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UNGA President has breached the protocol by making a partisan statement.

“India, Pakistan should not change Kashmir status,” said Mr Volkan Bozkir, United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) President, on 28 May 2021, during a Press Conference in Pakistan.  The partisan statement by a UN official of the status of the UNGA President was in breach of protocol and did create a flutter. The statement obviously drew a serious rebuke from India.

To understand the broader issue in correct perspective, this article will examine the charter of UNGA, Duties of its President, Purpose of UNGA President’s visit to and reception in Pakistan, the controversial statement and related Pakistan comments, probable reasons for UNGA President making that statement, its propriety, bigger issue connected with UNGA President’s statement, India’s response to same and will conclude with further recommended actions by India.

United Nations General Assembly1

Forum for Multilateral Negotiations

United Nations General Assembly which was established in 1945, under the Charter of the United Nations, occupies a central position as the main deliberative, policymaking and representative body of the United Nations. It comprises all 193 Members of the United Nations and provides a unique forum for multilateral discussion of the full spectrum of international issues covered by the Charter. It also plays a significant role in the process of standard-setting and the codification of international law.

Functions and powers of the General Assembly

The UN General Assembly is empowered to make recommendations to States on international issues within its competence. It can also initiate actions related to political, economic, humanitarian, social and legal subjects, on the issues which benefit the lives of millions of people throughout the world. UNGA landmark Millennium Declaration, adopted in 2000, and the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, reflect the commitment of Member States to reach specific goals to attain peace, security and disarmament, along with development and poverty eradication; to safeguard human rights and promote the rule of law; to protect our common environment; to meet the special needs of Africa, and to strengthen the United Nations. According to the Charter of the United Nations, the General Assembly may:

The Assembly may also take action in cases of a threat to the peace, breach of peace or act of aggression, when the Security Council has failed to act owing to the negative vote of a permanent member.

  • Consider and approve the United Nations budget and establish the financial assessments of Member States
  • Elect the non-permanent members of the Security Council and the members of other United Nations councils and organs and, on the recommendation of the Security Council, appoint the Secretary-General
  • Consider and make recommendations on the general principles of cooperation for maintaining international peace and security, including disarmament
  • Discuss any question relating to international peace and security and, except where a dispute or situation is currently being discussed by the Security Council, make recommendations on it.
  • Discuss, with the same exception, and make recommendations on any questions within the scope of the Charter or affecting the powers and functions of any organ of the United Nations
  • Initiate studies and make recommendations to promote international political cooperation, the development and codification of international law, the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and international collaboration in the economic, social, humanitarian, cultural, educational and health fields
  • Make recommendations for the peaceful settlement of any situation that might impair friendly relations among countries
  • Consider reports from the Security Council and other United Nations organ

Elections for the President and Vice-Presidents of the General Assembly and Chairs of the Main Committees2

In accordance with its rules of procedure, the President, Vice-Presidents and Chairs of the Main Committees are elected at least three months in advance of the start of the new session in order to further strengthen coordination and preparation of work among the Main Committees and between the Committees and the Plenary. On 17 June, the Assembly elected His Excellency Volkan Bozkir of Turkey as its President for the 75th session. He has served as Turkey’s minister of European Union affairs and the chief negotiator for Turkish accession to the EU.

Duties of UNGA President

The UNGA President is empowered to enforce rules of procedure, such as opening debate, setting the agenda, limiting speaking times for representatives, and suspending or adjourning debate. The UNGA President is supposed to remain impartial in conduct of business.

From UNGA Functions and Duties of UNGA President, it is quite clear that the President should not take sides of comment on issues that are already under consideration.

Purpose of UNGA President’s visit to Pakistan and his reception in Pakistan

Purpose of Visit3

United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) President Volkan Bozkir arrived in Pakistan on Wednesday for an official visit at the invitation of Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. In a tweet, Bozkir said he had arrived in Islamabad after an “important and fruitful” official visit to Bangladesh. Bozkir, who is the first Turkish national to preside over the UNGA, had also visited Pakistan in August 2020, before assuming the role of the UNGA head. He is a former diplomat and a senior politician.

Grand Reception accorded by Pakistan to UNGA President

It is interesting to note the grand manner the UNGA President was treated in Pakistan. Pakistan conferred its highest civilian award to visiting UN General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir. At a ceremony at the President House in the capital Islamabad, President Arif Alvi conferred the Hilal-e-Pakistan on Bozkir.

During their meeting, Alvi and Bozkir exchanged views on a wide range of issues, said a Pakistani presidency statement. The Pakistani president expressed his country’s “strong commitment to the central role of the UN in upholding multilateralism to foster peace, prosperity and harmony around the globe.”

The UN General Assembly president also met with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and discussed matters regarding regional and international peace and security, sustainable development and economic recovery efforts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, said a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Khan lauded Bozkir’s role in convening the special meeting of the UN General Assembly on Palestine last week and stressed that following the announcement of a cease-fire, steps should

be taken to revive the peace process and ensure a just and lasting solution in line with relevant UN resolutions and two-state vision.

Bozkir has also held delegation-level talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. Qureshi expressed his sentiments via a tweet- in which he said:

“Welcome back to President #UNGA75 @volkan_bozkir. It is particularly heartening to host @volkan_bozkir today, following his instrumental role in convening a special meeting of the @UN General Assembly last week on #Palestine, in the wake of the deadlock in the UNSC,” Qureshi tweeted.

In turn, the UN General Assembly chief  thanked Pakistani government for the “warm welcome” and said he had a “very fruitful meeting” with Qureshi and that they discussed major issues on the agenda of the UN and the UN General Assembly as well as latest regional developments.

Controversial Statement by UNGA President on Kashmir Issue4

India and Pakistan should “refrain” from taking steps that would alter the status of the disputed territory of Kashmir, the president of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has said, as the two countries  ( India and Pakistan) once again traded accusations over the Himalayan region recently. “Both parties, all parties, must refrain from taking steps that could affect the status of Jammu and Kashmir,” said Bozkir, a former Turkish diplomat and politician who assumed office in September.

The UNGA President’s statement on Kashmir has been unwarranted, in breach of UNGA protocol and in violation of the UNGA guiding principles-an unprecedented occurrence.

Probable Reasons for statement on Kashmir by UNGA President5

Turkish Angle

First and foremost Volkan Bozkir is a Turkish diplomat- a right-hand man of the Turkish President. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has never let go of any opportunity to tom on issues related to the Islamic Empire. The UNGA President’s statement seems to be towing that line. Another reason pertains to Erdogan’s ambitions of reclaiming the glory of erstwhile Turkey’s Ottoman empire and anoint himself as the leader of the Muslim world.

It’s well known that Erdogan prefers to turn a blind to the plight of Uighur Muslims in China, (we will examine this aspect later) but always voices support for Indian Muslims living in Kashmir. In fact, Turkey was one of the three countries, besides China and Pakistan, to condemn India’s decision to revoke J&K’s special status. Erdogan had raised the Kashmir issue in the UN General Assembly too. During his February 2021 visit to Pakistan, he compared the struggle of Kashmiris with the Ottoman Empire’s fight during World War I.

Thus we won’t need ‘Sherlock Homes’ to decipher Bozkir’s eagerness and motivation in making that statement.

China-Turkey-Pakistan Nexus 567

With its geographical location Turkey, which straddles two continents, is strategically important for China’s BRI (5) project, as a trade and transport hub. Turkey’s support significantly cuts down freight transportation time from China to Europe and Africa. Turkey in turn has launched its own connectivity project to access the Caucasus and Central Asia through the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway, known as the Middle Corridor.

Turkey is also a priority country with the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The bank is helping in the construction of the Salt Lake underground gas storage facility project, said to be the world’s largest storage project. Turkey is also an observer at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

It has been observed that so eager is Turkey for its partnership with China, that Erdogan who positions himself as the modern-day Caliph of the Muslims, has turned a blind eye to China’s oppression of its Uighur Muslim community and playing the ball with China.

To appease China, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in July 2019, refused to support a motion initiated through a joint letter by a group of 22 states, including 14 of Turkey’s NATO allies, issued to the 41st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council to condemn China’s “mass arbitrary detentions and related violations” of Uyghurs and other minorities. Similarly, when a Turkish opposition party introduced a motion in July 2029 to establish an ad-hoc committee in parliament to investigate “the problems of Uyghur Turks exposed to China’s oppressive practices,” Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and his ultranationalist partners in the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) voted in unison to kill the initiative. While speaking on behalf of the motion, an opposition lawmaker accused the Turkish government of abandoning the Uyghurs and added, “I clearly state that the AKP and the MHP have sold out [the Uyghurs] for $50 billion.” 6

A scathing Report in The Diplomat 6 has brought out that:

 Erdogan’s compliance with Beijing’s demands is driven by his growing need for Chinese investment at a time when Western capital is fleeing Turkish markets. Turkey suffers from a chronic current account deficit and the ongoing Western exodus from Turkish bonds and equities has exacerbated the problem, putting further strain on Turkey’s nosediving currency. China and Turkey have a yuan-lira swap deal dating back to 2012. The first time Beijing transferred funds to Ankara under the terms of this deal was during an election month in 2019. This June, Turkey again made use of the swap deal to pay for a batch of Chinese imports. Erdogan, who — despite repeated attempts in 2020 — has failed to secure any swap deals with Western central banks, hopes that China will join its closest ally Qatar to offer greater capital injections through investment and swap deals to help bail out Turkey’s flailing economy.

It has also been observed that in addition to purchasing Turkey’s silence, China has made the country a vital piece in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China now has a massive presence in Turkey’s infrastructure development, investing heavily in projects around Istanbul- a city that links Europe with Asia, such investments could prove to be vital to China’s trade routes to the West6.

It also important here to see how Pakistan’s connects to this maze. An analyst has determined that the existing unholy nexus among China, Turkey and Pakistan in the clandestine nuclear program is posing a serious threat to both regional and global security.  It is urgently required that international institutions like the UN and IAEA take strong punitive measures against Beijing, Ankara and Islamabad for their illegal and clandestine activities in the nuclear weaponisation process.

It is also important to note that Turkey (under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) and Pakistan have been clandestinely supporting radicalism and providing sanctuary to terrorist groups. Both countries have been surreptitiously indulging in such activities to promote their respective narrower geopolitical goals. Alarmingly, doubts about China’s role in selectively supporting rouge terrorist activities are also now emerging. (7). India a well aware of China’s threat of using Naga Card against India.

Turkey also provides Pakistan with emotional, ideological, and political support, while China provides both material and political support. With China’s support, the Kashmir issue has thrice been discussed in the UN Security Council since August 5, 2019. Pakistan’s insistence and Turkey’s focus has also seen the Organization of Islamic Cooperation raising the Kashmir issue more frequently (5).

A closer analysis of the conduct of the three countries (China, Pakistan and Turkey) discussed above reflects four basic points that bring a sense of symmetry in their strategic behaviour. These are 7:

  • Clamour to acquire nuclear weapons bypassing existing international laws and treaties.
  • Threat to use nuclear weapons to boost their bargaining capability in the domain of international politics.
  • The political system of all three countries are marked by growing authoritarianism and Beijing, Ankara and Islamabad are also involved in threatening peace and security of neighbouring countries.
  • All three countries are directly or indirectly involved in a nexus to boost their nuclear capabilities and China is acting as a major patron to both Pakistan and Turkey for supplying nuclear technologies.
Implications for India and India’s Response

Implications

 India looks at these developments in the context of a nexus among China, Pakistan and Turkey, with seriousness and concern.  Over the years, both China and Pakistan along with Turkey under Erdogan have posed a strong threat to India’s security. Considering Erdogan and his party’s Islamist orientation and well-documented support to radical and terror groups, together with Pakistan’s support and sponsor of cross-border terror, and China’s expansionist tendencies, the China-Pakistan-Turkey nexus is one India needs to watch out for (5 and 7). With China playing havoc on Indo-China borders and in IOR, India has enough on its platter to deal with- without the burden of the China-Turkey-Pakistan nexus. Thus this new monkey on India’s back needs to be caged here and now.

India’s Response

India has played its cards quite well and as close to its chest as possible. There are different facets to India’s handling of its relations with Pakistan. India has been relentlessly pursuing isolation of Pakistan at the international level, and that includes taking steps to counter those countries that stand against India while siding with Pakistan.

India also understands Turkey’s support to Pakistan over Kashmir (including inappropriate protocol breaking statement of UNGA President) is an attempt to counter Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are rivals in the Muslim world. By backing Pakistan, Turkey hopes that Islamabad will side with Ankara and move away from Saudi Arabia. The fact that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have backed India’s position on Kashmir is further used by Turkey to woo Pakistan. India is dealing with this aspect appropriately8.

As far as UNGA President’s provocative statement on Kashmir is concerned,  India has expressed its “strong opposition” to the comments made by him. Dismissing his “unwarranted references” on Jammu and Kashmir, the Ministry of External Affairs in a strongly worded statement called the comments “unacceptable”. India has highlighted that these comments are in violation of the code of ethics mentioned in Annex XI (a) for the President of the General Assembly as enshrined under resolution 70/305 of 13 September 2016 -Para 2, 3 and 59.

In addition, India has also initiated many other well-calibrated responses to Turkey’s provocative narratives against India. When Erdogan raised the Kashmir issue at the UNGA, India’s Prime Minister responded by holding meetings with the president of Cyprus and prime ministers of Armenia and Greece on the side-lines of the UNGA, encashing on disputes these states have with Turkey. Later, in October 2019, Indian PM cancelled his visit to Turkey. In the view of growing defense ties between Turkey and Pakistan, India cut its defense exports to Turkey and also reduced imports from Turkey.  India has also warned Turkey not to interfere in India’s internal matters (8).

India has pushed forward with its relations with Armenia. Recently India secured a $40 million defense deal with Armenia. As per the deal, India will be supplying Armenia with four weapon locating radars. Another important step has been India’s handling of its relations with Malaysia. Both Malaysia and Turkey have been supporting Pakistan against India. Malaysia under Mahathir Mohamad has been critical of India over the Kashmir issue; in turn India stopped palm oil imports from Malaysia. But now with the regime change in Malaysia, there are indications that India is looking to reset its ties with Kuala Lumpur. If that happens, it will be another step toward isolating Turkey.

China has been playing truant with India on many fronts and has chosen the pandemic time to escalate border skirmishes leading to long a standoff in Ladakh. China’s BRI/RCEP/ Siring of Pearls Project, surreptitious operations in IOR etc. are a big problem for India, It would suffice to say here that India is dealing with China as best it can in the given circumstances. It would a subject matter for another article to spell out the details.

India’s deft handling of its tight rope walk in maintaining its relationships with USA, Russia, ASEAN, BIMSTEC deserves credit. India is fortunate to have a capable External Affairs Minister in Dr Jaishankar.  These relationships are important for counter balancing China.

Thus India has well appreciated inter relationship between UNGA President’s unwarranted statement on Kashmir and China- Turkey-Pakistan nexus and initiated necessity steps to  guard itself against the fallouts of the same.

Conclusion

India is in a totally unenviable situation by being forced to deal with Indo-China Border Skirmishes, China’s operations in IOR, fallouts of BRI/RCEP, balancing act between USA and Russia, Covid pandemic and its impact on the economy, internal disturbances and political wrangling. Despite that India managed the situation remarkably well and doing its best to handle geo-politico-economic relationships keeping in mind its national interests.

However to deal with the China-Turkey-Pakistan nexus more needs to be done. India should :-

  • Raise issue related impropriety of UNGA President’s statement on Kashmir with UN through its Permeant Representative.
  • Beef up its own nuclear defence capability to ensure a creditable nuclear deterrence against China, Turkey and Pakistan. At the same time India being a “responsible nuclear power” should also mobilise strong international public opinion through the UN and IAEA to checkmate illegal proliferation of nuclear weapons.
  • Modernise its armed forces on fast track.
  • Develop meaningful relationships with ASEAN, BIMSTEC countries.
  • Give credible operational shape to QUAD.
  • Quell internal strife and create conducive political atmosphere.
  • Bring national economy on rails.

Author would like to point out that further study is needed to determine impacts on India of:-

  • Growing China-Sri Lanka nexus.
  • Growing China-Iran nexus

Let us hope India would come out of this Conundrum Successfully. Jai Hind.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies

Title image courtesy: https://diplomatictimes.net/a-homepage-section/

References:

1. UN Charter- Functions and powers of the General Assembly (N.D,), United Nations, Retrieved From: https://www.un.org/en/ga/about/background.shtml#:~:text=Comprised%20of%20all%20193%20Members,the%20codification%20of%20international%20law , Accessed on 31 May 2021

2. CFR Staff (August 25, 2020), The Role of the UN General Assembly, CFR, Online, Retrieved From: https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/role-un-general assembly#:~:text=The%20president%20is%20empowered%20to,officials%20to%20brief%20the%20assembly, Accessed on 31 May 2021

3.  Sajid Islamuddin (May 27, 2021), Pakistan gives UN General Assembly president high honor, aa.com, Online, Retrieved From: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/politics/pakistan-gives-un-general-assembly-president-high-honor/2256600

4.  Hashim Asad (May 28, 2021), India, Pakistan should not change Kashmir status: UNGA president,  AlJazeera, Online, Retrieved From: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/28/india-pakistan-should-not-change-kashmir-status-unga-president, Accessed on 28 May 2021

5. Eurasian Times, China-Turkey-Pakistan Alliance Dangerous For India Diplomatically, Economically & Militarily, Eurasian Times , On line, Retrieved From: https://eurasiantimes.com/china-turkey-pakistan-alliance-dangerous-for-india-diplomatically-economically-militarily/, Accessed on 31 May 2021

6. Erdemir Aykan and Kowalsk Philip ( August 21, 2020), China Buys Turkey’s Silence on Uyghur Oppression, The Diplomat, Online, Retrieved From: https://thediplomat.com/2020/08/china-buys-turkeys-silence-on-uyghur-oppression/, Accessed on 31 May 2021

7.Mohapatra Dr Nalin Kumar ( February 11, 2021), View: China, Turkey and Pakistan’s unholy nuclear nexus and its global ramifications, The Economic Times, On line , https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/view-china-turkey-and-pakistans-unholy-nuclear-nexus-and-its-global-ramifications/articleshow/80579631.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst, Accessed on 28 May 2021

8.Marjani Niranjan  ( March 07, 2020) , India’s Quiet Responses Against Turkey’s Diplomatic Offensive ,  The Diplomat, On line, Retrieved From: https://thediplomat.com/2020/03/indias-quiet-responses-against-turkeys-diplomatic-offensive/ Accessed on 31 May 2021

9. Sibal Sidhant ( May 29, 2021), India slams UNGA prez Bozkir’s Kashmir remarks; Says comments ‘unacceptable’ , WION, New Delhi, Retrieved From: https://www.wionews.com/india-news/india-slams-unga-prez-bozkirs-kashmir-remarks-says-comments-unacceptable-388157

Cmde S L Deshmukh

By Cmde S L Deshmukh

Commodore SL Deshmukh, NM (Retd), has served Indian Navy for 32 years, is a Mechanical Engineer is specialised in both Marine & Aviation domains. He also holds a Masters in Defence Studies and a Post-Graduate in Management. He has served onboard aircraft carriers and is specialised on fighter aircraft and ASW helicopters. He held many operational and administrative appointments including Principal Director at Naval HQ, Commodore Superintendent at Naval Aircraft Yard, Director, Naval Institute of Aeronautical Technology and Project Director of a major Naval Aviation Project. He is alumni of Defence Services Staff College Wellington. He was with Tata Group for 5 years and is currently working with SUN Group‘s Aerospace & Defence vertical as Senior Vice President. He is also the Life Member of Aeronautical Society of India.