THE CITIZEN COMMENT | 29 SEPTEMBER, 2019
“My PM Is Better Than Your PM”
THE CITIZEN COMMENT
It is difficult to get a word into this cacophony of Indian and Pakistani social media hounds, baying for the others blood with choice abuse at times, and supporting their own Prime Ministers following the United Nations General Assembly speeches by India’s Narendra Modi and Pakistan’s Imran Khan. The result is that what the two said seems to have been drowned in the generated passion, with of course the play out on Kashmir becoming secondary to who scored more points than the other.
Looks, language, dress et al has been discussed bare by the Twitterati in their highly academic 140 character outpourings, but at the end of the day the substance of what the PMs said has been lost. And this despite the fact that both PM’s made arguments, one through what he did not say, and the other who laid it bare insofar as words are concerned. And hence, there is a message from both on Kashmir which by the way is the first reason why their speeches generated tremendous interest globally. And got them far more eyeballs than on an ordinary UNGA day.
It was clear that PM Modi is in no mood to retract the decisions taken on Kashmir - namely the abrogation of Articles 35A and 370 and the division of the state into two Union Territories. It was equally clear that PM Khan is fully aware of this hence his appeal to the world to do something to ensure the retraction. He knows that the possibility of talks is negligible, and dialogue in itself meaningless, as the government in New Delhi has established a reputation of not going back on decisions once taken.
Modi through his short less than 20 minute speech ---by the way even this has become a scored brownie point for some, ‘our PM kept to the time yours did not’----barely referred to Kashmir and focused instead on terrorism. His silence was indication enough that for him and the government Kashmir is an internal issue, and he is no mood to brook a discussion on this.
For PM Modi the ‘world needs to unite on terrorism’, reconcile all the differences as this for him remains the real threat. He did not mention Pakistan but nevertheless,the finger pointing was no less effective. And as for India it’s record on peace was unchallengeable as she has given Budh(ha) and not Yudh (war) to the world.
For Khan the ‘world needs to unite on Kashmir’ saying that terror groups were inherited by his country from the US war against Russia during its occupation of Afghanistan. And terror was not the issue now as his government has dismantled the last of the terror infrastructure in Pakistan. And that Pakistan has paid a price for terrorism that has claimed the lives of 70,000 Pakistanis over the years.
Khan spoke of human rights violations in Kashmir but more important were the statements that India has subsequently described as a nuclear ‘threat.’ In almost childlike simplicity the Pakistan PM laid down the scenario of human rights violations in Kashmir, of Pakistan’s serious objections, of terror attacks by emotional Kashmiris that India will attribute then to Pakistan, of skirmish, of conventional war, and of the ever real threat of nuclear war. Stop us, he warned the world community, before it is too late. And it can be stopped only if India is made to roll back its actions in Kashmir. He sought to raise the banner of ‘racism’ in India --comparable as he said to the Nazis in Germany--- to elicit further reaction from the global community of liberals and others to these ‘warnings’.
PM Modi on the other hand spent the remaining minutes of his speech to focus on his commitment to the environment (plastic ban), climate change, and India as a major market for trade and opportunities.It was clear that the decision was not to even bother to cross swords with Pakistan on Kashmir as it was an “internal matter” for India.
For those tweeting on the style of the respective speeches, it must be understood that Prime Ministerial addresses to the UNGA are not impulsive. The inputs of the governments are factored in, and decisions taken whether the speech will be macro (as was PM Modi) or micro (as was PM Khan) as per developments, circumstances and constituencies the leaders wish to address. Hence while it was thought prudent for PM Modi to stay away from specifics, it was clear from the onset that PM Khan would follow the brief of being direct and hitting hard.
Both addressed the global community of course, but that does not really need UNGA addresses to make up its mind on issues. But they addressed their own constituencies too, with Modi after Houston where he had made a direct-to-voters speech adopting a higher horse and steering clear of specific controversies. That Tamil Nadu was singled out with the special quote was significant in the current circumstances and interesting. He instead chose a larger climate change and environment friendly thrust, with an eye on the huge global protests on these issues.
Khan addressed Pakistan, the muslim world and over and above that Kashmir with words of support and solidarity that have already elicited a response from these constituencies. For the world he used examples of Nazism, and over and above that the dangers inherent in a military confrontation between nuclear neighbours, directed at creating pressure on fence sitters to take a stand. And intervene in the dispute that could lead to “disaster.”
Terrorism remained the argument of India. Kashmir and violations, the argument of Pakistan. Climate change was the thrust for India. Nuclear holocaust for Pakistan.
The point really rests with who finally managed to cover more ground insofar as global support is concerned this time around. And this is dependent on geo-politics, and inter nation relations quite outside the UNGA which did showcase the positions and the arguments to some extent of course.
It is clear that the Indian diaspora treats Modi like a rockstar as the Houston event again demonstrated. And left a very very impressed US President in Donald Trump who saw in him the popularity of Elvis Presley. This show of support was essential to further bolster support at home.
That Trump spent a long time with Modi at Houston, even going around the stadium hand in hand for a virtual victory lap amidst delirious Indian-Americans cannot be taken lightly. But he doused the fire of camaraderie by following this later with his usual offer to mediate between the two countries. And went on to describe both as good people, and good friends, whatever that means.
UK’s Labor Party has already taken a position in a rather strong resolution on Kashmir. Others like France have warned against human rights violations. Saudi Arabia has played both, tempering open support for India by joining a later OIC resolution on Kashmir. Turkey and China have openly supported Pakistan. Russia has spoken in two voices, but largely can be seen to be pro-India on Kashmir. And so on and so forth.
So at the end of the day was September 27 just an India vs Pakistan event? Perhaps, but an important event for fleshing out positions and strategy on a global platform. As for the rest, time will tell.