Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is getting flak from his home press for not being present when Malala spoke at the UN summit and received a standing ovation. Some reported that had Sharif been present, he could have made the “Malala moment” a Pakistani one, and that it might have made both Pakistan and the PM look better on the world stage. Sharif did arrive on the opening day of the Sustainable Development Summit, but he was late for the events by few hours after having made a London stopover to spend time with his sons. A picture of him having lunch with a friend in New York has gone viral. The word is out in Pakistan that instead of schmoozing with world leaders, making new friends and influencing people, the PM was spending all his time in a cocoon of favourite friends and food.
There was a time, not that long ago, when the UN General Assembly was known for its assemblage of towering personalities and colourful characters from around the world. But not any more. In 2009, Gadhafi wanted to pitch his Bedouin tent outside Manhattan, but was not allowed. Each time Ahmadinejad came, he took pleasure in taking on the US on the US territory, delivered doomsday predictions about American capitalism and the West, denied that Holocaust took place, bashed Israel and claimed “in Iran, we don’t have homosexuals”. The sameness of world leaders today causes no ripples, let alone waves at the UN. This year, the only colour came from the white-clad Pope and from 18-year-old Malala. Both spoke at the UN Sustainable Development Summit.
Among the most colourless personalities at the UN is its Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. But he has a reputation for being deferential to the US and the big powers. It was of him that a former Indian Ambassador to the UN is said to have remarked: “He is Secretary to the powerful members, and General to the weak”.
On the famous Modi-Sharif meeting that never happened, a controversy is developing in Pakistan on the handshake. From the footage, it is clear that Sharif, ever the one for courtesies, put up his hand first. At the daily briefing for Pakistani journalists, the Pakistani foreign secretary was asked how he saw that handshake, given that after the breakdown of the post-Ufa talks, it was politically risky for him to be seen making the first move. The foreign secretary took the easiest way out. “Perhaps they waved to each other simultaneously,” he said.
Sushma tail end
Now all eyes — Pakistani and Indian anyway — are on Sharif’s speech at the General Assembly on September 30. In order to recover lost political ground at home over what has been dubbed “G-ufa”, it is expected that he will come out extra tough against India on the Kashmir issue. PM Modi, who flew back to Delhi, has left Sushma Swaraj to do the clearing up after Sharif. The External Affairs Minister, who was in Washington DC earlier for the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue and went back to India for the entire duration of Modi’s visit here, has arrived in New York today. She will speak at the UNGA a day after Sharif, on October 2.