Has UN chief washed his hands of Kashmir dispute?

Updated February 26, 2019

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The shadow of a Kashmiri protestor throwing stones at Indian soldiers on a wall marked with an anti-India graffiti. — Photo by Showkat Nanda/File
The shadow of a Kashmiri protestor throwing stones at Indian soldiers on a wall marked with an anti-India graffiti. — Photo by Showkat Nanda/File

NEW YORK: To all intents and purposes, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres appears to have washed his hands of making further efforts to promote a dialogue between India and Pakistan that would pave the way for the resolution of the internationally-recognised Kashmir dispute that continues to spawn tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

Obviously, he is under great pressure from India not to get involved on Kashmir. India’s strategic relations with the United States also strengthen New Delhi’s voice and the role at the UN. The Indians don’t want any UN or outside meddling in the Kashmir dispute and have been unsuccessfully trying to take it off the agenda of the Security Council, which has passed a series of resolutions since 1948 that promised self-determination to the Kashmiris.

On Jan 18, when asked at his new year press conference about his failure to promote a dialogue between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan to settle their outstanding disputes, the UN chief said something that some analysts took it to mean that he was actually abandoning his efforts in that direction. “I’ve been offering my good offices in relation to the dialogue between the two countries that, until now, had no conditions of success,” a frustrated Gutteress said.

But promoting a comprehensive settlement of the Kashmir dispute is Guterres’ primary responsibility — there are UN resolutions calling for the exercise of the right of self-determination by Kashmiri people through a UN-supervised plebiscite.

Even when India was beating war drums in the wake of the Feb 14 Pulwama attack, Gutteres only called for restraint on both sides, saying his good offices were available — knowing fully well that India won’t accept the offer.

Offer of good offices is not the only option a UN secretary general in a situation threatening international peace and security. He/she can use diplomatic skills and power of persuasion to convince belligerents to come to the negotiating table. Worse, the secretary general has the option under the UN Charter to report the issue to the Security Council. Article 99 of the Charter says, “The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”

Frantic letters from Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi urging the UN chief play a role in defusing the escalating tensions stemming from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s threats to teach Pakistan a lesson also failed to move him. “It’s disappointing. The inaction on part of UN makes it look bad,” an Asian diplomat said.

Over the years, Indian diplomats have been aggressively campaigning to knock the ‘K’ word out of UN documents and to prevent any discussion of the dispute in various international fora, leaving Pakistan the only country to raise the issue. There was a time when more than a dozen countries used to speak in support of Kashmiris’ right to self-determination after the Kashmir dispute was raised by Pakistan in the annual sessions of the UN General Assembly. Not any more.

But then Pakistan had in its line-up some outstanding practitioners of the art of diplomacy who framed effective narratives for the country. At one stage Pakistan was named as one of the seven power brokers at the United Nations by The New York Times. Now Pakistan’s role has declined following unstable situation at home, and allegations of the country’s links with terrorist groups, especially the Haqqani network and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

So much so that in 2011, Pakistan, which in 1975 defeated India to secure a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, just managed to scrape through in 2011 while contesting against Kyrgyzstan. Also, Pakistan’s points of view went abegging during Nawaz Sharif’s government, which had no foreign minister, and the prime minister, who kept the portfolio with him, had serious problems in communicating in English with world leaders and international media representatives.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2019