Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India cautioned today that tolerating extremism in Afghanistan would open the way to renewed terrorism in the region. The message was aimed at Pakistan, where the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan is promoting a policy of incentives to change the Taliban’s behavior and not rely on punitive responses.
The two men spoke to the hybrid, high-level opening of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly over the last two days; Khan preceded Modi on Sept. 24. The speeches by all the world’s leaders began on Sept. 21, with a major focus on President Joe Biden’s recommitment to the UN after attacks on the organization by his predecessor.
The annual opening session ends on Monday, Sept. 27. It’s a day that will offer drama, with not only dozens of speakers in the lineup but also most likely the respective representatives of Myanmar and Afghanistan, who are in contention for their UN role, showing up in the Assembly Hall. The junta in Myanmar want to send their own envoy, replacing U Kyaw Moe Tun, who was appointed by the democratically elected government before its overthrow on Feb. 1, 2021. The Afghanistan ambassador, Ghulam Isaczai, is scheduled to speak as well, but the acting government of the Taliban have requested to send their own representative instead.
Both requests are to be considered by the General Assembly’s credentialing committee, which has not announced when it will meet. (It has nine members, including the United States.) In addition, on Sept. 27, the UN representative for North Korea is scheduled to speak, as well as the ambassador for Guinea, which recently experienced a coup.
“The country that uses terrorism as a political tool must also understand that it will also suffer from the same tool that they are inflicting on others,” Modi said, without referring to Pakistan’s softer approach to dealing with the Taliban. “It is absolutely essential to ensure that Afghanistan’s territory is not used to spread terrorism.” He warned that “no country should take advantage of Afghanistan” in its collapsing state.
Although it was predicted — and apparently shared in a briefing for Indian journalists before the speech — that Modi planned to castigate Pakistan, he devoted most of his 22-minute address, done in person at the UN, to praising India in glowing terms, its Hindu nationalist movement and his own record in office. He spoke in Hindi, the preferred language of his Hindu party, the BJP, or the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Calling India the “mother of democracy,” he said that as democracies go, India has the best record of diversity. Among other claims, he noted that India was a world leader in the development, production and distribution of vaccines against Covid and had a stellar public health care system. Technology advances in his country are made using “democratic values.”
Indian media that have not been repressed or threatened by the Modi government have drawn global attention to the perils they face in increasing assaults on factual reporting and free expression. Numerous journalists suffer physical abuse; some have been murdered. Most recently, on Sept. 22, Rana Ayyub, a leading Indian journalist and guest opinion writer at The Washington Post, wrote how she was targeted by a Hindu right-wing organization that led to her being charged for “creating communal disharmony.” What she had done, she said, was tweet an appeal for money to help Covid-19 victims, many of them poor, low caste or from minority religions.
Modi’s decision to tone down comments on Pakistan was unexpected, given the tongue-lashing he got a day earlier from Khan of Pakistan, who spoke at the UN session by pre-recorded video.
After addressing the main agenda topics by world leaders — the pandemic, climate change and human rights — Khan turned to India’s treatment of Muslims and it military takeover and continued abuses in the part of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir that India has dominated since the British left the subcontinent in 1947.
“The hate-filled ‘Hindutva’ ideology, propagated by the fascist RSS-BJP regime, has unleashed a reign of fear and violence against India’s 200 million strong Muslim community,” Khan said.
“Mob lynching by cow vigilantes [looking for mistreatment of an animal sacred to Hindus] . . . discriminatory citizenship laws to purge India of Muslims; and a campaign to destroy mosques across India and obliterate its Muslim heritage and history, are all part of this criminal enterprise,” he added.
Khan said that the Modi government, which stripped Muslim-majority Kashmir of its limited autonomy in August 2019, has ruled Kashmiris with “an occupation force of 900,000 . . . jailed Kashmiri political leadership; imposed a clampdown on media and internet and violently suppressed peaceful protests.”
“New Delhi has also embarked on what it ominously calls the ‘final solution’ for the Jammu and Kashmir dispute,” he said, adding: “We have unveiled a detailed dossier on gross and systematic violations of human rights by the Indian Security Forces in Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. This repression is accompanied by illegal efforts to change the demographic structure of the occupied territory, and transform it from a Muslim majority into a Muslim minority” — thus violating UN resolutions and international rights and humanitarian laws, he noted.
“It is unfortunate, very unfortunate, that the world’s approach to violations of human rights lacks even-handedness, and even is selective,” he said. “Such double standards are the most glaring in case of India, where this RSS-BJP regime is being allowed to get away with human rights abuses with complete impunity.”
India has demanded a right of reply to Khan’s accusations in the General Assembly, which cannot be granted until the current session is over.
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Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.