By S. M. Hali
Jeffrey Feltman, UN Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) recently visited Islamabad where this scribe had the opportunity to interview him for his TV show. Expecting to meet a boorish bureaucrat, a former US State Department senior official, it was a pleasant surprise to meet a down to earth person, who was candid in expressing his views.
He too was pleasantly surprised with the background research when his eventful diplomatic tenure in the Middle East was recounted. According to the Jerusalem Post, while posted at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, Feltman had built a reputation for personally testing “the freedom of movement of goods through army checkpoints in and out of Gaza by physically standing at one and counting the number of trucks that passed through on a given day”. When reminded, he modestly responded that the senior officers were busy resolving the bigger problems so he thought of contributing by personally confirming the veracity of Israeli claims of providing free passage to Palestinian goods.
Jeffery Feltman’s term as US Ambassador to Lebanon (July 2004 to January 2008) was extremely eventful, coming at the heels of an equally exhilarating tenure, volunteering to serve with the Coalition Provisional Authority office in Irbil, Iraq.
Feltman’s Lebanon posting was marked with strife and turmoil. His command over the Arabic language may have won many friends but the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri and the ensuing series of violent protests rocked the boat. To make matters worse, in the summer of 2006, Israel invaded Lebanon but failed to cripple Hezbollah. Controversy had also marred that period of duty since opponents of Hariri’s successor, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, came to refer to the Beirut government as “Feltman’s government.”
On inquiry regarding his brush with death towards the fag-end of his posting, when a diplomatic convoy carrying him was hit by a car bomb on January 15, 2008, killing several people; although Feltman escaped unscathed, during the interview he unassumingly treated the incident as trivial.
In the discourse, he highlighted the priority areas for the United Nations to promote peace and security around the world, stating that conflict-struck regions receive maximum focus. In response to naming the challenges he faced as UN Under-Secretary-General DPA, Feltman elucidated that while overseeing the UN’s diplomatic efforts to prevent and mitigate conflict around the globe, the emphasis was on a preventive policy rather than reactive one and extending mediation support. He explained that while the “Blue Beret/Helmet” UN peacekeepers are more visible, endeavours of the DPA’s political missions and political tools are less discernible. Its painstaking mediation efforts dealing with complex and sometimes deeply entrenched conflicts may take long in resolution.
Feltman appreciated Pakistan’s consistent and constructive engagement with the UN on a host of issues and particularly lauded Pakistan’s contribution to international peace and security as a leading troop contributing country in UN peacekeeping operations.
Specifically acclaiming Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war on terror, he expressed hope that peace will return to the region especially since Pakistan believes that by simultaneously pursuing development, dialogue and deterrence, a meaningful response to terrorism can be evolved. He recounted that Pakistan played a responsible role during its tenure of UN Security Council’s rotating presidency and also held an open debate on the comprehensive approach to counter-terrorism on 15 January 2013. He elaborated how the UN helps with development and dialogue tracks, welcoming Pakistan’s initiatives and efforts towards mediation.
The UN Under-Secretary General’s attention was drawn towards Pakistan’s support of the Afghan-led reconciliation process and political transition in Afghanistan and that the drawdown of international forces has started. Explicating the foreseen UN role in Afghanistan up to 2014 and beyond, Feltman stressed that the solution lies in political and diplomatic solutions in any conflict. Elaborating the UN initiatives, including conflict resolution and a peaceful transfer of power in the 2014 elections, he opined that Pakistan had a positive role to play in the peace process.
Shedding light on the Syrian crisis, he called it a human catastrophe, stating that there must be a transition to a democratic Syria in which the rights of all communities are protected. There is no reason why tens of thousands more Syrians have to die before that happens. Also touching upon the milieu in Libya and its possible fallout on the Mali situation, Feltman’s final word was that leaders must be cognizant of the aspirations of the people. Jeffery Feltman’s position at the UN is challenging and involves acumen to tackle complex crises.