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Iraq: Pakistani Diplomat Sees Prominent UN Role

  • Robert McMahon

Pakistan joined the United Nations Security Council as a temporary member in January at the height of the debate over military action against Iraq. It maintained a neutral position, but the council ended up polarized after the U.S.-led coalition launched a war against Saddam Hussein's regime. Pakistan is now set to assume the council presidency as the body tries to find consensus on the practical issues of postwar Iraq. Pakistan's UN ambassador, Munir Akram, spoke with RFE/RL about the future of Iraq, the ongoing needs of Afghanistan, and nonproliferation issues.

United Nations, 25 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistani UN Ambassador Munir Akram, who takes over the presidency of the UN Security Council next week, said it is obvious the United Nations will have a major role to play in the revitalization of Iraq.

The deep divisions over the war in Iraq damaged the council's reputation and its ability to deal with Iraq-related issues. But Akram told our correspondent in an interview this week that he now senses a shift toward reconciliation and pragmatism on the 15-member council.

He said there are tough talks ahead on sanctions, inspections, and the continuation of the oil-for-food program. But, Akram said, it is not necessary to speculate on what role the UN might have in U.S.-controlled Iraq. The fact that a series of issues on Iraq are now coming before the council, he said, shows the UN is already poised to assume key responsibilities.

"There will arise the issue of future governance of Iraq, the representation of Iraq at the United Nations, civil administration, reconstruction -- a host of issues in which the United Nations, inevitably, will have to become involved," Akram said. "The question should not be what role the United Nations will have. The question should be: how can the United Nations help in bringing back normality, legality, and peace in the region?"

Following the ouster of Saddam Hussein, the United States has installed a civil administrator, rejected an initial role for UN weapons inspectors, and called for the immediate lifting of sanctions.

The United States has not yet outlined its vision of a UN role in Iraq. U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte yesterday repeated that issues such as the oil-for-food program were still a matter of internal debate in Washington.

The administration reportedly wants to establish an Iraqi interim authority by 3 June, when the mandate for the oil-for-food program expires. Some UN diplomats have said the authority will need to have international endorsement to be accepted as having sovereignty over Iraq and its oil.

Pakistan, as president of the council in May, will have a mostly ceremonial role, but it will set the agenda and play a part in marshaling consensus. During the debate over war, it avoided committing publicly to how it would vote on a resolution authorizing force. But it stressed the need for UN-legitimized action.

Ambassador Akram said the council must now act in a unified way. "It is not a confrontational issue between the United Nations or either of the occupying powers. It is a question of how to find a means to work together for the interests of the Iraqi people, for the interests of the region, stability, and for the unity in the Security Council which is necessary for so many other issues that we have to deal with," he told RFE/RL.

Pakistan is one of many council members that favor phasing out the oil-for-food program after it has served the transitional state's immediate needs. Akram said it makes sense to take advantage, in the short term, of the program's extensive distribution network, which has fed a majority of Iraqis.

"That is a fortuitous sort of happenstance that it is there. And therefore we ought to utilize it, and we can utilize it. But obviously somewhere down the line, we will need to give up the fiction that it is now operating under the sanctions regime because it will now be operating as a useful tool for the international community," he said.

Council members are divided over whether to lift or suspend sanctions. A number of ambassadors are talking about separating the sanctions and oil-for-food issues before 3 June so humanitarian assistance could continue during a transitional period.

Akram said he is also hoping next month to refocus attention on Pakistan's neighbor Afghanistan, which faces its own nation-building challenges under UN auspices. He said the chief UN representative there, Lakhdar Brahimi, will brief the council in May on the reform efforts of the Afghan Transitional Administration.

"We hope that despite the preoccupation with Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan will not be forgotten by the international community, and certainly it is in the interests of all concerned that we deal with outstanding issues there," Akram said.

A chief concern is security. The council has authorized an international force to patrol Kabul, but in many areas outside the capital, the Transitional Administration has little authority.

NATO appears ready to take over the security duties in Kabul this summer and the United States is planning to expand teams of civil-affairs soldiers to eight regional centers.

But Akram said Pakistan has been urging more "credible means" of providing security to Afghanistan. "We have felt that we should station larger numbers of United Nations or coalition or other impartial troops in the regional centers in order to bring security and to prevent vociferous tendencies and to control any revival of the Taliban and other outlaws, criminals who are in various parts of the country. So far, there has been no agreed methodology to address the security issue," Akram said.

For the remainder of its two-year term, Pakistan will be the sixth nuclear power on the Security Council. But unlike the permanent five members of the council, Pakistan has no plans of joining the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). India and Israel have also not signed the treaty. North Korea has just withdrawn from it.

Akram sid the best way for the council to contain nuclear proliferation is to address the security concerns of states seeking to develop such weapons. Pakistan defends its nuclear status as a counterbalance to India. The two states conducted their first nuclear tests within weeks of each other in May 1998.

"The NPT issue, as far as South Asia is concerned, is moot. We have to find other ways to create mutual nuclear restraint between India and Pakistan. We have already made several proposals to that end. We hope it will be supported by the international community," Akram said.

After India and then Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in 1998, the Security Council passed a resolution condemning the tests. It also urged the two countries to resume dialogue to ease tensions on a number of issues, especially the contested territory of Kashmir.

Pakistan has called for the implementation of long-standing Security Council resolutions calling for a plebiscite to allow residents of Kashmir to choose rule by India or Pakistan. India considers the UN resolutions obsolete and accuses Pakistan of arming, training, and financing rebels in Kashmir.

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