The UN General Assembly (UNGA) session every year is an important event for the subcontinent. Leaders from both India and Pakistan address the assembly, whether they be Prime Ministers or Foreign Ministers. The UNGA session also includes engagements for foreign ministers including multiple global forums, bilateral interactions as also press and media briefings to project the national image. This year Prime Minister Modi also attended the Quad leaders’ in-person meeting, apart from interactions with the US President, Vice President and leaders of the Quad.
Within the subcontinent, UNGA speeches are closely analysed for their content. In recent years, both nations have begun taking a standard approach in their talks. India seeks to project an image of itself as an emerging world power and a nation which is open for business as also one that can influence global decision making. On the other hand, Pakistan, which can offer the world little, seeks to project itself as a saviour of global Muslims and the defender of Kashmir. It simultaneously accuses India of human rights abuses. This year Imran Khan had a new horse to flog, supporting the Taliban led government in Afghanistan.
Imran Khan addressed the UNGA virtually, as there were no other events which he could create to justify a visit. It was also linked to his being ignored by President Joe Biden. Imran’s visit could have also instigated protests by the Afghan diaspora supported by global Human Rights groups criticising Pakistan’s direct involvement in Afghanistan. What was more hurting was that his nemesis, the Indian PM, was in Washington, meeting several leaders, including Mr. Biden.
Pakistan’s foreign minister, SM Qureshi, spent his days in New York attempting to convince the global community to engage with the interim Afghan government, without them fulfilling their Doha promises. Afghanistan in financial or humanitarian turmoil is trouble for Pakistan, especially as the latter is itself going through a financial crisis. In his other interactions, Qureshi highlighted Kashmir. Neither Imran nor Qureshi mentioned anything about Pakistan’s contribution to the globe.
The highlight of Qureshi’s visit was his interaction with Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State. After the meeting, both issued their own versions of what transpired. The US only mentioned Afghanistan as having been discussed, while Pakistan included a lot more, including Pak-US relations and Kashmir. Most of what Qureshi issued in his statement was meant for domestic consumption. The US evidently views Pakistan through the prism of Afghanistan and terrorism, including its support to anti-India terrorist groups. It is no longer a frontline state.
In the UNGA, Pakistan had the support of Turkish President, Recep Erdogan, who as expected, commented on Kashmir. This led to India’s foreign minister, S Jaishankar stating, “Important that relevant UN Security Council resolutions in respect of Cyprus are adhered to by all.” The OIC, repeating its annual statement, mentioned Kashmir. This was, as always, ignored by India and the world. For Pakistan, this comment is essential and a face saver, having been ignored by all others. The SAARC foreign ministers’ meeting, annually held alongside the UNGA, was cancelled at the last moment due to Pakistan’s insistence on inviting the Taliban government representative. No other member of SAARC backed Pakistan.
As is the norm, Imran Khan raised Kashmir in his address, something every Pakistani leader has done for decades. And, as usual, it was rebutted by a junior member of the Indian delegation, to be further countered by a Pakistani diplomat. The world watches this charade every year. Further, like before, neither will Kashmir come up for discussion, nor will the world be concerned about it. Imran raised it to satisfy his domestic audience. In his speech, Imran also accused the US of ignoring Pakistan and Afghanistan. In addition, Imran included what Pakistani leaders have been stating for years, seeking to convert lies into truth, that Pakistan lost the most by participating alongside the US in the global war on terrorism.
Imran backed the Taliban government in Kabul and desired world support despite its continuing to ignore global demands for an inclusive government and adhering to human rights. In general, Imran did not have much to offer, except project negatively on those Pakistan assumes are against it. An analyst stated that Imran Khan mentioned ‘India’ 15 times, ‘Kashmir’ 13 times, ‘terrorism/ terrorist’ 10 times, ‘Muslims’ seven times, ‘Taliban’ seven times and ‘Islam/Islamophobia’ five times.
Modi’s address was in sharp contrast. He emphasized on the strength of Indian democratic values and the growing importance of India. He mentioned that every sixth human is an Indian and ‘when India grows, the world grows, and when India reforms, the world transforms.’ Hitting out at Pakistan, without naming it, Modi commented on countries employing terrorism as an instrument of state policy. He highlighted global concerns of terrorist groups exploiting Afghanistan and the suffering of its people. Hinting at China, Modi spoke about expansionism and exploiting the UN for altering the global ease of doing business report. This displayed the growing Indian confidence in tackling the Chinese threat.
Addresses by Imran and Modi highlight the outlook of the two nations. While India has the power to engage the world diplomatically and economically, Pakistan considers it has been pushed to the wall by India and the West (under India’s influence). Hence, while Imran blamed India for Pakistan’s ills, Modi never mentioned Pakistan. Imran spoke of recognizing the repressive Taliban regime, while Modi displayed concern for Afghan women and children.
Imran spoke of Islamophobia as a product of the West, while Modi quoted Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s vision of ‘Antyodaya’ – which means where no one is left behind. Imran’s speech accused India, the US and the global community for ignoring it and Afghanistan. Modi, on the contrary, spoke of hope, support to fight Covid and development. Imran was regressive, while Modi was forward looking. No wonder the two leaders are viewed vastly differently on the global stage. Talk about the two leaders also projects the standing of the two nations on the global stage, one progressing, the other regressing.
The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.