India, Pak PMs set to take showdown to UN stage today
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will cap an eventful week-long visit to the US, marked by two interactions with President Donald Trump, with an address to the UN General Assembly on Friday a short while before his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan.
Modi resolutely focused on positioning India as a key player in a changing global order in the face of repeated attempts by Pakistan to internationalise the Kashmir issue in the aftermath of New Delhi’s August 5 decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and reorganise the state into two Union Territories.
Though Modi launched a veiled attack on Pakistan for sponsoring and supporting terrorism against India while sharing the stage with Trump at the “Howdy, Modi!” event in Houston on Sunday, even calling for a “decisive battle” against terror, he has used most of his bilateral and multilateral meetings and other engagements in New York to highlight India’s role in tackling global challenges such as climate change and to pitch the country as a trade and investment destination to America’s top companies.
Modi will address the UN General Assembly on Friday morning and Khan is expected to make his speech shortly thereafter. People familiar with developments said India will exercise its “right of reply” to respond to Khan’s address, which is expected to focus on the Kashmir issue.
Modi cleared up his schedule for most of Thursday to work on his speech for the General Assembly that could be his signature legacy, should he decide to break new ground, as officials have indicated he might.
The speech will be re-written and re-written some more till it’s ready for delivery and it could change in both letter and spirit till the last minute, when Modi is comfortable enough to own the speech and its consequences, the people said.
“Modi is a risk-taker,” said a person familiar with deliberations related to the speech, a process that would have started weeks ago.
Officials have been indicating that Pakistan or differences with it will not figure in Modi’s speech and the issue of terrorism, which India raises without naming Pakistan with the intention of spotlighting the neighbouring country’s support and use of terror as a tool of state policy, may figure in the address but will not be the centre of it.
Pakistan will surely attack India and raise Kashmir as every year before, and with renewed vigour this time as Khan has vowed to do so, but India has appeared determined to “not get into the mud” with them.
Asked about India’s plan to deal with the impending speech by Pakistan at the General Assembly, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale told reporters last week Pakistan can do what it wants to but India’s prime minister “will focus on what the UN General Assembly’s high level segment is meant to focus on, which is, as an important economy, as an important country, as a responsible member of the UN, the prime minister will flag what we are doing for development, for security, for peace and our expectations and aspirations of other countries”.
If the plan is executed as envisioned, Modi’s break from the past will be remarkable. Pakistan was not mentioned in an Indian address — by the prime minister or the external affairs minister — in the General Assembly address only once in the past 10 years, in 2011. It figured 10 times in 2010, five times in 2013, five times in 2014 and three, six, 15 and 12 times over the next four years.
Ahead of the address, Modi met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the margins of the General Assembly on Thursday and discussed bilateral ties and regional and global developments.
Modi reiterated “India’s support for giving priority to diplomacy, dialogue and confidence-building in the interest of maintaining peace, security and stability in the Gulf region, which is of vital importance for India”, said a statement from the external affairs ministry.
The two leaders “positively assessed the progress in bilateral relations since their first meeting at Ufa in 2015” and especially mentioned the operationalisation of Iran’s Chabahar port and “noted its importance as a gateway to and for the landlocked Afghanistan and the Central Asian region”.
They also agreed to mark the 70th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations in 2020