Ambassador Munir Akram Apologizes over Remarks about Pashtuns

By A Correspondent
This is Ambassador Munir Akram’s second stint as Pakistan’s permanent representative at the United Nations. (Photo courtesy Ambassador Munir Akram’s Twitter)
Pakistan’s permanent representative at the United Nations Ambassador Munir Akram has tendered a public apology over his racist and xenophobic remarks against Pashtuns at the United Nations.

“My apologies for the hurt caused by my comments at the humanitarian briefing on Afghanistan,” Akram said in an early morning Tweet on February 3. “I misspoke & my words did not accurately reflect Pakistan’s position. I have deep respect for Pashtun culture. Denying women & girls access to education is neither Islamic nor Pashtun,” the ambassador said in his Tweet. Pakistan is home to the world’s largest Pashtun population and also one of the most stereotyped communities of the country.

Akram made the controversial remarks during a briefing in New York on February 1. “The restrictions that have been put by the Afghan interim government, flow not so much from a religious perspective as from a peculiar cultural perspective of the Pashtun culture, which requires women to be kept at home,” he said at the UN briefing. “And this is a peculiar, distinctive cultural reality of Afghanistan which has not changed for hundreds of years.”

Ambassador Akram seemed regretful hours after he made the controversial racist remarks. Responding to queries from English language daily Dawn on Feb 2, he said he “regrets if his remarks (were) misunderstood or hurt anyone’s feelings. There was no disrespect meant to Pashtun culture which is highly progressive and deserves full respect across the world”. He said he was referring to the “peculiar perspective of a small minority — which has resulted in the restrictions on women”.

But his regrets would not subside the strong reaction to his remarks. According to Dawn, former senator Afrasiab Khattak called Akram’s remarks an insult to Pashtuns and asked Ambassador Akram “if Pakistan represents the Taliban now”.

Ziauddin Yousafzai, the father of Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, also condemned Ambassador Akram’s remarks and called them “disgraceful”.

Ambassador Akram has a history of being in the headlines for the wrong reasons. May it be the case of domestic abuse in 2003 or his latest misleading portrayal of Pashtun culture, he was undiplomatic, racist and indecent.

Akram was in hot waters in January 2003, when Washington asked Islamabad to waive Akram’s diplomatic immunity so that he could be prosecuted on assault charges. According to press reports, New York police were called to Akram’s home on Dec. 10, 2002 by a woman who alleged the envoy had beaten her. The woman told police dispatchers that the envoy had smashed her head into a wall, that her arm hurt and that he had hit her before, according to the newspaper accounts.

The case could have had potentially embarrassing diplomatic ramifications for Pakistan. At that time, Islamabad was a key US ally in war on terror, and had just taken up a seat on the U.N. Security Council, which was then considering whether to authorize military action against Iraq. Akram, who enjoys full diplomatic immunity, was never charged and he served in the post until 2008.

The timing of Akram’s remarks could not be worst – these came at a time when Pakistanis are still mourning the martyrdom of more than 100 police officers and Jawans in the Peshawar Police Lines terrorist attack. A faction of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed the deadly act of terrorism. Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have been offering safe sanctuaries to thousands of TTP terrorists on its soil. Instead of raising the issue of Taliban harboring terrorists on Afghanistan’s soil, Ambassador Akram chose to defend the same people whose policy is being directly linked to the rising incidents of terrorism in Pakistan.

While one must appreciate Ambassador Akram for showing grace and making the right choice of seeking a public apology, many still wonder if it is enough to justify his stay in the position at the expense of Pakistani taxpayers. He may and will stay in this position for the foreseeable future because he still enjoys the Pakistani government’s confidence but his actions certainly have seriously damaged the country’s diplomacy and position on the international stage.


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