With Pakistan PM Imran Khan certain to launch a shrill tirade against India on the Kashmir issue in his UNGA speech, New Delhi wants to avoid falling into Islamabad’s trap. It does not want to get into an ugly spat on the world stage so as to ensure that its Kashmir concerns are not given any publicity or importance.
As the countdown begins to September 27, the day when both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan address the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) within hours of each other, India seems to be working to a set plan. With the Pakistan PM certain to launch a shrill tirade against India on the Kashmir issue in his speech, New Delhi wants to avoid falling into Islamabad’s trap. It does not want to get into an ugly spat on the world stage.
Its strategy instead is to present a list of its achievements for global peace and development and be the statesman at the global high table. New Delhi wants to “completely ignore” Islamabad at the UNGA so as to ensure that its Kashmir concerns are not given any publicity or importance. India has already said it will not discuss Article 370 at the UNGA.
It’s been a hectic one-and-a-half months since India announced the bifurcation of its Jammu and Kashmir state and read down Article 370 that had so far accorded it a special status. In these past 45-odd days, it has worked assiduously to explain to the West and the Islamic world the reasons behind its move.
What has perhaps clinched it for New Delhi is its punchline – “not a single bullet has been fired, not a single life has been lost” in the Kashmir Valley.
In a major message to India and the rest of the world ahead of his departure to the United States, the Prime Minister called for “hugging each Kashmiri” and creating a “new paradise” in the valley.
“We have to create a new paradise (in Kashmir)... hug each Kashmiri,” he was quoted as saying in Nashik, Maharashtra. “This decision is going to be the medium of fulfilling the aspirations and dreams of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. A lot of efforts are being taken from across the border to spread unrest and disbelief and foment violence in J&K. The youth, mothers and sisters have made up their mind to come out of the long period of violence. They want development and new job opportunities,” he added.
Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale told journalists just this Thursday, “Article 370 is an internal issue. It will not be debated at the UN and we will not discuss it. When the PM is going to the UN, there are several issues, of development, of climate change, and other bilateral and multilateral issues. Terrorism is definitely one such issue but the focus will not be on that.”
He elaborated, “As far as what Pakistan is going to say, that’s not really for me to comment upon. If they wish to dwell upon this issue in the speech by their Prime Minister, they are welcome to do so. Our PM will focus on what the UNGA’s high level segment is meant to focus on which is, as an important economy and country, ... PM (Modi) will flag what we are doing – for development, for security, for peace, and our expectations and aspirations of other countries.”
India’s permanent representative to the UN Syed Akbaruddin, too, seemed to echo these thoughts when he said that India will “soar high” if Pakistan “stoops low” by raising the Kashmir issue at the UN General Debate.
Nevertheless, a glimpse of the fireworks in store was seen earlier this month when India and Pakistan clashed at the recent UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Hitting back at Pakistan, MEA secretary (east) Vijay Thakur Singh had said, “The recent legislative measures taken by India within the framework of its constitution will ensure… an end to gender discrimination, better protection of juvenile rights... The rights to education, information and work will now be applicable. Long-standing discrimination against refugees and underprivileged sections will end… The world is aware that this fabricated narrative comes from the epicentre of global terrorism, where ringleaders were sheltered for years. This nation conducts cross-border terrorism as a form of ‘alternate diplomacy’.”
Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had accused India of jailing and “gagging” Kashmiri leaders, trying to turn the Muslim-majority state into a Muslim-minority one, and of planning an attack on Pakistan in that meeting. He had also indulged in scare-mongering by alleging a “grave threat to peace in a nuclearised south Asia”. Islamabad had claimed Kashmir was the largest prison on the planet. But India has so far managed to counter this narrative by pointing to the steps it has taken for a swift return to normalcy.
Nevertheless, a desperate Pakistan, whose narrative has not cut any ice even among its Islamic allies (the United Arab Emirates recently conferred on Mr Modi its highest civilian award), is now resolved to convince the West of its case. Islamabad is hoping that Mr Khan will successfully dent India’s image in New York on September 27.
Realising that the stakes are high, India, too, is leaving nought to chance. Mr Modi will be meeting as many as 20 world leaders in separate bilateral meetings before his address. These range from leaders in India’s neighbourhood to those in South America. While bilateral issues with these countries will no doubt be discussed, there is every possibility that India may once again seek to brief these nations on the latest developments in J&K. Mr Modi is expected to push for “reformed multilateralism” and a greater role for India in the world polity and the UN in these meetings. It is no secret that New Delhi is pushing hard for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.
Mr Modi will also hold two “plurilateral” meetings with leaders of Pacific island nations and leaders of Caribbean nations on September 24 and 25, respectively. External affairs minister S. Jaishankar and minister of state for external affairs V. Muraleedharan will also be in New York separately to interact with various foreign dignitaries in a major outreach.
Also pertinently, India plans to balance hard-nosed diplomacy with a display of its soft power, courtesy the strength of its successful diaspora in the United States. On September 22, Mr Modi addresses a crowd of over 50,000 Indian Americans and non-resident Indians in Houston, Texas, in the presence of US President Donald Trump. Also present would be US Congress members from both the Republican and Democratic Parties with whom he will have a separate interaction thereafter. Billed as “Howdy, Modi”, the event will be larger than the two previous ones at Madison Square Garden, New York, in 2014 and San Jose in California the following year.
Evidently, what is being expected to swing the tide is India’s favour is its growing economic clout.
Mr Modi will meet top executives in two business meetings — the first in Houston, Texas, on September 21, with CEOs of energy companies and the second in New York on September 25, with top executives of prominent global companies. In the second meeting, which is the Bloomberg Business Forum, New Delhi is expected to push for greater investment by these companies in India. Mr Modi will have a “conversation” there with Bloomberg founder Michael Bloomberg which will be followed by a roundtable organised by the Indian government in which 40 major foreign companies, including JP Morgan, Lockheed Martin, Bank of America, Mastercard and Walmart, will participate.
India is currently importing a whopping $4 billion of oil and gas from the US. Mr Modi had conveyed to President Trump recently that India is set to further ramp up its overall imports from the country.
This is certainly music to President Trump’s ears. After all, the US President — who is facing a re-election bid next year — is eager to see more imports and creation of more American jobs. There is also enormous speculation that a trade pact announcement between the two countries may be in the offing, perhaps as early as September 22 when the Houston event takes place.