Even accredited diplomats who have not served on the UN Security Council may not have seen the Security Council “Consultations Chamber”, which is the nearest approximation to a diplomatic torture chamber. It is a narrow room with no frills, with seats to accommodate only two delegates from each member state of the Security Council. But it is here that the most game -changing decisions affecting the entire humanity are shaped, away from the strobe lights, cameras and even note-takers. I have seen how the global architecture was redrawn in this chamber in the aftermath of a UN war in the Gulf.
Many new concepts were bitterly fought there to safeguard the sovereignty of nations and not to turn the UN into a global police unit and not to permit “Responsibility to Protect” an alibi for intervention in internal affairs of states. In the privacy of the chamber, nations, big and small, use all their powers to influence, cajole, persuade, force and threaten each other till a diplomatic way out is found either by reaching a consensus or by agreeing to disagree, by accepting a veto, if necessary. It is here that members have cast informal votes a hundred times before a Secretary General is elected unanimously.
What we see later in the ornate chamber of the Security Council is only a fraction of the sweat behind the choreographed decisions announced with decorum and courtesy. The events that took place in the chamber a day after India celebrated its Independence this year must have been true to form. Without the presence of India or Pakistan,15 nations opened their hearts to express concerns about the deteriorating situation in South Asia, contemplated the various options to end a conflict almost as old as the United Nations, weighed the most recent steps India had taken, the virulent reaction of Pakistan and the reasons given by China to take the matter to the Security Council.
But finally, the members came to the conclusion that the only way was for India and Pakistan to sit across the table and sort out the issues between them. In the 73 minutes, representing the 73 years spent on this issue, the members of the Council may have expressed their opinions, but the decision that the Council need not brief the press, issue a Presidential Statement or consider a resolution was the loudest rejection of Pakistan’s efforts to internationalise the issue. The Council did not even set a date for such talks as they knew that peace talks were not possible as long as terrorism went on unabated.
Nothing was said about the abrogation of Article 370, as they saw it as an indispensable part of building a nation with one constitution and one flag. Truly, the Security Council Meeting called by China was a blessing in disguise. In the spirit of the discussion that took place in the chamber, it was left to China, Pakistan and India to interpret the Council’s decision to say nothing. The first to speak, China’s UN envoy Zhang Jun said that UNSC members had “serious” concerns about the situation including the human rights situation.
“It is the general view of members that parties concerned should refrain from taking any unilateral action that might further aggravate the tension there,” he said. Zhang said that it was China’s view that the Kashmir issue was an international and undecided one and must be peacefully resolved in accordance with the UN charter, UNSC resolutions and bilateral agreements. “What should be pointed out is that India’s action has also challenged China’s sovereign interests and violated bilateral agreements,” Mr Zhang said. It was obvious that he was speaking for himself against the backdrop of the multitude of problems that it has created for India on the theory that an enemy’s enemy is a friend.
His protestations sounded hollow against its own struggle with its internal contradictions, as played out most recently in Hong Kong. Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi said the fact that the UNSC consultation was held signified that the issue was not internal to India and that Pakistan stands ready for a “peaceful settlement” of the dispute. “I think today this meeting nullifies India’s claim that Jammu and Kashmir is an internal matter for India. Today the whole world is discussing the occupied state and the situation there. As the Chinese ambassador emphasised, the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir, and it is an abysmal human rights situation with violations carried out with impunity by India – that too has been discussed by the Security Council today.”
Lodhi quoted Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahood Qureshi as saying that this was the first step Pakistan was taking on behalf of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. “This is the first and not the last step. It will not end here,” she said. It was clear that the message delivered by the Security Council was lost on Pakistan. They are determined to achieve with jihad what they cannot do with legal, constitutional or diplomatic means. The Indian Permanent Representative to the UN Syed Akbaruddin observed that Pakistan and China were attempting to impart greater significance to the meeting than was warranted. “After the end of the Security Council’s closed consultations, we noted that two states who made national statements tried to pass them off as the will of the international community,” Akbaruddin said.
“The Security Council is a very deliberative… institution. It works in a very considered manner. Its outcomes are provided to all of us through the [UNSC] President. So if national statements try to masquerade as the will of the international community, I thought I will come across to you too and explain our national position,” he said, adding that Article 370 is an entirely internal matter of India with no external ramifications. Akbaruddin told reporters that the abrogation of Article 370 was done to enhance good governance and socio-economic development in Jammu and Kashmir and that the UNSC consultations had taken note of this. He did not interpret the silence from the President of the Security Council, but answered questions from journalists, including from Pakistan, calmly and logically without any trace of triumphalism in his voice.
It was very clear for everyone to see who the winner of the exercise was. Akbaruddin said that India was committed to all agreements it had signed on the issue and said India would sit down to talk with Pakistan when the latter’s support for terror ceased. “Stop terror to start talks,” he said. “India's commitment to address these issues on the bilateral track has very broad acceptance globally,” Akbaruddin said, in response to a question on Russia’s view that the issue be resolved bilaterally between India and Pakistan, contrary to what Pakistan was seeking at the UN.
On concerns about human rights abuses by India in Jammu and Kashmir, he said that India had a commitment to democracy and its courts would resolve any issues. When the news that the Security Council had decided to convene on Kashmir at the behest of China, there was panic among some people as though the Security Council would behave as they did in 1948, by seeking advantages to the UN and to the permanent members by playing games. But it came out loud and clear that in the emerging global order, whose contours are yet to crystallise, every nation has a stake in stability, integrity and the rule of law.
Even the big powers, such as the US, Russia, China and France have issues to settle with their own people. Nationalism is on the rise in many countries and terrorism, secessionism and separatism can raise their ugly heads in any part of the world. In the changed context, no one is inclined to pour oil in the fire or to take on other people’s battles on themselves. By convening the meeting, China and Pakistan gave us a glimpse of the new realities to make us even more determined to proceed with integrating and strengthening the nation without the hesitations of history.