Pakistan, a newly elected non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, is beginning its two-year term today by assuming its month-long alphabetically rotating presidency for the month of January. Reportedly, under its presidency, Pakistan is planning to hold couple of ‘open’ debates on issues that it sees of current relevance among UN’s top priorities and foremost agenda in the work of the Security Council. Foreign Minister Khar will be especially flying to New York to preside over the first debate on ‘counter-terrorism’ scheduled for January 15.

The other two planned ‘open’ debates will address ‘UN’s peacekeeping operations’ and ‘Situation in the Middle East,. This carefully crafted agenda for non-consequential thematic debates in the Security Council takes me back to my own election as president of Governmnet College Students Union in 1961 when I had to prepare similar agenda for House of Commons style ‘thematic’ debates that I was to preside over during my one-year presidency of the college union. For the first two debates, like Pakistan now, I selected topics that I thought were of great ‘current relevance’ at that time.

The first was ‘Coca Cola is better than Lassi’ in English and the second ‘wajood-e-zan se hai tasweer-e-kayenat men rang’ in Urdu.  Interestingly, in the first debate, the budding New Left student activist Tariq Ali Khan was the Leader of the House supporting the culture of ‘modernism’ while his illustrious father Mazhar Ali Khan acted as the Leader of the Opposition defending the values of ‘traditionalism.’ The second debate was no less colourful and lively with proponents and opponents of gender mainstreaming arguing their respective cases. Both events attracted huge crowds from Lahore’s prestigious boys’ and girls’ colleges.

Let’s hope the planned ‘open’ debate in the Security Council on ‘counter-terrorism’ that our youthful Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar is to preside will be no less colourful and lively drawing large number of speakers with maximum occupancy of the audience seats. This indeed is the yardstick today for a ‘successful’ presidency of Security Council which under the UN Charter is supposed to be responsible for ensuring international peace and security. Today, the main concern of a country assuming its presidency is not what is happening in our chaotic world but what ‘attractive’ topics would draw large speakers’ lists and ensure maximum attendance at ‘open’ debates under its presidency.

Foreign Minister Khar is new to the UN scene. Hitherto, she may have had exposure only to the annual General Assembly carnivals. Before she embarks on her trip to the UN this time, she deserves a special ‘reality brief’ on the UN Security Council from our professional diplomats without whose efforts, Pakistan, despite its negative imagery, would not have been elected to UN’s Security Council, and that too for a seventh term. She also needs to be briefed on the UN itself which from being ‘mankind’s last best hope’ is today not even the ‘least best hope’ for humanity. It is no longer a model worth even simulation exercises that her former alma mater in Lahore is so well known for organising almost every year.

Emerging from the ashes of World War II, the UN was meant to save humanity and its succeeding generations from the scourge of war. It was also meant to provide a moral edifice for a new global system which was to be based on justice and equity and governed by rules, laws, values and cooperation. Our world today is neither just nor equal and, with ongoing wars of aggression in the name of self-defence, inspires no confidence among its member-states. The UN has not fulfilled the promise of peace and prosperity as was envisioned in its Charter. It has resolved no major disputes; nor has it prevented any conflicts or military occupations.

With its increasing helplessness, the problems of the world have only been aggravating. In the 50s and 60s, the people of Kashmir, Palestine, South Africa and Namibia and scores of other territories won legitimacy through political and moral endorsement at the UN for their just causes. Self-determination was the cardinal principle of the UN that shaped the world in those decades. But the Cold War power politics crippled the UN and its Security Council keeping it from addressing the major global issues including Palestine and Kashmir on which its own resolutions still remain unimplemented.

The post-9/11 world witnessed unprecedented erosion in Security Council’s role and relevance in issues of peace and security. It was completely bypassed for the military adventure against Iraq. Its record on other major issues, including the aggression and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the massacres in Rwanda and Srebrenica, the conflicts in Kosovo, Kashmir, Somalia, Afghanistan and other places in Africa and Asia is no less dismal. Its authority and credibility has been circumvented by the unabashed use of military power. Might always seen wrong has never been claimed so right.

The Security Council is no longer the sole, meaningful arbiter on issues of global peace and security. Washington, not New York, is the focus of world attention for actual decision-making on these issues of global importance. Today’s UN as a whole is also no more than a global meeting forum, producing voluminous documents and repetitive resolutions with no enforceability or follow-up action. No wonder, some critics like to call it as “dustbin of history”.

It is in this eerie scenario that Pakistan takes up its seat in the UN Security Council where the overriding vested interests of the more influential and powerful players rein supreme. We should not have great expectations from a body that is today no more than a debating club. Its deliberations are conducted in a theatrical manner through stage-managed ‘open’ debates and choreographed scenarios. Its decisions on critical issues are made either in Washington DC or reached in ‘informals’ behind closed doors among the P-5 in the ante-rooms of the Council’s Chamber.

Hina Rabbani Khar should be taking her presidential seat at the ‘horseshoe’ table with dignity and modesty as representative of a country going through difficult times. Too much of colour or knock off designer accessories in the Council would be considered showy and undiplomatic. She must also not be swayed by compliments for her ‘charm’ or personality, nor for her ‘sagacity’ or diplomatic acumen. These are usual diplomatic clichés meant for the chair, not for the person occupying it. They are in effect meant for the country she represents.

Indeed, Pakistan’s election to this ‘august’ body is a great honour, especially at a time when its rulers have spared no effort to bring all the notorious distinctions to their country. The world now calls us the “most violent and most unsafe” place on earth and also the “most dangerous nation” in the world. Pakistan’s name instantly raises fear and concern. For Foreign Minister Khar, presiding over the UN’s apex body should not be merely a photo-op but a challenge to project Pakistan as an aggrieved party.

We have staked everything in counter-terrorism efforts waging a full-scale war on our own soil and against our own people at a huge material and human cost. And yet we are accused of not doing enough. This slander and abuse must stop. We are also victims of territorial transgressions in violation of Articles 42 and 51 of the Charter.

The ‘war on terror’ has not gone beyond retribution and retaliation. It is time we spoke out and seized this opportunity to launch a Global Peace Initiative based on UN’s Five-D ‘counter-terrorism’ strategy and our own experiences focusing on the underlying causes of political oppression and socio-economic injustice which fuel hatred and violence. We should also revisit our role in UN peacekeeping operations which are being used only to perpetuate status quo in conflict areas with no focus on conflict resolution.

The writer is a former foreign secretary Email: shamshad2001@hotmail.com