Not for the first time, the United Nations (UN) has been excoriated by one of its founding members for failing to match standards that it has itself set. It is almost taken for granted that the high-sounding ideals of the UN Charter, its many conventions and thousands of resolutions find only the faintest echoes in the actual actions of the organisation. In this case, the Indian representative at the UN recently criticised the Security Council for postponing the decision to put a ban on Masood Azhar under the Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee of the council – even though Azhar has been designated a terrorist by the UNSC itself.
This criticism of the UNSC is tactically aimed at shaming, without naming, China. Beijing put the technical hold on international sanctions against Azhar largely, it seems, to help its “all-weather friend” Pakistan. It has now continued to extend this hold presumably for the same reason. Beijing has become Islamabad’s main diplomatic protector. While other foreign powers have played this role, the US being the obvious precursor, China has already shown that it is prepared to support Pakistan anywhere and in any way possible. China claims that it is also worried about terrorism emanating from the unstable bits of southwest and central Asia – but is unwilling to administer even the slightest of raps on the knuckles of Pakistan. The international sanctions against Azhar would have been largely symbolic. It is unlikely he maintains bank accounts in London or flies to the Bahamas on holiday. It makes perfect sense for New Delhi to maintain a sustained campaign against China, whether in the UNSC or elsewhere, if only to make it clear to Beijing that supporting the darkest side of Pakistan’s polity will not be without a price.
However, the criticism of the UNSC on this particular egregious case of diplomatic impotence also works on a higher plane: The problem with the nature of the international system as a whole. India’s attempts at the UN Security Council reform has run aground of the veto. China, Russia and the US are determined to ensure no additional country gets the veto. They are equally determined not to let their veto be diluted – for example, by introducing majority voting among permanent members. The membership of the General Assembly, on the other hand, is equally determined that something has to be done to put limits to abuse of the veto. The Chinese use of their authority to bloc the action against Azhar is an example of how a permanent member undermines the legitimacy of the blue flag.
Again, it is unlikely such statements will change Beijing’s protective attitude towards Islamabad unless other pressures are brought to bear. It is even less likely they will break the gridlock that afflicts the UN reform process. But showing that India, a country that has been previously allergic to the idea of an effective UN, wants the global body to at least live up to its own rhetoric, hope is that, over time, the sense that this is an organisation desperately in need of overhaul will grow strong enough to become a movement and then, one day, a reality.