Last fortnight, on the day US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was issuing her “snakes in the backyard” ultimatum in Islamabad, Pakistan squeaked through the elections for a two-year term (2012 and 2013) on the UN Security Council (UNSC), ironically, not without the tacit support of Washington.
Pakistan secured a bare minimum two-thirds majority of 129 votes from the 193 members of the UN General Assembly in a straight contest with Kyrgyzstan for the single Asian seat. The fact that Kyrgyzstan chose to run rather than step down in favour of Pakistan (as Kazakhstan did in favour of India last year) and also got 55 votes indicates that Pakistan’s election was not a certainty. Had the US and other powers (including India, which reportedly voted for Pakistan) actively supported Kyrgyzstan, which has never been elected to UNSC, and lobbied against Pakistan, the outcome might have been quite different.
While Pakistan’s entry into the UNSC was not a foregone conclusion, its presence in the world’s most powerful decision-making body will have serious implications for the strategic interests of both the US and India, as well as the emerging world order.
File photo of Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari at the 64th annual United Nations General Assembly in New York. Bloomberg.
For the US, Pakistan’s elevation practically nullifies the containment policy that Washington was considering against Islamabad in the wake of growing evidence of its close ties with terrorist groups. Indeed, US support for Kyrgyzstan’s candidacy would have not only boxed in Pakistan but would also have provided the possibility of an alternative route for Afghanistan. Now the US is left with no choice but to work with its increasingly treacherous ally.
Moreover, with the UNSC berth, Pakistan may well be able to extract concessions from the US on crucial votes, particularly on Palestine, Syria and even Iran. While the US and its allies might be able to ensure that their view eventually dominates on all of these issues, it will come at a price, which is likely to weaken Washington’s ability to rein in Pakistan.
For India, which will be together with Pakistan only for the fourth time in the history of the UNSC, Pakistan’s presence there might provide some tactical advantage, but will also pose some serious strategic challenges. As both Islamabad and New Delhi have similar perspectives on peacekeeping and on the validity of the present UN disarmament machinery, they are likely to join forces. For peacekeeping mandates, they seek additional resources to carry out the missions. For disarmament, they seek to preserve the existing institutions in their present form, even though Pakistan is singularly responsible for blocking progress in the Conference on Disarmament.
In contrast, the most contentious issue that will inevitably lead to a clash between the two neighbours will be terrorism. India, which chairs the UN’s Counter-Terrorism Committee for the two years of its UNSC tenure, has introduced the concept of “zero tolerance towards terrorism”. This is likely to be challenged by Pakistan, both in normative and operation terms, given Islamabad’s inclination to use terrorism and terrorist groups as a part of the state policy.
However, the biggest strategic challenge from Pakistan’s UNSC stint will come to India’s quest for a permanent seat. Pakistan is a leading member of the so-called Uniting for Consensus (UFC) group, which claims up to 40 states as its cohort and is opposed to adding any more permanent members to an enlarged UNSC. While UFC does not appear to have much support among African nations, it might have significant clout to block any resolution calling for additional permanent members of UNSC, thus, quashing the hopes of the so-called G4 (Brazil, Germany, India and Japan) aspirants. The silver lining may be that other UNSC members can transform Pakistan into a normal state during its tenure. But given the past experience, this may be wishful thinking.
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