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Apology on Twitter not acceptable – Pakistan’s ambassador to UN asked to tender formal apology for equating Taliban with Pashtun community

Pakistan's permanent representative to the UN Munir Akram used 'Pashtun' instead of the Taliban during his address at the United Nations, claiming 'Pashtun culture requires women to be kept at home'

On February 14, Pakistan’s National Assembly’s standing committee on Foreign Affairs chaired by MNA Mohsin Dawar refused to accept the apology tendered on Twitter by the permanent representative to the UN of Pakistan, Munir Akram and asked him to formally apologise for insulting the Pashtun culture. Notably, Akram has used ‘Pashtun’ instead of the Taliban during his address at the United Nations, claiming ‘Pashtun culture requires women to be kept at home’. His statement sparked controversy, after which he apologised on the social media platform Twitter.

In its statement, the committee said an apology rendered on the social media platform could not reflect the grievances expressed by the Pakhtuns worldwide. Expressing his dismay over Akram’s remarks, Dawar said banning women from public places is a practice followed by the Taliban, and it is not part of the Pashtun culture. He blamed Akram for putting the Pashtun culture in a negative light at the UN in a “proper speech”.

At the committee meeting, Akram said, “I took a balanced view as Taliban are not represented in the UN body. If restrictions are imposed on humanitarian assistance, it would add problems for Pakistan. (And in doing so) I mistakenly used the word Pashtun instead of Taliban. I tendered the apology on Twitter.” Unsatisfied with Akram’s reply, Akram confronted him and asked if he was representing the Taliban at the UN. He added as the Taliban seized power at gunpoint, they should not be allowed at the UN.

Sindhi member of the committee Ghulam Ali Talpur urged Akram to resign from his post. He said, “Since you have hurt Pashtuns, don’t you think that you should resign?” However, Akram threw the ball in the Government of Pakistan’s court and said they had the power to remove him if the government wanted to remove him.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar had different views at the committee meeting. She came forward to support Akram and requested the members to accept his apology. She claimed everyone makes a mistake, she gave an example of how Americans made a mistake in Afghanistan. Dawar did not take the comparison well and alleged that Pakistan was equally responsible for what happened in Afghanistan, referring to the Taliban’s takeover of the country after staying out of power for 20 years. He said, “We are equally responsible for what happened in Afghanistan, as we kept helping the Taliban for 20 years. The entire world was responsible for what happened in Afghanistan.”

The statement made by Munir Akram

On February 1, speaking on the Humanitarian situation during a UN meeting, Akram claimed that the ban imposed on women from going to public places was not from a religious perspective but a ‘peculiar cultural perspective of the Pashtun Culture’. He said, “From our perspective, the restrictions that have been put by the Afghan interim government flow, not so much from a religious perspective, as from a particular cultural perspective of the Pashtoon culture, which requires women to be kept at home.”

He added that the cultural norms had been part of Afghanistan for hundreds if not thousands of years. “So to expect a complete transformation overnight on the condition that aid will stop to the Afghan people if they do not adhere to international standards, I think that is a rather optimistic expectation,” he added.

He urged the donor community not to walk away from Afghanistan and “hoped” the Secretary General’s appeal to provide monetary help worth $4.4 Billion to Afghanistan would be fulfilled.

Akram was criticised extensively for using ‘Pashtun’ instead of the Taliban. Following the flak he received online and offline, Akram tendered an apology on Twitter on February 3, two days after his remarks. He wrote, “My apologies for the hurt caused by my comments at the humanitarian briefing on Afghanistan. I misspoke, and my words did not accurately reflect Pakistan’s position. I have deep respect for Pashtun culture. Denying women and girls access to education is neither Islamic nor Pashtun culture.”

Pashtuns, or Pakhtuns, popularly known as Pathans, are a predominant ethnic group of Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa shares a border with Afghanistan and has a notable Pashtun population.

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