How China and Pakistan almost scuttled India's bid for Security Council seat

If the declaration comes, seeking 'expansion in both categories' will be warmly welcomed after two-decade long intense drama.

 |  6-minute read |   29-10-2015
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September 14, 2015 was a day India watched very closely. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a landmark text amidst a loud burst of applause.

For the first time there was a written text (document A/69/L92) to form the basis of discussions on the Security Council reforms including diversified permanent and non-permanent category seats. The text was adopted on consensus, without calling for a vote, much to the dismay of some countries like China and Pakistan which called it only a "technical rollover".

But what played out in the run-up to this session, is a nail-biting thriller. Nearly 72 hours of drama and suspense, midnight panic calls, and even a walkout by India's permanent representative to the UN ensued in New York to outbid last minute manipulations.

The push

The two-decade old struggle for the UNSC expansion - first through an open-ended working group and then through intergovernmental negotiations committee - yielded no results. But in June 2014, Ugandan foreign minister Sam Kahamba Kutesa was handed the mantle of the president of the General Assembly. A lawyer and businessman, Kutesa had played a key role in the peace process in both South Sudan and Somalia. He had long seen Africa's pain of not finding its rightful place at the global high table.

Kutesa came from Uganda - the land of Idi Amin who infamously had Indians expelled in the '70s. But Indians today are a vibrant part of its community.

As foreign minister, Kutesa was key to discussions on Pan-Africa e-network project conceived by late former President APJ Abdul Kalam, that now connects 47 African countries through telemedicine and education satellite services.

Also read: Our economy desperately needs India-Africa Summit to be a success

Kutesa appointed Courtney Rattray, Jamaica's permanent representative to the UN, as the chair of the Intergovernmental Negotiations on Security Council Reform. Rattray was incidentally posted to China as ambassador when India's foreign secretary S Jaishankar was serving in Beijing as envoy.

Rattray set upon the enormous task of asking for written submissions from 193 member states. 121 countries gave pro-reform drafts. Following much persuasion from Rattray even 17 naysayers including the US, China, Russia, Pakistan, Algeria and Egypt submitted their dissent notes.

And the text was drafted through consultations with all stakeholders. On July 31, while in China, Kutesa signed the draft much to the ire of the Chinese.

Sources say, in a bid to counter the move, Beijing began de-marching envoys overnight in late August to ask them to back off. This was at a time when 13,000km away India was playing host to the second Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation summit - 14 countries strategically important to the South Pacific region, crucial to Sino maritime policy.

Also read: Does India want to be second-class citizen with a permanent seat at UNSC?

The conspiracy

But on Friday, September 11, just as the text was circulated for adoption, a deeper conspiracy to dilute the July 31 text surfaced. Late in the evening, a senior diplomat called up India's permanent representative Ashok Mukherjee, to inform him of this.

An internal secretariat coup had been carried out, allegedly by the Chinese and Pakistanis. Three changes had been made to the text which included striking off the "consultative" nature of the process.

India had to press the panic button but Kutesa could not be reached. Incidentally, the envoy of St Lucia, ambassador Menissa Rambally, whose roots lie in Bihar, had mentioned to ambassador Mukherjee of an African gathering on Friday evening.

Sources say, several hours and calls later, as the Indian envoy struggled to reach Kutesa, his South African friend, high commissioner Kingsley Mamabolo handed his own phone to Kutesa as he drove out, with Ashok Mukherjee on the other end.

Also read: Why we must not take the India-Africa Summit 2015 any less lightly

As the delegation of some 20 envoys marched to the UN building the next day, a call came in about the cancellation of the meeting with Kutesa, citing Uganda's interior minister's sudden death while on the flight to Dubai as the reason. The permanent representatives decided to wait.

Some three hours later, the group sat face to face with the UNGA president. The French and the British, argued for the Jamaican Chair's integrity to be maintained. India stressed that the July 31 draft was arrived upon post consultations with all members and any amendments be made only through a vote on the floor of the assembly, not through back channel diplomacy. Interestingly, smaller countries like St Lucia, with hardly any links to China, sought to call Beijing's bluff.

Kutesa heard them all but expressed helplessness for lack of time. At which point according to sources, the Indian envoy stood up for a dramatic walkout from the room. Kutesa finally assured them that he would set right the alleged internal secretariat manipulations. The original July 31 text was finally adopted to thunderous applause on September 14 this year.

Predictably, Pakistan and China were not happy. Pakistan alleged the "flawed process had been marked by arbitrary actions by the chair". China's delegate cried hoarse and said: "Imposing text that did not reflect the entire membership risked reversing the process."

Also read: Why India won't get a permanent seat at UNSC

The deal

Just days after the 70th UNGA session drew to a close, its former President John Ashe was arrested in New York on charges of subverting UN processes in lieu of Chinese bribes. Luckily Uganda withstood any such influence. Addressing the 70th session of the UN General Assembly last month, Prime Minister Modi said: "How can we have a Security Council in 2015 which still reflects the geopolitical architecture of 1945? How can we have a Security Council which still does not give place as a permanent member to Africa and Latin America?"

At the ongoing India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi, with heads of state and delegates from 54 African nations in attendance including Kutesa, the two sides are pushing for each other's UN aspirations. Meanwhile with a new UNGA president, the first plenary debate on the resolution is scheduled for October 30. Country-specific inclusion reforms are still a long way away.

But the declaration, if it comes at the India-Africa Summit, seeking "expansion in both categories" will be welcomed ahead of the text based negotiations that will begin in ten days time. This has come after intense drama.

Also read: How Modi can change India-Africa ties


Smita Sharma Smita Sharma @smita_sharma

Journalist. My Idea of Luxury: bean bags, remote, books, music, quiet.

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