By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
With geopolitical tensions still high between Pakistan and its southern neighbor India, Islamabad’s ambassador to Mexico, Tasawar Khan, made a point of talking about his government’s unflinching commitment to peaceful coexistence with other nations and the use of diplomacy rather than aggression in resolving international conflicts when he offered his official national day speech at his embassy on Monday, March 25.
“Since (Pakistan’s) inception, our foreign policy has been guided by the vision of our founder, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who believed in peaceful coexistence, friendly relations with all nations of the world, nonaggression and contribution towards peace and security of the world,” Khan said, without making any specific reference to India (which was notably not represented at the diplomatic reception that commemorated the 79th anniversary of Pakistan’s independence).
“The policy priorities of my country remain (maintaining) a peaceful neighborhood, non-interference, collaboration and cooperation, while taking advantage of Pakistan’s geostrategic location and sharing the economic and trade opportunities with all.”
Khan went on to say that “in the international struggle for peace and security, Pakistan has shouldered its responsibility with profound commitment and utmost prudence,” noting that over the course of the last 55 years, Islamabad has provided over 170,000 peacekeepers in 42 United Nations missions across 23 countries.
“Even today, Pakistan is the third-largest contributor to U.N. peacekeeping missions,” he said.
“We also remain committed to regional peace and security and resolution of all issues through peaceful means.”
Tensions between Pakistan and India – both nuclear powers – escalated in February following a suicide bomb attack by alleged Pakistani-based militants that killed 40 Indian paramilitary police in the Indian section of the disputed and divided Kashmir region.
Bilateral strains increased even more during a subsequent dogfight between Pakistani and Indian aircraft, during which an Indian plane was downed and its pilot taken capture by Pakistani forces. (That pilot was later released as a gesture of peace on the Pakistani side.)
Indo-Pakistani ties had remained relatively stable since the last armed conflict between the two countries in 1971, although the dispute over Kashmir has always been a political thorn in the relationship.
In fact, Kashmir was the core issue at the heart of two previous wars between Pakistan and India, in 1947 and 1965, respectively.
“Since (its) independence, Pakistan’s journey has been marked by unremitting endeavors to promote justice, harmony, social wellbeing, religious freedom, economic growth and development,” Khan said.
“Indeed, we have come a long way in the last over seven decades … Despite serious geostrategic challenges, Pakistan is now a fast-emerging economy.”
Khan said that the new Pakistani government, which was elected into office last July, “is endeavoring to make Pakistan a true Islamic welfare state, based on the principles of justice and compassion.”
The ambassador also spoke briefly about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $62 billion collection of infrastructure projects currently under construction across the South Asian nation, which he said “is destined to change the dynamics of trade and commerce in the region and beyond.”
In closing, Khan spoke about Pakistan’s bilateral diplomatic relationship with Mexico, which dates back to 1955.
“Since then, our relations have continued to move on an upward trajectory,” he said.
Combined binational trade between Mexico and Pakistan is relatively low, amounting to about $220 million a year, but Khan said that the two countries share a “commonality of perceptions on international issues of mutual importance,” and that their governments are “working together for a just and fair international political system and economic order,” based on the sovereign equality of all nations.
“We also continue to strengthen the institutional framework, which has provided a strong basis for development of our bilateral relations,” he said.
After a century of repressive British rule, the Muslim population of South Asia launched a rebel war of independence in 1857, but this insurgency was met with stiff military resistance and disastrous consequences for the inciters.
Consequently, the Islamic community of the region, unlike their Hindu brethren, steadfastly refused to assimilate Western culture, leading to a social and political splintering between the two religious groups.
As ethnic tensions continued to fester into the 20th century, the British were forced to concede separate electorates in the Government of India Act of 1909, which confirmed the All-India Muslim League a position as a legitimate political party.
Hindu-Muslim relations improved temporarily after World War I, when the two communities agreed to present a united front under the historic Khilafat Movement to oppose the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire.
Although the movement failed in its objectives, it had far-reaching impact on the Muslims of South Asia, solidifying political solidarity and forging Muslim leadership within the subcontinent.
The collapse of the Khilafat Movement was followed by the period of bitter Hindu-Muslim antagonism and communal riots that threatened regional security.
Meanwhile, three roundtable conferences were convened in London during the 1930s to resolve the Indian constitutional problem.
Hindu and Muslim leaders could not agree on a self-rule formula, and finally a scheme was devised for Indian territorial partition based on religious segregation.
The Pakistani nationalist movement reached its peak when the All-India Muslim League demanded a separate homeland for the Islamic communities in a conference at Lahore on March 23, 1940, in a declaration known as the Pakistan Resolution.
Formal independence, however, would not come to South Asia until 1947, when Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last British viceroy, drafted a plan for partition and an official transfer of power, giving birth to the new state of Pakistan.