Handling the Permanent UNSC Seat

By taking itself too seriously on the question of its claim to a permanent Security Council seat, it appears that India has set itself up for disappointment (amounting embarrass-ment) at the international level. The United Nations (UN) reform process should have been about equality, consensus and peace. Instead, it is becoming a narrow matter of national pride, at least in India's case since the other three nations claiming permanent membership status – Japan, Brazil and Germany – have not yet turned this issue into a test for national pride the way India is apparently doing. It is clear by now that New Delhi's claim to a berth with the veto-wielding world powers at the UN does not enjoy majority support within the international community. There are serious reservations on India's past record in maintaining peace in the region, and on its economic and military ability to ensure peace beyond the region.

In New Delhi, Indian diplomats, politicians and the media are convinced that their country has the strongest case for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). On social media, Indian citizens can be seen grouching in unison, 'Why is India not sitting with the P5, or the 'Permanent Five' – the United States, Russia, Britain, China, and France – on the UNSC?' India makes its case aggressively and does not miss any opportunity. Professional and trade delegations going abroad are briefed in advance; even student groups are coached to say the right things in front of a foreign audience. Indian commentators and social media activists appear as if reading from the same talking-points memo, probably written inside one of the dusty rooms of the archaic building of the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi.

But here is an irony: If India is qualified, well-backed by world powers, and has the strongest case, how come it failed to get elected to a non-permanent seat for nineteen consecutive years, from 1991 to 2010? For these years, most member states of the UN did not deem India fit for a rotational, two-year term on the Security Council. The irony does not end here. Despite years in pushing its case for recognition as a world power, India's record as a rotational non-permanent member barely beats that of Pakistan, a country five times smaller than India. Islamabad is not even offering itself as a contender for a permanent seat. Pakistan has been elected five times to the Security Council and the 2011-2013 term was the sixth. India pulled its seventh term a year earlier, in 2010-2012.

Compared to India's seven stints as a non-permanent member, Japan and Brazil were elected for nine terms each (three for Germany). What this shows is that a relatively smaller country like Pakistan can garner enough support within the United Nations member countries to sit on the Security Council and that this should not automatically translate into a claim to the permanent seat. The fact is that India's case for a permanent seat at the UNSC is not as strong as it seems. In fact, it could be the weakest case within the G4, the grouping created by Japan, Germany, India and Brazil to support each other's bid for a permanent seat. There is no denying that the Security Council needs reform to reflect the balance of power in today's world. The P5 need help in maintaining and enforcing peace worldwide. But the sales pitch of the G4, India included, is one that seeks to perpetuate the elitism that surrounds the P5 status and prolong the denial of equitable representation to important parts of the world, especially to Africa.

In fact, nothing illustrates how India and the G4 are on the wrong side of history than the success that Pakistan and Italy have met with their counter lobbying group, known as Uniting for Consensus, or UfC. The group includes Italy, Pakistan, Argentina, Indonesia, Canada, Iran, South Korea, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Spain, and Mexico. When Italy called for a meeting of UfC in Rome in May 2011, a staggering 120 member states of the UN, out of 193, attended.

So, India's bid for veto power on important global decisions at the UN is a long way coming. But even if it comes up for a vote, is India qualified to discharge the responsibilities of maintaining international peace and security? India had no case to permanent Security Council membership in 1945 when the Charter of United Nations was drafted by winning powers in World War II. India was a British colony then. After independence in 1947, India had little in terms of economic and military power to play any role in maintaining world peace. So, it is understandable why none of the WWII victorious powers invited India to the Security Council simply based on India's large geographic size and population.

Even today, if India were to become a part of an expanded UNSC along with Brazil, Germany and Japan, New Delhi would still be among the poorest permanent members of the Council with the lowest human development indicators, and the lowest ability to project economic or military power and influence on the world stage as P5 countries often have to do in pursuit of enforcing the decisions of the world body. If India gets past these questions, it has to answer tough questions about how it has conducted its foreign policy and whether that helped maintain peace and security in its region.

India fails this test. India introduced proxy warfare to South Asia in 1950, merely three years after its decolonization from Britain. It used the wild regions of Afghanistan to mount separatist insurgencies inside Pakistan's western provinces throughout the Cold War. Pakistan, however, never posed any level of threat to India.

In 1974, India introduced nuclear weapons to South Asia, again without provocation from anyone and without any demonstrable fatal threat from any country that could not have been neutralized through conventional means. India continues to have serious border disputes with almost every neighbour. It has gone to war or engaged in some form of armed conflict with most of its neighbours. Pakistan, China, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh have all accused India at various times of meddling in those countries' internal affairs through proxy and covert action.

Probably nothing illustrates more the worrying aspects of Indian foreign policy than the 1971 Indian invasion of Pakistan and the subsequent war that ended with India helping break up Pakistan and create Bangladesh. In this international incident, New Delhi created and trained a proxy terror militia on its soil for at least two years with the mission to operate in Pakistan. It unleashed this terror militia when a strategic opportunity presented itself after a chaotic Pakistani election that led to violence and offered India a window to invade. So, basically, Pakistan was invaded by India in the middle of a democratic exercise in Pakistan that went violent, as elections often do in developing countries.

Far from solving world problems at the UNSC, India itself could come up as an agenda item in the Council. The country's entire northeast is wracked by dozens of violent insurgencies that seek independence for those regions from the Indian state. In August 2012, the situation got out of control when ethnic tensions erupted across several Indian cities resulting in a mass exodus. The Time magazine reported the incident with a well justified title, 'India's Northeast: How a Troubled Region May Be a Global Flashpoint.'

The case of Indian Deputy Consul General in New York city, Devyani Khobragade, and the Indian over-reaction to what is a clear case of visa fraud and maid abuse, has forced even the most India-friendly elements in the American establishment to pause and re-think. The episode has given many observers worldwide a chance to watch the Indian policy volatility up close. One of those watchers is Jeremy Carl, a research fellow at Hoover Institution, Stanford University. In an opinion piece for CNN, Carl writes that the case of the diplomat “shines an unflattering light on several elements of India's diplomacy and its politics of privilege.” He concludes: “The intemperate reaction of the Indian government in response shows that, despite its status as an aspiring great power, India still frequently lacks the maturity on the world stage to behave like one.”

We in Pakistan have experienced this aspect of Indian diplomacy many times but were often unfairly accused of inflexibility in resolving disputes with India. For example, consider how India occupied an inhospitable mountain peak in our Northern Areas, called Siachen Glacier, in 1984, violating an implicit understanding between the two countries that such areas will be left untouched. Today India loses dozens of soldiers to the cruel weather in what is known as the world's highest battlefield and has forced Pakistan to take countermeasures. The worst part is that a solution to this limited conflict has been negotiated to the last detail by both sides and is ready to be signed since 2006, but there is no logical explanation from India as to why it is delaying a resolution.

Last, there are the UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir that India is in violation since 1948 despite solemn commitments to the Council by no less than India's Prime Ministers over a half-century. This is just the tip of the iceberg of issues that render India's race for a permanent seat on the Security Council a matter of concern for some of India's neighbours like Pakistan.

India has a long way to go to demonstrate that it can meet the responsibilities that a permanent seat at the table in the Security Council entails. India can start making amends by changing the way it deals with neighbours, by tempering its sometimes wild foreign policy impulses, and by resolving festering disputes. It is now for India to respond to peace initiatives positively and move away from the path of haughtiness and belligerency.

The writer is a journalist who contributes regularly for print and electronic media and is a senior research fellow at Pakistan Federal Reorganisation Programme. [email protected]

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