By Ahmed Bilal Mehboob
Ordinarily, the election of a country as President of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) should be a routine affair and not merit much discussion but there are reasons that the recent election of India to this coveted position for the month of August is being debated.
UNSC is arguably the most powerful organ of the UN system and comprises 5 permanent and 10 non-permanent members. Every year, 193 members of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) elect 5 of the 10 non-permanent members of the UNSC.
The non-permanent seats are allocated to various regions of the world; the largest number of seats- five- are allocated to the Afro-Asian block, two to Latin America and the Caribbean, one each to East Europe and West Europe and other regions. Each year, regional blocs develop consensus to pick their candidates unanimously. Generally, the unanimous candidates of regional blocks easily get elected by the UNGA.
India has so far been elected as member of UNSC eight times, the latest being for the term 2021-23. Interestingly, Pakistan has also been elected as a member of UNSC seven times and plans to seek membership again in 2025.
Indian candidacy for the current term of UNSC membership was endorsed by 55-member Asia-Pacific group at the UN. This is the largest regional block and includes Pakistan and China as well. Neither of the two countries opposed Indian candidacy in the group because of diplomatic compulsions. Likewise, India had not opposed candidacy of Pakistan for UNSC membership in the Group in the past. India needed 129 votes to get elected to the Security Council which represents two-third of the total UNGA membership but it secured 184 votes leaving only nine countries which did not vote for India.
Presidency of UNSC is assumed by its members by rotation in alphabetical order for a one-month term. Once a country is elected to UNSC, it is only a matter of time that it becomes its President.
There are several reasons why Indian presidency has been so talked about and commented upon in Pakistan. First, the state of relations between the two countries have never been worse during peace time.
The abrogation of special constitutional status for Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir and the subsequent crackdown in the valley in 2019 made matters much worse. It mobilized an intense public backlash in Pakistan. This is the reason strong objections were raised in Pakistan when it joined 55 other countries of the Asia-Pacific group to endorse the Indian bid for UNSC membership in 2019. The Pakistani foreign office had a hard time explaining the diplomatic compulsions of such a decision.
Second, Jammu and Kashmir is a territory disputed between Pakistan and India and this disputed nature is recognized by the UN through several resolutions of the Security Council passed in and around 1948. There is an apprehension in Pakistan that India, using its position as president of UNSC, may try to dilute the disputed status although it is highly unlikely that such a big step can be maneuvered by India during the short period of one month.
Third, India, as President of UNSC has unveiled plans to hold three important discussions on counter terrorism, peacekeeping and maritime security. It is apprehended in Pakistan that India will use its position to whip Pakistan in the context of counter terrorism. In the recent past, India has admitted using its influence to hurt Pakistan in FATF by keeping Pakistan on the grey list. China also feels that discussion on maritime security may be used to malign it in the context of rising tensions in the South China Sea between US and China.
Last, India has been lobbying for a long time for permanent membership of UNSC which is strongly opposed by Pakistan. There are apprehensions that India, as president of the SC, will add further momentum to its campaign.
Benefits may accrue to India because of the prestigious office of Security Council Presidency. Its international standing will definitely receive a boost but it is unlikely that any substantial damage may be caused to its adversaries such as Pakistan and China not only because the period of the presidency is too short but also because India will need the support of many other countries for this purpose which may not be available.
It is therefore very apt summing up by Ambassador Munir Akram, permanent Pakistani representative at the UN that Pakistan will remain watchful of Indian moves during its presidency but not much concerned.
(The writer is the president of Pakistan-based think tank, PILDAT; Tweets at @ABMPildat)