IN CONDITIONS of rapidly transforming world order, the importance of various numerous international platforms does not necessarily depend nowadays on their intended mission, but instead on the extent to which they offer major players an opportunity to discuss any given pressing issues on their sidelines. Hence, in this regard, the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly, which began in New York on 24 September, is no exception.
At present, one of the most critical issues stems from the de facto removal of Article 370 (which acknowledged the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir) from the constitution of India and the resulting situation in South Asia.
We should also note that this decision, taken by the Indian leadership, is viewed as an internal matter in New Delhi. Most world nations agree with such a viewpoint to one degree or another, as naturally they do not wish to become in any way involved in this relatively complex, broader Kashmir issue, which came to the fore as a result of the aforementioned decision.
However, the parties to this conflict (stemming from this issue) are two de facto nuclear powers (ie India and Pakistan), which in and of itself means that none of the nations can simply take on a role of an observer in this situation.
At any rate, this is true of the leading world powers at present, ie the United States and China, which were compelled to somehow demonstrate their stance on the current state of affairs in the region after New Delhi had made the aforementioned decision.
The position taken by Beijing can be described as pro-Pakistani while that of Washington as primarily pro-Indian. At the same time, neither of these key global players wishes to sever ties with the opposite side (in the conflict) under any circumstances, and, in fact, both aim (as a minimum) to avoid a serious rise in tension with either party. This, in and of itself, is a fairly difficult task considering the fact that the relationship between India and Pakistan had, as mentioned before, reached a low point.
Washington, in particular, has found itself in a tough spot, as both prime ministers, Narendra Modi and Imran Khan (the leaders of South Asian nations in conflict with each other), have taken advantage of the occasion, ie the UN General Assembly, to simultaneously ask the United States for support. Thus, apparently, the US president had to do some serious preparation work for meetings with each of them, in order to avoid the type of blunders he had made during the visit of Imran Khan to the United States two months earlier.
It is worth mentioning that Narendra Modi enjoyed a noticeably more comfortable atmosphere during his stay in the United States in comparison to his Pakistani counterpart, because of the large and influential Indian diaspora in this country. The grandiose event (attended by approximately 60,000 Indian Americans and held on the eve of the UN General Assembly session at a stadium in Houston) called ‘Howdy, Modi!’, which the US president took part in, became the epicentre of the entire week-long visit of India’s prime minister to the United States.
Even though the author of this article has covered many events of this nature (with leaders of certain countries in attendance), never before has he read reports about them with as much flattery as Donald Trump and Narendra Modi directed towards each other. The compliments continued to flow at the bilateral meeting between the two leaders the day after.
As a result, some Indian newspapers reported that the leading global power, overall, supports the policies of the current Indian leadership including (by default) the decision to revoke Article 370 of India’s constitution.
However, if we were to remove Donald Trump’s compliments from all of the statements he made to Narendra Modi, the substantive portion that remains is not indicative of a significant enough shift in US policy towards India, which would then prevent Washington from fostering ties with Pakistan (an important aim for the USA).
Trump endorsed India’s need for ‘border security’, but he did not mention the issue of New Delhi’s claims over the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
The two parties also talked about their commitment to counter the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. However, no one is tougher on terrorism than the Pakistani military leadership, in, for instance, the Tribal Areas and border regions with Afghanistan. Still, Donald Trump made no mention of the complicated situation in India’s part of Kashmir.
In India, there was an increased focus on ‘the first-ever tri-service exercise’ between the two nations, which is to take place along the eastern coast in the Bay of Bengal. However, these upcoming military drills are unlikely to be large-scale, as they require serious months-long and costly preparations (but are to be held as early as this November).
It is doubtful that they will even come close in scale to the Malabar exercises, which have been staged since 2006 by the US and Indian naval forces. And in recent years, the Japanese navy has become a more noticeable participant in these drills. The next military exercise of this type is scheduled for 26 September.
In other words, the event in Houston did not result in anything that would have interfered with the bilateral meeting between Donald Trump and Imran Khan the very next day. At the press conference following the talks, equally flattering statements (to those addressed towards Narendra Modi) were made about Pakistan’s prime minister — ‘You have a great leader. He’s a good man, a nice man. Happens to be a great athlete.’
Donald Trump also expressed his willingness to mediate between Pakistan and India in order to resolve the Kashmir issue, but only if both sides agree to such talks. Thereby, the US president corrected the aforementioned blunder that he had made two months ago.
Overall, we must admit that Donald Trump fairly successfully passed the difficult test of staging meetings with leaders of two countries in conflict with each other. The US president made many statements but hardly any of them were substantive or addressed political issues. And, at present, this is the only possible strategy for the United States as it attempts to build relationships with such important nations for Washington as India and Pakistan.
The meeting between Imran Khan and PRC’s foreign minister Wang Yi was also a focus of attention During these talks, the second world power reinforced its ironclad support for the Pakistani prime minister once again. Notably, when Imran Khan was asked about ‘violations of Muslim rights’ in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of the PRC (a topic popular in western nations), he requested for such issues not to be raised as his nation suffered from similar problems.
We can confidently forecast that political games involving leading global players (which began on the sidelines of the most recent UN General Assembly) will continue during the second ‘unofficial’ meeting between China’s leader Xi Jinping and prime minister Narendra Modi. It will be held in India during the period from October 11 to October 13. The first meeting of this nature (which was viewed positively in both countries) had taken place one and half years ago in the city of Wuhan in China.
Finally, the UN General Assembly itself, during which some truly significant events (including negotiations between world leaders) affecting the current political climate take place but not at the official sessions, deserves a short commentary.
Since the very beginning of this international summit was marked by a fairly clownish publicity stunt, ie a climate change protest staged by a teenage girl (from quite a prosperous country), the ‘behind the scenes director’ of this global political show had, seemingly, completely given up on this organisation.
This should serve as yet another signal that the period following World War II, which led to the establishment of the United Nation, is coming to an end (a process that has lasted for 20 to 30 years).
This impression is further supported by the fact that the previously mentioned young woman was honoured with the Ambassador of Conscience award by one of the key international sanctimonious ‘human rights’ organisations, Amnesty International (which, in the past, made a significant contribution to the collapse of the Soviet Union). Only one other agency can compete with it for the ‘title of an organisation lacking a conscience’, ie the body that periodically awards Nobel peace prizes to some strange recipients.
It is unclear what use it is to the current US President, who is a fairly sensible politician, unless we take into account his re-election campaign (which has essentially already began) and his increasingly intense battle against the Democrats, whose ranks include Barack Obama (who received just such a prize during his presidency).
The tragicomedy of the global chess game that is unfolding in front of our eyes can be illustrated by the words of an up-and-coming Japanese politician, Koizumi Junior (currently a member of the cabinet of Japan), who pledged to make the fight against climate change ‘sexy’ and ‘fun’ in order to mobilise young people. The aforementioned statement was made on the sidelines of the most recent UN General Assembly.
However, amid such ‘jokes’, scandals and absurdly vulgar shows at (seemingly) respectable international events, one can hear more and more clearly bursts of Mephistophelian instead of joyful laughter.
New Eastern Outlook, October 4. Vladimir Terekhov is an expert on issues of the Asia-Pacific region.
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