Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, external affairs minister S Jaishankar has said that India is on the side of peace in the Ukraine conflict and will remain there; it is on the side that respects the United Nations charter and its founding principles; on the side that calls for diplomacy and dialogue; and on the side of those struggling to make ends meet, even as they stare at escalating costs of food, fuel and fertilisers.
“It is therefore in our collective interest to work constructively, both within the United Nations and outside, in finding an early resolution to this conflict,” Jaishankar told the assembly.
India also called out the current multilateral structure as “anachronistic and ineffective”. Jaishankar said, “It is also perceived as deeply unfair, denying entire continents and regions a voice in a forum that deliberates their future.” He said that India was ready to take greater responsibilities, but also flagged the needs of the global south. HT had reported on Wednesday that India was set to focus on issues of the global south at the UN.
During his speech, Jaishankar focused on the transformational period in international politics currently playing out, the series of shocks that had led to a reset in assumptions and policies, and projected India as a democratic and responsible power which was there in times of need for its neighbours and the global south while being the voice of reason in the global system.
The minister used the UNGA perch to speak about post-Independence journey of Indians as they celebrate 75 years of Independence. “The story of that period has been one of toil, determination, innovation and enterprise of millions of ordinary Indians. They are rejuvenating a society pillaged by centuries of foreign attacks and colonialism.” He said they were doing so in a “democratic framework”, whose steady progress is reflected in more “authentic voices and grounded leadership”.
Jaishankar said this “new India” under Narendra Modi was “a confident and resurgent society” and listed out the five pledges the PM announced on Independence Day — to make India a developed country by 2047; liberation from a colonial mindset (“Externally, this means reformed multilateralism and more contemporary global governance.”); treating India’s rich civilisational heritage as a source of pride and strength (“this includes care and concern for the environment, so ingrained in our traditional ethos”); promoting greater unity and solidarity (“this expresses a coming together on global issues, such as terrorism, pandemics or the environment”) and instilling consciousness of duties and responsibilities (“This applies to nations, as much as it does to citizens”).
The minister said it was this conviction that led India to supply vaccines to over 100 nations, create room for other nationals in distress during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, offering partnerships to countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America “based on their needs and priorities”. “Today, that focus is on green growth, better connectivity, digital delivery and accessible health. Our solidarity is not just words; you can see them in 700 projects across the world.”
The dip in international landscape
But while highlighting India’s specific political milestones and contribution, the minister said there was a “deterioration in the international landscape”.
“The world is already struggling with challenges of post pandemic economic recovery. The debt situation of the developing is precarious. To this, is now added the rising costs and shrinking availability of fuel, food and fertilizers. These, along with trade disruptions and diversions, are among the many consequences of the Ukraine conflict.”
The minister said that the Indo-Pacific too witnesses fresh concerns about its stability and security, in what appeared to be a reference to China’s belligerent activities. And he flagged how climate events have added an overlay on these mounting anxieties.
This is where Jaishankar spoke about the impact on the global south. “As we saw in the case of the Covid pandemic, the South will be most impacted, even if the immediate causes are well beyond. It is imperative that global conversations recognize this unfairness. The inequity of vaccine distribution should not be replicated in other domains.”
India in the neighbourhood
After speaking about India’s position on Ukraine, the minister turned to the neighbourhood and the challenges in India’s proximity and how New Delhi had played a role.
On the challenges, Jaishankar said, “Some of them may be aggravated by the Covid pandemic and ongoing conflicts; but they speak too of a deeper malaise. The accumulation of debt in fragile economies is of particular concern. We believe that in such times, the international community must rise above narrow national agendas.”
India, for its part, he said, was taking “exceptional measures in exceptional times”. These included sending 50,000 metric tons of wheat and multiple tranches of medicines and vaccines to Afghanistan; extending credits of $3.8 billion dollars to Sri Lanka for fuel, essential commodities and trade settlement; supplying 10,000 metric tons of food aid and vaccine shipments to Myanmar; filling gaps in humanitarian needs left “unaddressed by political complexity”.
“Whether it is disaster response or humanitarian assistance, India has stood strong, contributing particularly to those nearest to us.”
A series of shocks
India said that the world was going through transformational changes and had been affected by a succession of shocks.
The Covid pandemic, Jaishankar pointed out, had called into question the “over-centralised nature of globalisation” and had led all to seek “greater resilience and reliability of supply chains”.
“The repercussions of the ongoing Ukraine conflict have further heightened economic stresses, especially on food and energy.
Climate events have added to the disruption that the world is already facing. As for the promise of technology, it has certainly multiplied our capabilities but also added to vulnerabilities. Trust and transparency are legitimate expectations of a more digitized world.”
Any attempt to create a better world order would need to address all these issues, Jaishankar said. But among them, some were more existential in nature and needed “intense coordination” by the international community.
India and climate
The minister said that climate action and climate justice are particularly noteworthy in this respect. “In their pursuit, India has worked with partners on the International Solar Alliance, the One Sun-One World-One Grid initiative and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.”
Jaishankar added that India stood ready to support “any collective and equitable endeavor” to protect our environment and to further global wellness” and mentioned the “Lifestyle for Environment” or LiFE campaign, declared by PM Modi in Glasgow on the sidelines of COP26 as India’s “homage to Mother Nature”.
Jaishankar said that India remained deeply committed to fighting climate change under the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and the Paris Agreement. But he reiterated India’s broad policy framework in the regard.
“We do so on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances. We have announced our updated Nationally Determined Contributions after COP26.”
Multilateralism and global south
Returning to theme of south-south cooperation, based on principles of mutual respect and national ownership, Jaishankar said that as India got ready to take over as the G20 chair, it was sensitive to the “challenges faced by developing countries”.
“India will work with other G-20 members to address serious issues of debt, economic growth, food and energy security and particularly, environment. The reform of governance of multilateral financial institutions will continue to be one of our core priorities.”
Speaking about India’s tenure at the SC — it completes its term this December — Jaishankar said that India had “acted as a bridge on some serious but divisive issues confronting the Council”.
“We have also focused on concerns such as maritime security, peacekeeping and counter terrorism. Our contributions range from providing technology with a human touch to ensuring the safety and security of UN Peacekeepers.”
He announced that as the chair of the Counter Terrorism Committee, India was hosting its special meeting in Mumbai and New Delhi and invite all member states to participate in it. “We need to create a global architecture that responds to the new tech tools deployed against open, diverse and pluralistic societies.”
While India had deputed a junior diplomat to exercise the right to reply against Pakistan’s prime minister Shehbaz Sharif’s allegations against India, particularly with regard to Kashmir, Jaishankar, without naming Pakistan, said how after having “borne the brunt of cross border terrorism for decades”, India firmly advocated a “zero- tolerance” approach. “In our view, there is no justification for any act of terrorism, regardless of motivation. And no rhetoric, however sanctimonious can ever cover-up blood stains.”
India pointed out that the UN responded to terrorism by by sanctioning its perpetrators and reiterated what Jaishankar had also flagged in a UN Security Council meeting, bringing attention, obliquely, to China’s role in blocking the listing of Pakistan-based terrorists.
“Those who politicise the UNSC 1267 Sanctions regime, sometimes to the extent of defending proclaimed terrorists, do so at their own peril. Believe me, they advance neither their own interests nor indeed their reputation.”
Claiming that India had always espoused a “cooperative, inclusive, and consultative approach to international relations”, Jaishankar said that “multipolarity, rebalancing, fair globalisation and reformed multilateralism could not be kept in abeyance”.
“The call for reformed multilateralism – with reforms of the Security Council at its core – enjoys considerable support among UN members.” And it does so, he added, because of “widespread recognition that the current architecture is anachronistic and ineffective”. “It is also perceived as deeply unfair, denying entire continents and regions a voice in a forum that deliberates their future.”
India, he said, was prepared to take up greater responsibilities but India also sought, at the same time, to ensure that the injustice faced by the Global South are “decisively addressed”.
“Our call is to allow serious negotiations on such a critical matter to proceed sincerely. They must not be blocked by procedural tactics. Naysayers cannot hold the IGN process hostage in perpetuity,” he said.
“In these turbulent times, it is essential that the world listens to more voices of reason. And experiences more acts of goodwill. India is willing and able on both counts.
We believe and advocate that this is not an era of war and conflict. On the contrary, it is a time for development and cooperation.”