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Opinion

India gets support but Pakistan unhurt

India is overjoyed by a Press Statement issued by the UN Security Council on Feb 22, 2019 on Pulwama. It contains many words of condemnation of terrorism, which are music to our ears and our Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Akbaruddin deserves full credit for this diplomatic success. The following excerpts are particularly pleasing for India.

"The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the heinous and cowardly suicide bombing in Jammu and Kashmir, which resulted in over 40 Indian paramilitary forces dead and dozens wounded on February 14, 2019, for which Jaish-e-Mohammed has claimed responsibility."

"The members of the Security Council underlined the need to hold perpetrators, organisers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism accountable and bring them to justice, and urged all States, in accordance with their obligations under international law and relevant Security Council resolutions, to cooperate actively with the Government of India and all other relevant authorities in this regard.”

"The members of the Security Council reaffirmed that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.”

"Acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed".

However, on careful analysis of the form and substance of the statement, it will be seen that though the Secirity Council went as far as it could, the statement protects Pakistan as much as it condemns the acts of terrorism, by using the language that even Pakistan had accepted in the past. Pakistan has no qualms in condemning terrorism “regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed".

The strong words used to condemn the attack, not the attacker, are harmless and the mention of Jaish-e-Mohammed is in the context of it having claimed responsibility. The Security Council did not make a judgment on the criminality of the terrorist organisation. Similarly, the exhortation to all states to cooperate actively with India has no operational value. In other words, the statement represents the extent to which the Council could go without naming or hurting Pakistan.

The significance of the statement is that China has made no reservation on the statement, but that is precisely because Islamabad could live with it. China has already played down the significance of mentioning Jaish-e-Mohammad. saying the mention of the Pakistan-based outfit was only in general terms and does not represent a judgment. The real test will come when France and Russia will move a resolution in the relevant Committee to list Azhar as a terrorist. Most probably the Chinese will not relent on this issue. They will say that JeM has already been declared a terrorist organisation and that there is no consensus in the Committee to name any individual. That will bring us back to square one.

As for form, a Press Statement by the Council is the lowest of the three ways in which the Security Council pronounces itself. The highest form is to pass a resolution of the Security Council. Below that is a Presidential Statement, which carries less weight. The Press Statement is a general sense of the Council without any commitment to each word that is written in it.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres too had strongly condemned the terror attack and called for those behind the attack to be brought to justice. The next day, Guterres once again reiterated his strong condemnation of the Pulwama attack, stressing that it is essential that there should be accountability under international law and perpetrators of terrorist acts be brought swiftly to justice.

"The Secretary-General has been following with great concern the situation in South Asia. He reiterates his strong condemnation of the terrorist attack against Indian security forces in Pulwama" in JK and the subsequent violence, a statement issued by his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric had said.

He said it is "essential that there be accountability under international law and the perpetrators of terrorist acts be brought swiftly to justice".

At the same time, Guterres "urgently" appealed to the governments of both India and Pakistan to exercise maximum restraint to ensure the situation does not further deteriorate.

"It is the belief of the Secretary-General that all difficult challenges can be resolved peacefully and satisfactorily through meaningful mutual engagement," the statement added.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet had also strongly condemned the suicide bomb attack and called on authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

Pakistan may be uncomfortable with some of these statements, but they have no reason to feel isolated. Diplomacy is the art of the possible and isolating any country is not on the possibility list. Our success so far should be seen against this constraint.

The Saudi Crown Prince also made statements true to form from the Indian soil, which he visited a day after he had pledged eternal friendship to his traditional ally, Pakistan. The usual formula in such cases is to say privately that one is a brother and the other a friend. It is clearly known that brothers will remain brothers forever, while friends are not necessarily permanent. According to a Polish joke, “friends you can choose, brothers you cannot.” In such cases, we should console ourselves that it could have been worse, if we had not taken special care to cultivate the mighty Crown Prince

Even China has not attributed the Pulwama attack to any act of omission or commission by India. As long as countries do not make any such accusation, India can take comfort in the international reaction. The problem will arise only if, encouraged by the statements, we take any retributive action against Pakistan. The call for mutual restraint will then be louder than the assertion of our right to act in self defence against terrorism.