On Friday 21 October Pakistan was elected to the all powerful Security Council at the United Nations (UN) in New York with 129 votes. The majority of two-thirds, one just barely achieved, was sufficient to secure Pakistan its seat in the Council without any re-polling. However, what rankled Pakistani diplomats was that 55 UN member States had voted for its rival candidate Kyrgyzstan in the full knowledge that the Central Asian state did not stand any chance of getting elected. Their votes were thus a symbolic rejection of Pakistan. Given Pakistan’s recent sad state of relations with formal allies, suspicions focused on the West. It was made abundantly clear however, by the Indians that, that India was not among them. That will augur well for regional amity. India is already in the Council for two years, one of which will coincide with Pakistani membership. So are we now to see their bitter rivalry shifted to the Security Council scene in distant New York?
Unlikely. On the contrary, we may be in the cusp of a year of rare display of Indo-Pak amity in the Security Council , which has in the past been the kurukshetra of diplomatic battles between the two South Asian, now nuclear-armed, protagonists. To what is this remarkable turn of events owed? First, the unusually close personal rapport between the two envoys, Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri of India and Ambassador Abdullah Haroon of Pakistan. Puri, wisely sensing the inevitability of Pakistan’s election, followed the ‘relax and enjoy’ dictum and obtained New Delhi’s support for it early enough for Pakistan’s gratitude. Haroon has appreciated this gesture, in private and in public. Second, it is a fact that on many issues India and Pakistan have common positions, and India’s behavior-pattern in the Council this past year has not at all been reflective of a US client. True, Pakistan will perhaps tend to tow the China-line, given the critical nature of their structural bilateral linkages, but it is also a fact that if there is any forum in which the Chinese conform to Deng Tsiao Bing’s ‘hide your capabilities and bide your time line’, it is the Security Council. As yet China and India have not seriously crossed swords on its floor. Third, both India and Pakistan have a common interest in tweaking the global nuclear non-proliferation regime, the Non Proliferation Treaty, in order to accommodate their new status. This will call for close collaboration. So, we are not about to see any fireworks in the Council between these two major South Asian actors in the coming year. But does that mean the Missions of India and Pakistan will lead their respective Ministries and countries into a new golden era of warmth and cooperation?
Not likely, either. There are palpable reasons for it. First, in some ways the two Missions in New York have surged ahead, and their enthusiasm is likely to be restrained, if not curbed, by bureaucrats and politicians at home, whose mindsets may not have undergone any significant transformation. Second, on issues closer to the region, such as Afghanistan, the differences remain, and given the circumstances, may rise to the fore in future Council deliberations. Third, in Pakistan most key foreign policy issues, relating to India and Afghanistan, for instance, are controlled by its powerful armed forces. The UN is not seen by them as a priority, but only relevant to peace-keeping participation of their soldiers, and to that extent they will be willing to pander to the New York Mission, but not for much else. Also the Indian diplomats in New York are not yet in a position to deliver to their political masters in New Delhi the ultimate prize, Pakistan’s support to India for its permanent seat.
Where does that leave us? Yes, we are not about to witness any earth shaking changes in Indo-Pak relations because of their mutual chumminess at the United Nations. Still their diplomats in New York have undoubtedly set a positive tone, and in many ways an example worthy of emulation by their compatriots at home.
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