THE United Nations Security Council’s condemnation statement Thursday on the Pulwama terrorist attack is the very first time that a terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir has been condemned by the UNSC.
For, the fact is that the UN considers Jammu and Kashmir “disputed territory”, and has not been able to come to a consensus on the definition of “terrorism.” As a result, the UNSC has never been involved in past terrorist attacks in Kashmir.
That’s why the statement was a major breakthrough and it came after frenetic diplomacy, with more than a little help from Washington, sources have told The Indian Express. “In the UN community, one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. That debate has been at the heart of not being able to adopt the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT). That conventional divide was the key issue to be breached,” said a source who negotiated the text of the statement that condemned the attack and named Jaish-e-Mohammed.
When New Delhi decided to launch the diplomatic offensive to isolate Pakistan on the morning of February 15, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and Secretaries of the MEA started meeting envoys of major countries — the G-20, South Asian neighbours, ASEAN countries and Europeans among others. Phones were also being worked by Indian envoys in major world capitals, including at the UN in New York.
The task before Delhi was to get a condemnation statement from the UNSC. Within the first couple of days, more than 50 countries had issued it but only the US had named Pakistan.
“After the Parliament attack or the 26/11 terror attack, we got a condemnation within a couple of days. But this was much more difficult than we had imagined,” a top source told The Indian Express who has worked in drafting previous statements. What New Delhi was able to impress upon the majority of the UNSC was to “locate” the Pulwama terrorist attack in the global war against terrorism.
Indian diplomats used the FBI’s definition of terrorism to convince UNSC members: “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a Government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
Washington took the lead; France, UK and Russia were on board, while China was the only holdout. None of the non-permanent members had any objections. “Much of the heavy-lifting was done by the US,” a source said and much of the conversations took place in Washington and Beijing with Delhi coordinating between them and others.
As Pakistan got wind of this, its UN envoy Maleeha Lodhi met UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi wrote a letter to Guterres requesting him to play a role to “de-escalate” tension in the region. The Chinese mission in Washington DC and New York kept referring the issue back to Beijing’s court.
Sources said China asked UNSC members to use Guterres’s language which was part of his spokesperson’s statement on Day One: “We strongly condemn today’s attack in Jammu and Kashmir Pulwama district…”
Delhi wanted stronger language so that the UNSC could take a cue. So, on February 19, Guterres’s spokesperson said: “We’re deeply concerned at the increase in tensions between the two countries in the wake of the attack on Indian security personnel on 14 February in Pulwama.”
So, for the first time the language had changed from “attack in Jammu and Kashmir” to “attack on Indian security personnel”. “That made the difference”, the source said.
Finally, with intense lobbying by Trump administration officials and French diplomats, Beijing yielded. “China agreed to name Jaish-e-Mohammed in the statement as they wanted to cut their losses. Sometimes you take a decision to gain something, sometimes you don’t want to waste political capital on something like this,” a source said.
China signed off on the UNSC statement that “condemned in the strongest terms” the Pulwama terror attack and named Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad for the “heinous and cowardly suicide bombing”.
Sources cautioned this doesn’t mean that the UNSC debate on Kashmir has been settled. “But we have been able to push the envelope this time,” the source said.
The UNSC statement naming JeM is also significant because China has singlehandedly blocked the listing of JeM chief Masood Azhar as a “global terrorist” at the UN Security Council Resolution 1267 sanctions committee for the last 10 years. At least three attempts in the last decade, in 2009, 2016 and 2017, have been blocked by Beijing at Pakistan’s behest.
The statement “urged all States, in accordance with their obligations under international law and relevant Security Council resolutions, to cooperate actively with the Government of India and all other relevant authorities in this regard”. This is a reference to the Indian government’s efforts to list Azhar as a global terrorist.
Sources said that Beijing agreed to name JeM since it is already a UN-proscribed terrorist group since 2002, but it has not yet yielded on Azhar’s listing.