The outrage and furore caused throughout the Islamic world over the anti-Islam film produced by an American citizen of Egyptian origin was a hotly debated subject in the 67th UN General Assembly Session, signifying a widening gulf between the Western and Muslim leaders in their perceptions about the episode and its likely impact on interfaith harmony.

While President Barack Obama focused more on violence against the Americans and his inability to ban the video, due to the freedom of expression guaranteed by the American Constitution and urged the world leaders to condemn the spate of violence against the US and its citizens, the Muslim leaders in their challenge to the contentions of President Obama maintained that the act was a sequel to the snowballing phenomenon of “Islamophobia” that threatened the world peace. So, the UN and the international community were urged to consider criminalising such acts.

President Asif Zardari set the tone by saying: “The international community must not become silent observers and should criminalise such acts that destroy the peace of the world and endanger world security by misusing freedom of expression,” He also strongly condemned what he called “incitement to hate”. One can hardly take issue with Obama’s condemnation of violence, but the insensitivity shown by him to the concerns of the Muslim world is certainly regrettable. 

President Zardari was right in demanding the criminalisation of such deliberate acts, as it was not an incident in isolation. Over the last three years, we have seen an irrepressible streak of such indiscretions by the citizens and media of the Western countries; more so, by US citizens. The Western leaders need to understand the difference between freedom of expression and provocation.

True that America as a state or Obama Administration has nothing to do with the production of the film, but the impact it has created by precipitating the ‘hate syndrome’ against the US in the Muslim world does need immediate corrective action. The apathy and indifference of the Western leaders to the religious sensitivities of the Muslim world may also scuttle the chances of the much trumpeted interfaith harmony.

We are living in a global village that has its own dynamics and obligations in view of the emerging realities. Failure to recognise those realities and hiding behind the self-perceived notions of freedom of expression in absolute terms, is not going to help the cause of peace and interfaith harmony. These are bigger causes and very much in consonance with the UN objective of promoting world peace.  President Zardari and other Muslim leaders deserve appreciation for the commitment with which they tried to internationalise this issue and their emphatic discourses that truly echoed the sentiments of the Muslim Ummah.

President Zardari in his deservedly passionate, lucid and soul-stirring discourse, dilated on the whole range of issues related to Pakistan and the international community. But the issues that need special mention and comment include: Pakistan’s role in the war on terror and its fallout on the economic, political and security landscape of the country; flaws in the UN system and the need for reformation and paradigm shift in the conduct of foreign relations of Pakistan.

In regards to the war on terror, his rejection of the “do more” mantra and urging its proponents and the international community to give due recognition to the sacrifices made by Pakistan and apply the rhetoric to themselves, represented the irrepressible will of the people of Pakistan, not to succumb to the arm-twisting tactics anymore and their unflinching determination to safeguard their sovereignty; a trait that only a democratic dispensation can nurture and uphold. 

His observation that the unresolved Kashmir issue was a symbol of the failure of the UN system, rather than its strength was an expression of dissatisfaction with the way the UN has conducted itself since its inception and an urgent need for reform in the system. In fact, his words voiced the sentiments of all the less privileged nations, who in one way or the other have been the victims of the manipulative clout of the bigger nations. Of late, these nations have used their influence to advance their imperialist designs through the UN. The resolutions on Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan and their rapid implementation are classic examples of this new culture in the conduct of international relations.

For the UN to remain relevant to the new realities and play its mandated role, the reforms in the system are imperative and long overdue. The reiteration by the President to continue supporting the resolution of Kashmir tangle, in consonance with UN resolutions at the forum, was laudable, to say the least!

It is hard to take issue with the paradigm shift in the foreign policy of Pakistan that, undoubtedly, is a dividend of democracy in the country. The emphasis on building regional linkages and upgrading ties with China and warming up to Russia not only provide Pakistan with more policy options while dealing with the US, but also strengthen the security environment in the region. The new initiative has already started paying dividends.

The present government by warming up to Russia has shown pragmatism and vision that will certainly benefit Pakistan in many ways. Russia has already expressed its support for full membership of Pakistan in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and projects like transmitting electric power from Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan; and building of a gas pipeline between Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI). Against the backdrop of refusal by the Asian Development Bank to finance the construction of Diamir-Bhasha Dam, Russia, reportedly, has offered to bear the full cost of the project amounting to $13 billion on government to government funding basis.

Taking the relations with China to new heights during the last four and a half years and reaching out to other regional countries, including attempts to improve ties with India, arguably, are some of the PPP-led government’s incredible achievements.

The writer is a freelance columnist.