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Feb. 22, 2008

Pakistani Ambassador to the United Nations Discusses
Recent Election and Country’s Role in the World

Munir Akram
Munir Akram,
Pakistan’s ambassador to
the United Nations

Munir Akram, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, spoke to Columbia University students just a day after his country’s parliamentary elections on Monday, Feb. 18. The event was hosted by the student-led Columbia University International Relations Forum.

In November 2007, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution and sacked court justices. Shortly after, he was confirmed for another five years as president, leading to months of political unrest. The results of the recent elections show that two of the leading opposition parties have won the majority of the 285 seats in parliament, while Musharraf’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, have won only 42.

Akram, who has led a distinguished career with the Pakistan Foreign Service since 1967, was quick to reject the idea that the results of the election stand as a repudiation of Musharraf’s leadership. “The opposition in the country is a result of internal causes, including judiciary issues and the rise in prices of energy, food and gas, not due to foreign policy,” as the president’s critics have contended.

“Despite the recent violence,” he continued, “the fact is that the elections were free and fair, and no one has challenged the results. This is a source of pride for our country.’

Related News

Musharraf's Loss: Trouble for U.S., Time, Feb. 21

Pakistan Parties Agree on Coalition, BBC, Feb. 21

Out With the President's Men, The Economist, Feb, 21

Pakistan’s Victors May Lack Strength to Oust Musharraf, New York Times, Feb. 21

Interview with Munir Akram, NPR, Aug. 15, 2006

Regardless of who leads the country, Akram stated that Pakistan must maintain stability within its borders, and play a larger role in helping achieve stability in the world. With much at stake at home, Akram discussed Pakistan’s strategic significance in world affairs, laying out its role across six critical overarching and interconnected issues: global terrorism; Afghanistan; South Asian stability; nonproliferation; regional stability in the Gulf; and finally, influence in the Islamic world.

“Pakistan needs a 360-degree foreign policy,” said Akram. He said that Pakistan must look to its neighbors—India and Afghanistan, for example—as well as its place in a broader global context.  

Pakistan’s ties to the Bush administration‘s efforts to fight terrorism have been a contentious issue in the country, but Akram insisted that most Pakistanis are in favor of playing a significant role in fighting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban within its borders, in particular the mountainous Northwest Frontier region of the country, where many Taliban members are known to be hiding.

“Pakistan is a fulcrum in the war on terror,” said Akram. “We have conducted more than 120 military operations and captured more than 1,500 Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. We have also 100,000 troops in the Frontier region.”

Of both historical and contemporary import is Pakistan’s tenuous relationship with India—both countries count themselves among the world’s nine nuclear powers. It is for this reason that a tacit “mutual understanding,” according to Akram, has kept both countries from escalating current tensions.

“Both countries have gone to war [with each other] four times, but both countries are nuclear. There is a mutual deterrence to avoid war because of this,” he said. A main cause of tension is Kashmir, a disputed territory that lies in the northwest area of India, where the borders of India, Pakistan and China meet. Pakistan and India have been struggling to gain control of Kashmir since 1947. “We are in dialogue about Kashmir,” said Akram, “but we currently have no solutions.”

The ambassador concluded his talk by stressing the need for Pakistan to continue to work with its Gulf neighbors and Islamic countries to achieve peace.

“Pakistan has always had influence in the Gulf. Any solution to Gulf security will have to involve Pakistan,” he said. “There are 56 countries in the Islamic world; we are the second largest Islamic country after Indonesia, so we can play a role and we do play a role” in bridging understanding in the region—and what may be “the greatest challenge in contemporary international relations.”

 - Story by Clare Oh
 - Photo courtesy of the Pakistan Mission to United Nations