‘Even the most appropriate responses will neither shame Pakistan, nor convince others about the genuineness of our position.’
‘If we ignore Pakistan and direct our energies to more important issues at the UN, our position against internationalising Kashmir would be strengthened,’ says Ambassador T P Sreenivasan.
East River in Manhattan is the venue of spectacular fireworks on important national occasions. The United Nations next door has its own fireworks occasionally, but they are not heard outside the building, though they reverberate around the world if the big powers are involved.
The blistering attack by President Donald Trump on North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela in his maiden speech at the General Debate this year was one such event.
When North Korea called it “dog barking”, a low point was reached in diplomatic etiquette. It reminded the world of the day in 1960 when the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, pulled out his shoe and banged it on the UN lectern.
India and Pakistan engage in pyrotechnics every year, but they have become ritualistic and none other than the two countries get involved. This year, a young Indian diplomat, Eenam Gambhir, has immortalised herself as the author of ‘Terroristan’, an appropriate appellation for a State exporting terrorism.
Over the last several years, many Indian diplomats have become adept in finding adages for Pakistan and the Indian media has been celebrating them. Pakistani diplomats and media do the same.
Having drafted, read out or followed the exchanges with Pakistan in the UN since 1980, I am convinced that the annual India-Pakistan pyrotechnics on the East River in Manhattan serve no purpose except as amusement to the bored delegates at the end of a day of long and repetitive speeches.
They also sharpen the drafting and delivery skills of our young diplomats.
The exchanges contradict our fundamental position that Kashmir is a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan. On the contrary, Pakistan has an agenda to raise the issue at every forum and we help them by responding to their fulminations.
No other delegation says a word, not even to urge the two countries to engage in negotiations. Many of them merely tell both Indian and Pakistani delegations that each had won the debate.
Every year, the Indian delegation has two challenges to face. One is to ensure that the Secretary General’s report does not contain any reference to Jammu and Kashmir and if it does, the reference should be as inane as possible.
Every year, the Permanent Representative would brief the Secretary General and his staff early in the year and try to persuade them not to make any reference to Kashmir in his Annual Report.
But the success rate had been rather low, particularly after Boutros Ghali had become the Secretary General. After the end of the Cold War, he had felt that he could behave like a General and not merely as a Secretary General.
But he was sensitive to India’s concerns and made the references as innocuous as possible.
At the same time, Pakistan used to make demarches for as strong a reference as possible as the funding for the peace keeping force in Kashmir (UNMOGIP) had to be passed in the General Assembly every year.
The second challenge was to decide on whether to reply to Pakistan on Kashmir and if so, at what level and in what language. One could gauge the temperature of the relations between the two countries by reading the speeches the two made in the General Assembly.
The brainstorming in Delhi and New York were intense each time. In the eighties, there were occasions when Indian and Pakistani delegates used to exchange texts in advance to keep the temperature low.
One decision we took somewhere down the line was to make a junior diplomat reply to Pakistan. But in certain years, the ‘junior diplomat’ happened to be the Deputy Permanent Representative, who enjoyed ambassadorial rank in the mission.
In more recent years, the junior most diplomat exercises the right of reply in as harsh and picturesque a language as permitted. Virtually every member of the mission contributes sentences and phrases to the speeches.
This year, the exchange reflected the reality of the situation on the ground when India called Pakistan ‘Terroristan’ and Pakistan called India the ‘mother of all terrorism.’
In its anxiety to embarrass India, the Permanent Representative of Pakistan went to the extent of holding up a picture of a victim of bombing in Palestine and saying that it was a Kashmiri freedom fighter brutally attacked by India.
The Indian delegation naturally went to town to expose the outright lie of Pakistan with a well researched reply, which embarrassed Pakistan no end. "The Permanent Representative of Pakistan misled this assembly by displaying this picture to spread falsehoods about India. A fake picture to push a completely false narrative," said Paulomi Tripathi, the designated Indian delegate.
In view of the "cynical and misleading attempt" by Pakistan, India, she said, was constrained to show the "real picture of pain inflicted by the nefarious designs of Pakistan".
Apart from establishing that the picture held up by Pakistan was from Palestine, she also held up a picture of Umar Fayaz, a Kashmiri, who had gone to his cousin's wedding in south Kashmir's Kulgam, but was dragged out by three terrorists, tortured and killed.
His bullet-ridden body was found the next day. The murder, meant to deter young Kashmiris from integrating with the mainstream, had evoked outrage across the nation. The whole Pakistan delegation looked red-faced for a while, but no damage was done to it as it is recognised in the UN that all is fair in love and war.
To say Pakistan was isolated in the bargain is only wishful thinking.
This year’s India-Pakistan exchange was the most ‘no holds barred’ one in recent years. The lowest remark I remember hearing from Pakistan came from the Pakistani Deputy Permanent Representative who called India ‘the sick man of Asia’, in an obvious reference to the then Indian minister for external affairs, who came to speak at the UN General Assembly, was sick and could not move about without assistance.
We were careful not to respond to such personal attacks.
The delegates at the UN enjoy these exchanges like watching fireworks without getting hurt by the sparks. They are also amused that the Indian and Pakistan delegates are friendly to each other even when fierce exchanges take place in the halls of the UN.
I remember an occasion when I was crossing swords with Deputy Permanent Representative, Munir Akram of Pakistan, in one of the Committees and the then Foreign Secretary, JN Dixit, and the Permanent Representative, Hamid Ansari, were following it from the visitors’ gallery.
My colleagues, having heard about the ongoing exchange, made a beeline to the Committee. All of them had to pass the Pakistan desk before they could reach the Indian one and each of them paused and exchanged greetings with the Pakistani delegates, who also had assembled in the room.
The Foreign Secretary was enraged by this insensitive approach and sent me a slip asking me to send out all the Indian delegates out of the room. What would the others think of the seriousness of the discussion if our delegates behaved like this, he asked.
The time has come for us to take a hard look at the whole issue of exchanges with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue at the UN. It is only natural for the Indian blood to boil when we hear false claims and allegations against us. But even the most appropriate responses will neither shame Pakistan, nor convince others about the genuineness of our position.
On the other hand, if we were to ignore Pakistan and direct our energies to more important issues at the UN, our position against internationalisation would be strengthened and Pakistan might eventually give up the present tactic of provoking us to debate Kashmir in every forum of the UN.
T P Sreenivasan, (IFS 1967) is former Ambassador of India and Governor for India of the IAEA Chairman, Academic Council and Director, NSS Academy of Civil Services, Director General, Kerala International Centre.
Image: Paulomi Tripathi, first secretary at the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations, said Pakistan misled the General Assembly by displaying a fake picture to spread falsehood about India. Photograph: Twitter@meaindia.