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Kashmir once again playing out as diplomatic theatre at the United Nations

By W Waqas Jan

Friday’s closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council on Jammu and Kashmir marked the first time in over 50 years since the issue was discussed at the world’s foremost diplomatic forum. This issue which has long remained at the center of India Pakistan tensions recently received fresh impetus following India’s unilateral decision to withdraw the special status awarded to the region. This was followed by a widespread clampdown in the form of an indefinite curfew as well as a media and communications blackout that is currently in its second week. 

Consequently, the above mentioned UNSC meeting on Kashmir forms a key component of Pakistan’s diplomatic offensive following India’s actions. As such, it represents a highly interesting case of diplomatic theatre where the anticipation of possibly resolving or bringing about at least some semblance of positivity to a long-festering conflict has generated considerable interest the world over. This includes interest from both the international media as well as several observers and diplomats as a possible precedent for a consensus driven approach to conflict resolution in general. 

However, the lack of any meaningful outcome or even a joint statement directly arising out of this meeting has led to an almost perverse battle of sorts over optics and narrative between key stakeholders, which aims to leverage the UN’s significance as a platform for international consensus. Especially with a view towards placating an international audience’s expectations of what is just or right, the absence of a joint statement following this meeting has led to a vacuum that has resulted in even greater discord regarding this issue. Thus, instead of a collective decision or stance taken on the issue by the UNSCC, what was instead witnessed was China and Pakistan presenting their cases for international mediation at one end, and India insisting on the issue remaining an internal matter at the other.  This for instance was clear in the press statements given by each of these countries’ representatives following the end of the UNSC meeting. 

Against a backdrop of the UN Security Council and speaking in a microphone carrying the white on blue letters of the ‘UN’, Chinese ambassador Zhang Jun was the first to state that all the UNSC members were gravely concerned at the human rights situation in Kashmir and that there was general agreement that all parties concerned should refrain from taking any unilateral action that might aggravate the situation further. He went on to state that as per China’s stance on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, the status of Kashmir was still undecided and that it should be resolved via peaceful means in accordance with the UN charter, the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions as well as the bilateral resolutions pertaining to it. 

Pakistan’s representative to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi whose remarks closely followed the Chinese Ambassador thanked China for lending assistance in her country’s request for calling the UNSC meeting. She pointed out that the fact that the meeting was held was itself a major diplomatic victory and that the voice of the Kashmiri people, despite all attempts to silence it was heard at the world’s highest diplomatic forum. She stated that this meeting was the first step taken as part of a protracted and drawn out struggle for justice for the Kashmiri people which Pakistan remained fully and vociferously committed to. 

Considering how both the Chinese and Pakistani ambassadors while speaking in quick succession nearly echoed each other’s policy stances on this issue, it was as if they might as well have written each other’s statements themselves. Many observers in the media had later pointed out that the statement given by the Chinese ambassador was in fact a version of a potential joint statement that was to be ideally given by the president of the UNSC. However, since other P5 members had raised reservations regarding its wording and assumptions of the UN’s role in mediating the conflict, it was presented instead by Ambassador Jung as China’s position on the matter, to which Ambassador Lodhi had voiced her approval.  

Both their stances however stood poles apart from the statement given by India’s permanent representative to the UN, Mr. Syed Akbaruddin. Given after a brief interlude to the previous two statements, Mr. Akbaruddin explained how following China and Pakistan’s statements he was self-admittedly compelled to present his own country’s stance on the matter. The gist of it was that India’s move to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s Special Status was wholly an internal matter. That it remained committed to resolving its issues with other countries bilaterally and that it was saddened by Pakistan’s approach of using violent jihad and terrorism as a precursor to any potential negotiations. In a characteristic show of one-upmanship that has remained a hallmark of India and Pakistan’s interactions at the UN, Mr. Akbaruddin also made a flamboyant point of taking questions from Pakistani journalists with whom he at one point even came forward and shook hands with as a gesture of his country’s willingness to engage with Pakistan.  All while repeating India’s decade old stance that Pakistan stop terror in order to initiate talks. 

Yet, considering the stage, setting and timing of the situation at hand, what the audience of journalists was in the end left with was a shrewd and knowing diplomat presenting a clear denial of the spirit of the UN. While employing his best smoke and mirrors it was evident that the press conference was being used by Mr. Akbaruddin as an opportunity to distract, disguise and deflect international opinion from the issue at hand. In essence, it presented another example of one of the many slick PR driven spectacles that are passed on for diplomacy at the UN these days.

Yet, considering the lack of unity from the UNSC, and China and Pakistan having already attempted to leverage the stage and setting, can one really blame him?For an organization that once embodied upholding the ideals of peace, justice and equality as its very raison d’être, it is extremely disappointing to see the UN’s own inaction and passivity reducing it to being nothing more than mere spectacle. Especially during a time where the world is increasingly plagued by strife and discord, seeing Kashmir being reduced to just another metaphor for such issues speaks volumes of the lack of direction and principles guiding global leadership in our world today. 

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M Waqas Jan

M Waqas Jan is a Research Associate and Program Coordinator for the China Study & Information Centre (CS & IC) at the Strategic Vision Institute, a non-partisan think tank based out of Islamabad.

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