Pakistan’s photo fiasco at UN

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has just received a dossier from Pakistan’s accidental Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, complaining about the alleged “human rights violations” by India in the Kashmir state. And the question on everyone’s mind is that whether it will contain the graphic image of an injured Gaza girl that Pakistan’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations, Maleeha Lodhi, displayed with great fanfare during a recent General Assembly session to illustrate India’s rights “violation”!

The fact that the Pakistan government has not officially admitted its serious mistake even days after the “Gaza photo” fiasco at the UN General Assembly session makes such a scenario quite possible. Islamabad’s refusal to accept the blunder highlights its callous disregard for truth once again. This is despite the shame being expressed by Pakistani newspapers and social media over the incident.

When Lodhi, in her reply to India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s hard-hitting speech against Islamabad’s pro-terror policies, held out the picture of an injured girl from Gaza at the UN session, she must have congratulated herself for unearthing the graphic image to prove her case against New Delhi.

But in her over-enthusiasm, Lodhi, a London School of Economics product, forgot to check the genuineness of the image. The picture Lodhi displayed at the UN General Assembly turned out to be that of a Palestinian girl called Rawya Abu Jom’a, taken in July 2014 and published by The New York Times later. The credibility of Pakistan in the General Assembly is in tatters after the goof-up.

At least a section of the Pakistani press seems to have realised the heavy price that Islamabad has to pay for the faux pas, however.

The Express Tribune newspaper, which claims to “cater to the modern face of Pakistan”, has called it “an unforgivable mistake”.

The paper, on its website, at first gloated that “it was nothing short of an exceptional speech by our seasoned ambassador (Maleeha Lodhi) to the UN at the General Assembly” which, it saw as “a befitting response to a xenophobic characterisation of the people of Pakistan as terrorists by the Indian foreign minister”. And then came the reluctant admission: “The ambassador’s speech was, however, short-lived and lost credibility before it could even develop one.” What a let-down!

“In the midst of glory, she committed what should be an unforgivable mistake that is not only going to embarrass Pakistan in the decades to come but has also dented its rightful stance on Kashmir – the use of false evidence and that too at the UN General Assembly. With emotions running high in Pakistan and the patriotic need to stick to one’s guns, the full extent of damage, while not clear to many at the moment, will be felt every time in the coming years Pakistan raises a point on Kashmir, and at any forum.” The disappointment felt by the newspaper is quite palpable.
And regretfully, it notes: “India now has legitimate evidence, which it has already begun to use to discredit Pakistan terming it the ‘Mother of lies’ by equating Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir with that of Pakistan’s supposed duplicity on hiding Osama bin Laden. As senseless as the two connections may be, at a forum like the UNGA, the purpose of which is to build and shape narratives, Pakistan has unfortunately lost the deal on Kashmir. And it will take a decade or more to build the same momentum for the world to take notice.”

Dawn, often described as “Pakistan’s oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper”, saw the “blunder” as an “embarrassment” for Islamabad. “A human blunder embarrassed Pakistan when its envoy displayed the picture of a Palestinian girl inside the UN General Assembly as a Kashmiri victim of Indian pellet guns and officials on Monday tried to determine how this happened,” Dawn noted.

“The Pakistani community in the US had initially praised Lodhi for exposing the face of India’s democracy, but the mistake embarrassed them too as the Indian-American community used this mistake to ridicule them,” it rued.
Reactions from Pakistani users of the social media were more direct. “Maliha Lodhi and Pakistan mission at UN had one job to represent Pakistan and it’s (sic) national interest. It is shame our delegation can’t even do that job right. Specially at once a year security council meeting,” said someone identifying as “Czar” on a media website.

A person posting in the name of “Gkhan” termed it as a “diplomatic disaster of Pakistan”. For “Sud20”, the mix-up was inexcusable: “When you represent a country of 200 million and do such unprofessional errors in world stage. (sic) It not only damages the reputation of entire country by (sic) also makes everyone question the credibility.”
“Iqbal” described it as “pure embarrassment”. But there were also many self-consoling reactions like this one from a person posting as “Waqas”: “Kashmir and Palestine has (sic) same face. Pictures don’t matter. Reality is what matters which is a shame of (sic) India.”

Amid the countless self-recriminating and aggressive remarks and comments, there were also a few sane voices. “Pray for peace, make love not war,” pleaded a social media user going by the name of Asif Iqbaal. “Fighting will not uplift stature of common man in India and Pakistan. There is a long battle to be fought to eradicate poverty, illiteracy, hunger and provide clean drinking water and housing by both countries,” Iqbaal noted. But with the Pakistan government in a permanent denial mood, chances of that message getting across are probably slim.

(C P Ravindran is former deputy managing editor of Gulf Times, a Doha newspaper)
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C P Ravindran, Meena Vihar, Manappullikkavu, East Yakkara, Palakkad – 678013, Kerala
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