New Delhi: To India’s relief, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held “informal consultations” behind closed doors on the Kashmir issue for the first time in nearly 50 years on Friday, but no statements were issued at the end of the meeting.
While neither India or Pakistan was allowed inside, Indian diplomats were updated by other participants. The dynamics among the P-5 were as expected – China batted for Pakistan, US and France led the drive for India, the UK surprised by leaning towards the Chinese position and Russia remained on New Delhi’s side, despite slight anxiety that they were dithering earlier.
After the meeting, the Chinese envoy was the first to come out and claim that there was a “general view” among Council members that “unilateral actions” should not be undertaken.
Shortly afterwards, the Indian envoy emerged before the media to refute him, indicating that China and Pakistan were misleading the world into thinking that the two countries were speaking on behalf of the members of the UNSC at the meeting.
The Wire has also confirmed from sources in other UNSC member states that China’s public portrayal of the proceedings was inaccurate.
The meeting, which began at around 10 am New York time lasted for about 75 minutes. All the UNSC members spoke one by one. They also received a briefing from the UN peacekeeping mission monitoring the India-Pakistan border, which has been rather volatile this week.
After the meeting, the Chinese permanent representative to the UN, Zhang Jun told reporters, “Judging from what I heard from the discussion of the Security Council members, they have serious concerns about the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir. They are also concerned about the human rights situation there”.
Implying that he was voicing the consensus reached in the room, Zhang said, “Also, it is the general will of the members that parties should refrain from taking any unilateral action which might further aggravate the tensions, since the situation is already very tense and dangerous”.
Amb. Zhang Jun speaks after Security Council consultations on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. pic.twitter.com/JmnBZyOxHv
— Chinese Mission to UN (@Chinamission2un) August 16, 2019
While Zhang claimed to speak for the “general view” of other UNSC members, he was silent on whether any follow-up step had been decided.
The Chinese ambassador stated that Kashmir was a recognised international dispute, which had to be resolved “properly in accordance with the UN charter, the relevant security council resolutions and bilateral agreements”.
He also echoed China’s August 6 statement to indicate that the Indian move also impacted Beijing directly.
“What should be pointed out is that India’s action has also challenged China’s sovereign interests and violated bilateral agreements on maintaining peace and stability at the border area. On that, China is very much seriously concerned. We wish to emphasise that such unilateral action by India is not valid in relation to China and will not change China’s sovereignty and effective jurisdiction of the territory.”
Describing India and Pakistan as China’s “friendly” neighbours, Zhang urged both to “discard zero-sum mentality”.
Zhang was followed by the Pakistan ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, who asserted that “this meeting nullifies India’s claim that Jammu and Kashmir is an internal matter for India”.
“The people of Jammu and Kashmir may be locked up, their voices may not be heard in their own homes and their own land, but their voices were heard today at the United Nations and their voices will always be heard because Pakistan will always stand by them,” she said.
After a gap of few minutes, India’s permanent representative to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin walked in and directly contradicted both the Chinese and Pakistani ambassadors.
“I am here, as, after the end of closed-door consultations, we noted that two states who made national statements tried to pass them off as the will of the international community,” Akbaruddin told the media at the stakeout.
This was clearly diplomatese used to accuse the two countries of misleading the media about the proceedings.
He pointed out that the Security Council “is provided to all by the President (of UNSC)”.
India’s clarifies ‘national position’
The Council president, Poland’s Joanna Wronecka, did not appear before the media at all. Nor was any release issued – a fact which well-suited India.
“So, if national statements try to masquerade as the will of the international community, I thought I will come across to you and explain our national position,” he said.
He repeated the government’s official position that the move to modify Article 370 was an “internal matter” aimed at “good governance” and “socio-economic development”.
Akbaruddin, a former spokesperson of the Indian ministry of external affairs, had walked into the press enclosure armed with barbs for his Chinese and Pakistani counterparts.
Describing himself as a “conventional diplomat,” he said, “I do my job, rather than add to the fire and fury of heightening tensions”.
Akbaruddin also specifically stressed that as a representative of a democracy, he would be taking questions from the media, unlike the Chinese and Pakistani ambassadors. He promised to answer five questions, but in the end, stretched himself to seven.
There was characteristic verbal rhetoric during the 20-minute-long media interaction, but Akbaruddin conspicuously did not mention any country. “We note that there were some who tried to project an alarmist approach to the situation which is far from the ground reality. Of particular concern is that one state is using the terminology of jihad against and promoting violence in India, including by the leaders”.
He asserted that India, with its legacy of the anti-apartheid struggle, did not need lessons from “international busybodies” criticising the human rights situation in Kashmir. “Our constitution is an open book. Our constitution, the legislature is an open book. Put on the TV and you will see that we have different shades of opinion in India.”
He also did not shy away from a theatrical flourish. When a Pakistani journalist asked him when bilateral dialogue could begin, he walked across to them to shake the hands of the media from the South Asian neighbour. “We have already extended our hands of friendship… let us wait for a response from the Pakistan side”.
India’s stance on peace talks with Pakistan
Expectedly, he didn’t budge from the stance of the Modi government on peace talks with Pakistan. “Stop terror to start talks,” he said, shaking a finger at a Pakistani journalist.
The Indian diplomat still had to face questions about the continued arrests and the security clampdown. To a query that the security blanket was undermining India’s image of democracy, he defended, “public order is integral to ensuring democracy prospers.. There are reasonable restrictions. We acknowledge that these are restrictions. We are easing them”.
He also referred to the Jammu and Kashmir chief secretary’s press conference at Srinagar on Friday afternoon. All major Indian missions had got instructions to widely publicise the statement that announced an easing up in restrictions. Akbaruddin claimed the Security Council in their consultations “appreciated and acknowledged these efforts”.
Friday’s discussion on the “India-Pakistan question,” at the Security Council may have been behind closed doors, but its importance also lay in the fact that the topic was brought up for the first time since December 1971. More than 47 years ago, the Bangladesh War had led to a UNSC debate on the matter, which lasted for days, before ending in the passage of a resolution calling for a ceasefire.
The senior Indian diplomat claimed that it was the “nature of the beast” that “anyone, especially parties to the dispute, can try and throw in anything for the consideration of the members of the Security Council”.
China had backed Pakistan’s August 13 letter to UNSC president for an open meeting on India’s move to change the special constitutional status of Kashmir. Pakistan had asked for an emergency session under Article 37 of the UN charter which allows any member state to approach the Security Council.
But, as the requisite nine Security Council members did not agree to the proposal for an open meeting, China changed tack on August 14 and requested for a closed-door “informal consultations”, a category of meeting with no record or outcome. The date for the first discussion under the rubric of “India-Pakistan question” in over four decades was set for Friday.
In the Security Council, the big players in the room are always the permanent five, and both Pakistan and India turned to their allies in the exclusive club.
While Pakistan had the strong diplomatic firepower of China in its corner, it was also reaching out to other countries, including an old Indian friend.
On August 14, Pakistan foreign minister S.M. Qureshi called up Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. The press release from Moscow said that Lavrov advocated for a bilateral solution.
Sources told The Wire that the Russians had informed the Indian side that Lavrov told Qureshi that they were opposed to an open meeting. But, as China had requested, they didn’t oppose the closed-door informal consultations, Russians conveyed.
Behind the scenes, the Russians were under pressure from China. A diplomatic source claimed that despite public statements, Russia had also supported China’s open meeting at New York. However, multiple Indian officials were adamant that Moscow hadn’t gone against its words.
Nonetheless, Russia’s recent embrace of China had triggered a niggle of worry among Indian diplomatic practitioners.
On Friday morning in New York, Russia’s first deputy permanent representative to UN, Dmitry Polyanskiy posted a tweet and told reporters that the Kashmir question should be addressed bilaterally.
But it was his follow-up tweet that raised eyebrows. He said that the Kashmir dispute should be resolved as per the 1972 Shimla agreement and Lahore Declaration, but also referred to the UN Charter and “relevant UN resolutions”.
Russia has not mentioned about “relevant UN resolutions” when talking about Kashmir this week, or 16 years earlier. Rather, any allusion to UN resolutions in the same sentence as Kashmir is radioactive for India, since it believes that Shimla agreement supersedes previous legal pacts. Pakistan and China have always cited UN resolutions from the 1940s as the basis for solving Kashmir dispute.
.. on the basis of Simla Agreement of 1972 and Lahore declaration of 1999, in accordance with UN Charter, relevant UN resolutions and bilateral agreements between India and Pakistan
— Dmitry Polyanskiy (@Dpol_un) August 16, 2019
There was also last-minute phone diplomacy by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who called up US President Donald Trump. The White House readout had no mention of mediation and talked of solving Kashmir as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan.
Inside the closed room at the UN headquarters, Russia did not spring any surprise but batted for India to oppose China’s proposal for a public statement. Informed observers speculated that Russia may have leaned towards China earlier, but changed its mind after seeing Beijing’s lack of support.
Indian officials alleged that the UK have voiced support for a public statement. However, other diplomatic sources with access to records of the proceedings of the Council contended that the UK had not been the villain of the play as depicted by Indian officials. They asserted that the UK may have aired some concerns about human rights in Kashmir, but had also stated that recent moves in Kashmir were India’s internal matter.
The Indian government had been already unhappy with the UK over the large raucous demonstration by Pakistanis and pro-Khalistani elements in front of the Indian high commission in London on Thursday. Participants at a pro-India rally at the same spot had claimed to have been assaulted and pelted with eggs. However, a statement from the British high commission asserted that the demonstration had been “overwhelmingly peaceful”.
Indian officials stated that three countries had actively blocked China’s plans during the one hour and 15 minutes of discussions on Friday – US, France and Russia.
Despite India playing down the importance of the meeting, the government had remained on tenterhooks. When diplomats of UNSC members trooped out of the room and the UNSC president did not speak to the media, New Delhi heaved a sigh of relief that it had escaped a public reprimand – for now.