United Nations: Signaling a new diplomatic push to refurbish its battered image and win friends and influence nations, Pakistan is sending Maleeha Lodhi, a high-profile envoy, who has asserted that “her prime focus will be creating a clear line on Kashmir cause,” to the United Nations.
Lodhi has already reiterated her hardline on the Kashmir issue, accusing India of “brinkmnaship” and asserting that Pakistan will not agree to pre-conditions for talks or to drop Kashmir from the bilateral agenda days before her appointment as Permanent Representative to the UN was announced.
And at a meeting last week with Senate Defence Committee Chairman Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, the Pakistan Daily Times reported, “She said that her agenda is large but her prime focus will be creating a clear line on Kashmir cause.”
She is expected to formally take over as Islamabad’s representative next week.
Lodhi has navigated the diplomatic and political circles of Washington during the difficult period of the 9/11 attacks on the US in her second stint there as ambassador. She has also done a stint as high commissioner to Britain, another permanent member of the UN Security Council and served on UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Affairs.
A media personality and a strategic affairs writer on the international academic and think tank circuit, succeeds Masood Khan, a career diplomat.
The Pakistani newspaper, News International, which Lodhi once edited, said her appointment is seen as part of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s “initiatives to spearhead the foreign policy by giving it a new impetus” during “a time of mounting challenges in relations with India.”
When she met Sharif last week, he told Lodhi that “it was important to remove misperceptions about Pakistan,” according to Pakistani media reports.
The newspaper added: “Diplomatic circles in Islamabad have seen the appointment of Dr Maleeha as an effort by the government to select a person known to project Pakistan’s point of view forcefully. She is known as a courageous diplomat in projecting Pakistan’s viewpoint at the international fora.”
A measure of the importance in Islamabad to her appointment is the round of well-publicised meetings she held with Pakistani politicians ranging from President Mamnoon Hussain and Sharif to various ministers and a senate leader in preparation for her assignment.
Pakistan’s image problems are many: A sanctuary for terrorist organisations in a country riven by sectarian violence, where religious fundamentalism is coming to dominate public life and where women are oppressed. These converged on two pivotal events that have come to frame its image, the Peshawar school massacre and the attack on girls education activist, Malala Yousafzai.
Islamabad may be banking on a suave, intellectual woman with wide diplomatic and international political and media contacts to counter image. Hinting at it, Khan, the outgoing ambassador, joked last month at a UN forum on men promoting the cause of women, HeForShe, that he was stepping up to promote the campaign’s cause by giving up his office for Pakistan’s first woman ambassador to the UN.