June Issue 2017

By | Editor's Note | Published 2 years ago

When Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sent a congratulatory note to Donald Trump on his victory in the US elections, he received a very complimentary note from the president-elect in return. Known for talking in superlatives, Trump referred to Pakistan as “a fantastic country” with “fantastic people” and called Nawaz Sharif a “terrific guy doing amazing work that is visible everywhere.”

And so the country’s Foreign Office was expecting the “terrific guy” to get a place of honour — and a private audience with Trump — at the Arab Islamic American Summit held on May 21 in Riyadh.

Alas! While the leaders of Afghanistan, Egypt, Qatar and Jordan were among those sought out at the summit, both Nawaz Sharif — the leader of one of the few Muslim democracies in attendance at the 55-nation summit — and his country, were totally sidelined.

In his keynote address, Trump lauded the “courageous Afghan soldiers, who gave tremendous sacrifices in the fight against the Taliban” and made a special mention of India — and even China — as being among the “victims of terror,” but Pakistan did not even figure. Its 80,000 plus martyrs, among them schoolchildren and several thousand soldiers — all victims of brutal terror — were all but forgotten.

And irony of ironies, the former army chief, General Raheel Sharif, who won kudos, both here and abroad, for the courage with which he and his men fought the war against terrorism, and was subsequently invited to head the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight against Terrorism (IMAFT) by the Saudis, sat tight-lipped in the front rows.

To further add insult to injury, the speech that the Prime Minister had so “painstakingly” drafted and redrafted on his flight from Islamabad to Riyadh, didn’t even make it to the podium. (The rulers of Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Indonesia and Malaysia were among those who spoke).

To cover their embarrassment, ‘the sultans of spin’ in the Foreign Office immediately swung into action. They said something to the effect that due to time constraints many speakers could not be accommodated. And our PM was among the unlucky ones. Was the PM deliberately excluded from the speaker’s list to block any criticism of India, the US’s present best friend, and the best friend’s present ally, Afghanistan?

The US — and for that matter, Saudi Arabia — only want to hear what they want to hear, and do what they wish to do.

And what they wish to do, through the IMAFT, was amply clear from Trump’s inaugural address: isolate Iran; fix Iran.

So the country’s opposition was precisely on the mark, when they questioned Sharif’s decision to allow the former COAS to head the Saudi military alliance. Given our fraught relations with both India and Afghanistan, can we afford to antagonise a third neighbour? And to fan the flames of sectarianism?

The problem is, when it comes to Saudi Arabia, the Sharifs are so beholden to the royal family for the hospitality extended to them during their days in exile that they would do just about anything  — anything — for them. The country’s interests do not figure. Presently, Panama Leaks has become an albatross around the ‘Sharif’ necks. And if the required evidence does not materialise, they may have to head to the Kingdom, yet again.

In case the Saudi King demurs, the Qatari Prince can always be counted on.

 

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.