at 1:56 pm
              I see videos of Pakistani villages and cities on internet. Usual stuff, people going on about daily lives markets, eateries, mosques, fields, farmers etc. Generally speaking, The level of economic development looks much lower than that of India, but that is not a big issue en my opinion, as Pakistan can catch up, these days change can be quick, if someone able leads the change. HOWEVER, one thing, shocks me. The DRYNESS of life, in absence of any WOMEN in public places. There are only men around or a few Burka clad women except for a few upmarket pockets in big cities. The whole scene looks so sad and dry, devoid of female energy and softness in the environment. The whole place oozes a depressing loneliness, men wander about in badly ed clothes with long beards and unkempt looks. Their interactions with each other seem mundane and devoid of any enthusiasm for life.
              1. K
                Jun 17, 2017 at 1:55 pm
                After a long observation and after living in various parts of the world, I think, that it is this imbalance of male and female energy in public life in Islamic countries which is one of the main cause of frustrated Muslim youth and corresponding anger and refuge seeking in militant religion. Comparatively, India has an edge,and I am not speaking about economic parameters. Although most of Indians (of which most are Hindus) have forgotten that unlike Islam and Christianity, Hinduism DOES NOT consider women being created from men or them being inferior to men, it considers male and female form and energy as equal components of the ultimate reality (Energy, God or Whatever), does not consider sax and saxuality as a taboo or sin, rather considers it a celebration of life.
                1. K
                  Jun 17, 2017 at 1:53 pm
                  The other choice for the Islamic world is to retract inside the Islamic well, create more dar e Islam type nations with Sharia laws in place, and ravel in fooling themselves in the name of living under God's commands. But the problem is,this wonderland living is only possible in Isolation, only when you have unlimited unearned wealth (e.g. the middle east of last few decades) but if you you have to earn livelihood as a person or a as a nation in a globalized world (the future of Islamic world, including oil rich middle east), it is not possible. If Islamic world continue to retract, Muslims will find themselves more and more in conflict with themselves, even more than the conflict they will face with the outer non Islamic world. Choice is theirs, others can only point.
                  1. M
                    MP Singh
                    Jun 18, 2017 at 2:28 am
                    You are right Kg. Islamic world has only money and blind addiction and pride to their faith and hate for all others whom they call infidels, including different sects of Islam. Islam has zero contribution to the global human progress and has kept its adherents at least a century behind others. In the modern world, anything static decays. Change according to the need of time is essential for survival. This is also the requirement of the ways of God that change! Unfortunately, Islam does not allow their change. So far, the impact of lagging behind was less or moderate the fast changing technological world will widen this gap beyond redemption for Islam.
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