Stoking diplomatic deadwood in the hope that the embers may catch fire is a parlour game at the United Nations. One of our neighbours — Pakistan — has indulged in this for years. “The India-Pakistan Question”, inscribed on the United Nations Security Council (SC)’s agenda on January 6, 1948, was last considered by SC on November 5, 1965. Yet, on the annual requests of Pakistan, the item has remained an inert part of the Council’s formal agenda. These requests are followed by sundry communications, in a bid to stir the pot. They are circulated and filed. No one is bothered. Then, in August 2019, following changes to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)’s special status provided in the Indian Constitution, China weighed in favour of its “iron brother” and initiated what was akin to a diplomatic “two-front war”.
Using its perch on the Council, China took over the driver’s seat of this venture. Since China did not have the requisite majority to call for a formal meeting, it requested an informal consultation. China proposed a draft outcome statement and lobbied for support. The tussle was transformed into one between a Permanent Member of the Council — China; and a non-member of the Council — India. Pakistan was the cat’s paw in the equation.
The duo threw everything into the fray. They argued along the following three axes. Contrary to previous Council decisions, India changed the status quo, violating international law. The change resulted in large-scale human rights violations, leading to a serious humanitarian situation. This, along with India’s military assertiveness along the Line of Control constituted a threat to international peace and security. The Council, which is responsible for maintenance of international peace and security, needed to respond.
The same talk that we hear now on India-China issues was voiced then. Can India take on an economy five times its size? Can actions evoking criticism domestically be shielded from global scrutiny? Will a global power, which had sewn up vast swathes with its Belt and Road Initiative, not get broad support against a mid-sized delegation with limited resources?
A blow-by-blow account is left for another time. Suffice it to say that then, as now, hubris of global overreach was on display. Then, as now, quiet diplomacy was in play. Then, as now, despite the disparity in the power equation, some stay silent. Then, as now, key partners weigh in our favour. The closed-door outcome was better than expected. The public diplomacy victory was the icing on the cake.
More efforts — including one earlier this week — have been made. These follow a slightly different tack. Pakistan writes a letter to the president of the Council. China follows up to raise the matter during closed, informal consultations under “Any Other Business”. The “pinprick” doesn’t yield anything, as overwhelmingly, others aren’t interested. The rubric “Any Other Business” can be used by anyone, to raise anything. Some have used it to prick China about Hong Kong, and in course of discussions also referred to the treatment of Uighurs. Others target Russia by raising matters not on the active agenda. In short, failed “pinpricks” are par for the course. Our overcoming such efforts provides useful “lessons learnt”.