With the Kashmir Valley facing one of its worst crises since militancy in the 1990s and the Indian Army facing one of the worst terror attacks in Uri, and after Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif's tirade on Kashmir during his United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) speech, the world will be watching External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as she addresses the UNGA.
At 7.30 pm IST on Monday, Swaraj is expected to deliver a stinging response to Sharif's address, who asked the UNGA to take steps to demilitarise the Valley. Sharif's address, which came soon after rising tensions in Jammu and Kashmir following the Uri attacks, hailed the slain Hizbul commander Burhan Wani as a freedom fighter and claimed that Kashmiris want freedom from India. Sharif reminded the UNGA of its commitment to holding a free and fair plebiscite in Kashmir and called Pakistan a 'victim of terrorism'.
The Narendra Modi government came under immense pressure after the Uri attacks as pressure mounted on the Centre to give a befitting reply to Pakistan for brazenly sponsoring terrorism across the border. Despite the clamour, the Modi government held its own and decided to opt out of military offensive and resolved to pursue an active diplomatic offensive route at the UNGA meet where Swaraj addresses the Assembly.
This isn't Swaraj's first rodeo and Modi seems to be sending his best to trample on Pakistan's claims on Kashmir on the world stage. Right after the Uri attacks, at a high-level meeting chaired by the prime minister himself, Modi and his trusted team of ministers (Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Manohar Parrikar and NSA Ajit Doval) had decided that the end result should be isolating Pakistan on a world stage. And Swaraj will be striking the firmest blow to that effect.
In October 2015, without beating around the bush, Swaraj told Pakistan a 'one-point' proposal — give up terrorism and then sit at the negotiating table.
The theme won't be different at all during this year's address as well. In her 25-minute speech in Hindi last year, Swaraj set the template for India-Pakistan bilateral relations from New Delhi's political leadership's perspective and reminded the Pakistan Prime Minister to go by what was discussed in Ufa in July 2015 and reiterated India's stand that terror and talks do not go hand in hand.
What to expect in this year's speech?
It is all speculation till now but Kashmir issue and Pakistan's role in global terrorism will be the focus of Swaraj's address. The external affairs minister is expected to seek global help to dub Pakistan as a 'terror state'. Taking a cue from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first public speech, post the 18 September Uri attack, on Saturday in Kozhikode, where he openly warned Pakistan of isolating it internationally, Swaraj is likely to take a tough stance, and is likely to be blunt, with the western neighbour.
"Listen, rulers of Pakistan. The sacrifices of our 18 soldiers won't go in vain. India has been successful in isolating you. We will force you to be left alone in the world. That day is not far when people of Pakistan will take to streets to fight against the rulers and fight terrorism," Modi had said.
Speaking to mediapersons, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, "the whole world and the entire nation" will be waiting to hear from Swaraj, however, he did not elaborate on elements of Swaraj's address but said "you can expect a continued focus from India on the theme of terrorism which is today undoubtedly the single biggest challenge to international peace and security."
India's strong Right of Reply to Sharif's speech called Pakistan home to the "Ivy League" of terrorism and a "terrorist state" that commits "war crimes" by using terrorism as an instrument of state policy.
With a growing call among the international community to put in place a stronger mechanism to combat terrorism, India's Permanent Representative to the UN Syed Akbaruddin said India is considering all options, including "voting" to ensure that the seminal Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism is brought into force asserting that the will of the majority cannot be continuously blocked by a limited number of countries.
He said the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, an initiative that India launched in 1996 to fight against terrorism has seen "enormous" forward movement except for what would be the exclusion from the definition of terrorism. "That is the debate. As far we are concerned given the crescendo of support in the General Debate, there is a majority that exists in support of that effort. The issue is only a procedural one of how do we convert that majority into a legal document," he said.
Why will the world watch Sushma Swaraj speak?
Words spoken by Sushma Swaraj tonight will be India's stand on Jammu and Kashmir and cross-border terror attacks. The address holds added importance at this juncture because the Kashmir issue has been raised by Sharif at a stage where it could get most international visibility. This aside, the terror attacks in Uri, which killed 18 Indian soldiers, was condemned by countries like the US, Russia, UK and China.
Swaraj is expected to bring up Kashmir as a dominant point in her speech. After India's fresh and strong posture on Balochistan and Sindh’s demand of cessation from Pakistan, it is anticipated that they will also find a mention in her address.
Monday's speech by Swaraj, while yet to be delivered, is already being compared with former defence minister VK Krishna Menon's seven-hour-48-minute-long address at the UN in 1957.
"Why is that we have never heard voice in connection with the freedom of people under the suppression and tyranny of Pakistan authorities on the other side of the cease-fire line. Why is it that we have not heard here that in ten years these people have not seen a ballot paper? With what voice can either the Security Council or anyone coming before it demand a plebiscite for a people on our side who exercise franchise, who have freedom of speech, who function under a hundred local bodies?"
The address was made in response to Pakistan’s speech at the UN on 16 January, 1957, in which they raised the what they claimed was Kashmir’s ‘spurious’ accession to India.
Observers have also said that Pakistan's efforts to internationalise the Kashmir issue has failed to resonate with the rest of the world. Akbaruddin said that what is finding resonance among the international community is the terror threat that India is facing and not what Sharif focussed on his speech - the issue of Kashmir.
Akbaruddin pointed out that in the plethora of bilateral meetings and multilateral engagements that Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar held on the sidelines of the General Assembly session, "there was resonance" of India being a victim of terrorism and of solidarity with it. "The resonance of India being a victim of terrorism, India tackling terrorism diligently has gone way beyond distance. In all bilateral meetings, including with Sri Lanka, there has been resonance and immediate response" on the attack on the army base in Uri, he said.
Swaraj, known for her oratory skills, has a lot riding on her second consecutive speech at the 193-nation body. With the Uri attacks still fresh in the memory, the nation is high on nationalist frenzy. Even though, Modi has made it clear India's will strike with diplomatic offensive, the pressure now is on Swaraj to make the offensive as scathing as possible. As the foreign minister, this is probably one of the biggest challenges that Swaraj might face — she will be watched as hawk by everyone who has a stake in the India-Pakistan strife.
With inputs from PTI and IANS