Jaishankar Skips C Word at UN but Says Response to Terrorism Can’t Be Based on ‘Political Convenience’

At the UN General Assembly plenary, the Indian external affairs minister said that response to terrorism cannot be based on “political convenience”. Canadian's permanent representative to the UN Bob Rae said that rules for relations between countries cannot be subverted for “political expediency”.

New Delhi: Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar on Tuesday didn’t directly mention Canada and the diplomatic spat over killing of a Canadian citizen at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Tuesday, but buttressed that terrorism and extremism cannot be fought as per “political convenience” and that respect for territorial integrity cannot be exercise in “cherry-picking”.

In his speech at the UNGA plenary, the minister chose to avoid directly contesting Canada’s allegations, seeking refuge instead in boiler plate observations about terrorism and double standards – comments that India makes every year. When the MEA realised that some TV channels were reporting that Jaishankar’s speech was aimed at Pakistan and China, senior officials rushed to convey that the minister’s target was in fact Canada and the United States.

Beginning his speech with a “Namaste from Bharat”, Jaishankar stated that only a few countries shape the agenda and define norms of the international systems, despite advocacy of a rules-based order and talk of respect of UN Charter. “This cannot go on indefinitely. Nor will it continue to go unchallenged,” he said. “A fair, equitable and democratic order will surely emerge, once we all put our minds to it. And for a start, that means ensuring that rule makers do not subjugate rule takers. After all, rules will work only when they apply equally to all.”

Jaishankar said that the “power of markets should not be utilized to steer food and energy from the needy to the wealthy” and neither should the international community allow “an injustice like vaccine apartheid to recur”.

Similarly, the Indian minister stated that should there be tolerance for double standards in combatting terrorism. “Nor must we countenance that political convenience determines responses to terrorism, extremism and violence. Similarly, respect for territorial integrity and non-interference in internal affairs cannot be exercises in cherry-picking,” he said.

Last year, Jaishankar raised the issue of the ‘politicisation’ of UNSC’s 1267 sanctions committee in the context of counter-terrorism challenges. “Those who politicise the UNSC 1267 Sanctions regime, sometimes to the extent of defending proclaimed terrorists, do so at their own peril. Believe me, they advance neither their own interests nor indeed their reputation,” he said in September 2022, ten days after China put a hold on the proposal to impose sanctions on Lashkar-e-Toiba supremo Sajjad Mir. Then too, China was not mentioned by name.

Since Jaishankar’s speech on Tuesday took place in the shadow of Canada’s allegations, it would be correct to assume that he is referring to the matter, even though he has repeatedly raised the issue of double standards in fighting terrorism several times.

After Canada expelled an Indian diplomat, India did the same to a Canadian official in a tit-for-tat measure. India has also suspended visa operations for Canadian nationals and asked the Canadian high commission to downsize.

The Ministry of External Affairs, through its spokesperson, has, so far, given two press releases and one briefing that dealt with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegations. India had dismissed the accusations and asserted that the main issue was that Canada had refused to take action to stop the activities of Khalistani groups.

At the same time, all the foreign ministers of the five-eyes countries have spoken publicly over the past week, indicating that India should join the investigation and called for accountability. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken asserted that the concept of “transnational repression” was unacceptable, highlighting that Washington was “collaborating” with Canada. Australian foreign minister Penny Wong said that she had raised the “serious” allegations with the Indian side.

Both the US and Australia have repeatedly asked India to join the investigation. The MEA spokesperson had pointed out India was willing to look at “specific information”, but that nothing had been shared so far.

UK foreign secretary James Cleverly carefully phrased his concerns, but acknowledged the gravity of the allegations. Even the smallest member of the Five Eyes alliance, New Zealand, had its foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta express her unease. She stated that if the reports proved accurate, it would raise “serious concerns”.

Before the UNGA plenary, their Indian counterpart, Jaishankar, had not made any statement, even indirectly.

As The Wire had noted, Jaishankar’s silence for a week during the latest diplomatic crisis was striking since he is known for robustly defending against foreign criticism and all his counterparts had made public remarks urging India to take the allegations seriously.

The Wire also pointed out that Jaishankar would have two opportunities to address the questions – one during the UNGA plenary and again when he goes to Washington on Wednesday.

The US envoy to Canada has already stated that input from the Five Eyes countries had informed Trudeau’s allegations made in parliament on September 18. There has been no public response from India to the remarks by the US envoy to Canada.

Later, the Canadian permanent representative to the United Nations, Bob Rae also did not mention the diplomatic fracas with India by name. However, he pointedly noted that one “cannot bend the rules of state-to-state relations for political expediency”.

Referring to the need to “uphold the values of free and democratic societies”, he asserted, “We cannot bend the rules of state-to-state relations for political expediency, because we’ve seen and continue to see the extent to which democracies are under threat through various means of foreign interference”.

While Jaishankar spoke that response to terrorism cannot be based on “political convenience”, the Canadian diplomat said that rules for relations between countries cannot be subverted for “political expediency”.

Similarly, while Rae said that the international rules-based system was under threat, Jaishankar said that norms are still being shaped by a small club and the rules applied unevenly across countries. 

“The truth is, if we don’t adhere to the rules that we’ve agreed to, the very fabric of our open and free societies may tear,” said the senior Canadian diplomat.

In the rest of the speech, Jaishankar praised India’s advocacy for concerns of the Global South, especially as chair of the G-20 summit.

While not mentioning the Ukraine war, he said that the world is witnessing an exceptional period of turmoil. “As it is, structural inequities and uneven development have imposed burdens on the Global South. But stresses have been aggravated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the repercussions of ongoing conflicts, tensions and disputes. As a result, socio-economic gains of recent years have been rolled back,” he said.

Jaishankar also noted that the G-20 summit resulted in a declaration despite geo-political divisions. “At a time when East-West polarisation is so sharp and North-South divide so deep, the New Delhi Summit also affirms that diplomacy and dialogue are the only effective solutions. The international order is diverse and we must cater for divergences, if not differences. The days when a few nations set the agenda and expected others to fall in line are over,” he said.