- India may have decided against talking to Pakistan on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly that is convening this month for its annual session in New York. But Delhi’s messy relationship with Islamabad will continue to draw headlines in the Subcontinent at the expense of India’s other engagements at the UN.
Pakistan and India mattered on the world stage:
- There was a time when the voices of both Pakistan and India mattered on the world stage
- India’s political voice mattered a lot at the UN even when its economic weight was rather limited
- Today, despite its growing economic salience and expanding global footprint, India seems obsessed with a few issues rather than engage with the unfolding structural changes in the international system
- Pakistan was a key member of the Western alliance system in Asia
- Islamabad rightly saw itself as a pragmatic Islamic nation capable of exercising influence in the Middle East and acting as a bridge between America and China, which did not have diplomatic relations with each other
- Today, Pakistan’s diminished diplomacy plods on about the Kashmir issue and revels in provoking India into a public argument.
India’s situation is even more tragic:
- India’s situation is even more tragic. India’s political voice mattered a lot at the UN, many moons ago, when its economic weight was rather limited. Today, despite its growing economic salience and expanding global footprint, India seems obsessed with a few issues rather than engage with the unfolding structural changes in the international system.
- Delhi persists with the futile quest for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council when all indications are that it is unlikely to happen
- Delhi has also devoted far too much energy in the pursuit of the international convention against terrorism that is unlikely to do very much in addressing India’s security challenges
- If India looks beyond Pakistan, terrorism and a seat at the UNSC, it will find much to discuss and reflect upon with its partners
Three issues stand out:
- The question of sovereignty and multilateralism
- If defending sovereignty was the theme song of India’s UN diplomacy since the end of the Cold War, it is President Donald Trump who has appropriated it now
- Since he took charge, Trump has walked out of the Paris agreement on climate change, withdrew from the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the UN Human Rights Council, and threatened the International Criminal Court with punitive actions
- He insists that he will not let multilateral organisations restrain America’s pursuit of its national interests
- Global trade
- While India’s rhetoric at the UN remains steeped in the old verities of the so-called “global South”, Trump is threatening to pull out of the World Trading Organisation and choking its dispute-settlement mechanism, again in the name of sovereignty
- Key trading nations are already beginning to respond with proposals for reform
- Repositioning in Gulf
- Trump is making big moves in the Middle East that breaks away from the conventional thinking on the region
- He has junked the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran and is trying to construct a new Middle East Security Alliance of Arab nations threatened by Iran
Way forward for India
- For India, this is not a question of taking formal positions on these issues
- The geopolitics of the Gulf region where India has massive economic and political stakes is undergoing unprecedented change along with the world trading system and the nature of multilateralism
- India’s diplomatic engagements at the UN this year should be about crafting a new strategy to address these challenges.