New York is once again in frenzy. Entourages of governments’ top brass from around the world along with NGOs and civil society activists have descended and are choking the city’s already packed streets. The new UN General Assembly session began last week. The General Debate session, where the high and mighty, deliver speeches will run from 25 September to 1 October. Kicking off with the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit on 24 September, close to 2,000 bilateral and side events are also expected. There are going to be high-level meetings on Financing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (17 comprehensive Goals agreed by 193 UN Member States), UN Peacekeeping (Pakistan is the sixth largest troops contributor), Tuberculosis (Pakistan has the fifth highest prevalence and it is the fourth highest TB multi-drug resistant country), and Non-communicable diseases. These account for over 50 percent of all deaths in Pakistan and are on the rise. We are seventh globally for Diabetes and mental health remains highly undiagnosed. While not accounting for economic implications of disability and mental health disorders, other NCDs death related economic burden will increase to USD 296 million in the homeland by 2025. While the General Debate’s official theme is “Making the United Nations relevant to all people: global leadership and shared responsibilities for peaceful, equitable and sustainable societies”, the country representatives can focus on any issues. Many speakers and certainly our Foreign Minister are expected to underline the regional and international threats to peace and development. They will likely stress how pivotal a more responsive and an even-handed UN could be, and how the collective global challenges can only be tackled effectively through robust cooperation with all countries acting responsibly. And they would be right. Our presentation must follow national priorities. But it is instructive to also look at countries’ major concerns that were raised in the General Debate last year, as well as, key current global challenges to assess how receptive the world may be to Pakistan’s expectations and where our contribution is likely to be received well. Climate change was the challenge mentioned most by 165 countries in 2017, compared to 135 countries doing so at the 2010 Debate. The second most talked about issue was Sustainable Development Goals by 162 countries compared to 138 countries highlighting them in 2010. Terrorism was the third most emphasized problem by 157 countries compared to 99 countries putting it forward in 2010. Fourth, fifth and sixth most mentioned issues last year were UN reform (74 percent), nuclear weapons (69 percent), and migration and refugees (65 percent). Many speakers and certainly our Foreign Minister are expected to underline the regional and international threats to peace and development. They will likely stress how pivotal a more responsive and an even-handed UN could be, and how the collective global challenges can only be tackled effectively through robust cooperation Given the three-fold rise in major conflicts in recent years with the situations, in Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Kashmir and Afghanistan remaining abysmal, conflict resolution is indeed an imperative too. Secretary-General Guterres has designated peaceful resolution among his top priorities and he is attempting greater mediation. But that regional players exacerbate most ongoing conflicts, and the veto-wielding Permanent Members of the Security Council, have their favorite horses in each situation; are ensuring dilution of effort. Pakistan does not have sway over the Afghan Taliban that many think of. Nonetheless, with the recent willingness by the US to negotiate with them, there may be opportunities where Pakistan can bring to bear its influence to help forge a political settlement. FM Qureshi will likely present our role, and it will be appreciated, barring the possible hostile finger pointing by India. While we must spotlight the atrocities in Kashmir at the UN and continue to use every available forum, there is realistically very little that we can change vis-à-vis India on Kashmir at present. Our widespread negative image coupled with a favorable view of India, not least because of West’s business interests there are obstacles. For the US, it is also India’s role to balance China. As comparison, in the 2017 Debate, Myanmar was mentioned by 47 countries and Ukraine by 24. Yet no country’s conscience including that of our ‘brotherly’ Muslim countries could be jostled on the plight of Kashmir is. Regardless of whether FM covers it, one agenda that we must pursue on war footing is counter extremism. No military in recent history has proven itself as ours in eradicating the very strong bases of TTP and likeminded cohorts. Yet ideologies of countless clerics and Madaris along with poverty and lack of proper comprehensive education; continue to incubate rejectionist and violent mindsets. Prime Minister Khan’s recent surrender to the extremist groups, to remove Professor Mian from the EAC, based on his personal faith, was precisely the message that should not have been sent. The government must take on board all political parties to reinvigorate the implementation of the agreed National Action Plan. PM’s priority on tree plantation and fighting pollution is truly a breath of fresh air. Showcasing it will also get us considerable support from other countries and international agencies. However, for both environmental and cost benefits, he must also take urgent measures to lower the huge reliance on fossil fuels and increase renewables in the energy mix. While PM’s instincts on human development and governance are laudable, his initial direction on the economy is concerning. Reduction of the development budget, inability to widen the tax net and succumbing to lobbies to allow non-tax filers to purchase vehicles and property, are negative signs. They also embolden his detractors. The two most important factors, which can drastically alter Pakistan’s influence internationally, are its economic prowess and how effectively Pakistanis of all shades can be harnessed to build a true Naya Pakistan, upholding Quaid-e-Azam’s vision. As vital as the diplomacy at the UN is, it is not among the chief deficits confronting Pakistan. Setting our house in order has to be the first and foremost undertaking. The writer works on UN issues in New York Published in Daily Times, September 24th 2018.