I n 10 days, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif held as many as 40 meetings with world leaders and heads of international financial institutions and other organisations. In the Uzbek city of Samarkand, the PM attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit.
On the sidelines he held at least 11 bilateral meetings including with Presidents of Russia, China and Iran. Engagement with Russia in particular was of greater significance given that the MoscowIslamabad relationship has remained the focus of domestic political situation following the ouster of former PM Imran Khan in a vote of no-confidence in April.
Khan is convinced that one of the main reasons he was removed from power was that he undertook a visit to Moscow in February and sought closer ties with the US adversary. The meeting between Shehbaz and Putin, nevertheless, underlined that the fact that governments come and go and what remains permanent are the interests of states. In the wake of geo-strategic alignments and new realities, efforts to normalise ties between former cold rivals have been going for many years.
Meanwhile, Shehbaz after attending the Queen’s funeral in London flew to New York to attend the UN General Assembly session. There was criticism back home on whether the PM should have undertaken foreign trips amid the flood devastation at home. But the government insisted that the primary objective of the PM visit was to galvanise international support for flood victims since the scale of the disaster is such that Pakistan cannot alone deal with the problem.
In New York, the PM held a series of bilateral meetings with world leaders — the most noticeable being with French President Emmanuel Macron. Remember, the relationship between Pakistan and France in recent years has remained strained. Therefore, the Shehbaz-Macron meeting was seen as ice breaking. The French President not only extended support to Pakistan but also offered to host an international conference for rehabilitation in flood hit areas.
At the UNGA session, despite many other issues facing the world, Pakistan floods have remained a major topic. President Joe Biden in his speech before the packed UNGA hall particularly mentioned Pakistan and urged the world to help the country. Diplomatic and foreign office sources say that Biden’s move to seek help for Pakistan came as a result of behindthe-scenes efforts.
The US Ambassador in Pakistan, visiting American officials including head of a USAID and senior adviser of Secretary Blinken played a major role in ensuring Biden made a mention of Pakistan. The White House was given a firsthand account of the flood devastation and advised Biden to lead a campaign for Pakistan in this difficult hour.
Similarly, Pakistan’s Foreign Office also played a major role as in a short span it was able to arrange PM’s meetings with a range of world leaders. The series of meetings helped galvanise global support as there have been calls by international organisations not just to support Pakistan in rescue and relief efforts but also to consider restructuring Pakistani loans and debt swaps. The PM also sought $3 billion upfront from the IMF to deal with the daunting challenge of climate change.
While the world may be sympathetic towards Pakistan, the deep political divisions could prevent the country from taking full advantage of the support being shown by the world community. Pakistan may be blaming the world’s biggest polluters for the current floods but can’t absolve itself of its own follies and shortcomings.
The divisions in our society are so deep that we don’t even spare international forums to show our political differences. That was on display in New York. When Shehbaz was delivering a speech at the UNGA, PTI supporters were protesting against him outside the world body’s headquarters calling him an “imported Prime Minister”. These divisions will only add to the miseries of millions of people affected by the floods.
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