Pakistan loves the United Nations, especially its annual General Assembly in New York. This provides it with an international platform to project its positions, often born of paranoia. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech at the 71st session of the UNGA, though, took the stridency up another notch.
His focus was obvious. He mentioned Kashmir and Kashmiris 17 times, almost as many times as he referred to Pakistan and Pakistanis, and nearly twice the number of times he mentioned terrorism (though, of course, Burhan Wani wasn’t described as such). His use of the K-word this year passed the total for the previous two years, combined.
What he may not have counted on, however, was the sort of rhetorical response he would receive from the Indian delegation. Each country has a right to respond and India always uses this since the United Nations is also considered a legal structure and utterances from its podium enter the record, somewhat like statements made in a court. Though in this instance, India appears more to be prosecuting the case than reverting to its usual mode of playing defence.
India gave the practice of exercising that right quite a workout. The designated hitter was Eenam Gambhir, First Secretary at the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations. And she set the tone early, describing the Pakistan PM’s speech as “a long tirade.” Thereafter, she moved on to the topic of Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism, and the words used were less than diplomatic: “The land of Taxila, one of the greatest learning centres of ancient times, is now host to the Ivy League of terrorism. It attracts aspirants and apprentices from all over the world. The effects of its toxic curriculum are felt across the globe.”
That this statement was also directed at the United States is apparent, since two of the recent terror attacks on American soil, in San Bernardino last year and in New York itself last week, have tangible Pakistani connections.
Describing Pakistan as the “global epicentre of terrorism” and then moving on to the attack in Uri, Gambhir underscored the main theme: “What we see in Pakistan, Mr President, is a terrorist state, which channelises billions of dollars, much of it diverted from international aid, to training, financing and supporting terrorist groups as militant proxies against its neighbours.”
This is the sort of response that would leave not just the speaker but also the audience breathless. Of course, those turning up to listen to these RoRs are scant, and this speech was meant more for sending out a wider message and setting the stage for India’s formal address at this UNGA session. You could sense the fingerprints of the two Akbars, Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar and India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, all over the prepared statement.
This is also a critical time for India to speak up. There’s a power vacuum in Washington as the White House’s current incumbent Barack Obama prepares to depart in less than four months. Meanwhile, the two contenders to replace him have public policies towards Pakistan that don’t really deviate from what’s been the norm in recent years – chiding and charity. This is an opportune period to attempt to occupy some mindspace even before the first of the Presidential debates is scheduled for Monday.
Meanwhile, if this was occurring within the Turtle Bay edifice of the global organisation, for once, there was also a response outside its barricaded perimeter. Each year, supposed Kashmiri and Khalistani activists protest outside the UN. This year, there was a counter: Members of the Baloch National Movement of North America gathered there to “protest the Pakistani atrocities and the ongoing military operations in Sindh and Balochistan.”
In recent years, the United Nations has been a happy haranguing ground for Pakistan. This seems to be the year India has decided to holler back.
The author tweets @anirudhb