Monday, December 15, 2008

Be (a little) careful of the United Nations

So India has made a formal request to put the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its leader Hafiz Mohammed Saeed on the list of individuals and organisations under United Nations sanctions for being linked to terror activities. This is fine enough as it goes, and is part of India's overall strategy of taking the international community along in its bid to isolate elements in Pakistan which are using and sheltering the instrumentality of terrorism. But there are clear limits to the process, as well as hidden hazards that we need to be aware of.
The Indian request was distributed to all 15 Security Council member states on Tuesday by Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahmed who said in his address to the UN Security Council that “Jamaat-ud-Dawa and other such organisations need to be proscribed internationally and effective sanctions imposed against them.” He did not refer to Pakistan by name but his remark “Their country of origin needs to take urgent steps to stop their functioning,” made it clear that he was alluding to Pakistan. The Indian request is to put the JUD on a list maintained by the UN Security Council under resolution 1267 of 1999, also known as the Al Qaeda Taliban Sanctions Committee.
Separately, there is a move by the United States to get four Pakistani retired military officials — former ISI chiefs Hamid Gul and Javed Nasir, retired Major General Zahirul Islam Abbasi, and General Mirza Aslam Beg — included in the list.
Action against them could involve the freezing of their funds and financial assets, a ban on entry or transit through UN member states of the designated individuals and an arms embargo against the entities involved. The action is aimed at sending a signal to the Pakistani military elite that their continued support for outfits like the Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Taiba could result in their being declared international pariahs. For a status-conscious group with personal and family linkages to the west, the ban would be a humiliating development.


India has had a bitter experience of the United Nations. After all, the world body has done little to check the continuous terrorist attacks against this country since the mid-1980s. But the really bitter experience predated the rise of terrorism. In January 1948, India went to the UN Security Council with a complaint that its territory — Jammu & Kashmir — had been attacked by tribal raiders sent from Pakistan. The UN, manipulated by the British, decided that the issue of wanton aggression on a member state was secondary and the main focus had to be on what it declared was the “India-Pakistan” problem. That fire lit by the British continues to haunt us in the form of UN resolutions to resolve the Kashmir issue. Indeed, it was because the UN insisted on putting the cart before the horse that its efforts to resolve the issue, spread out over the next decade, failed.
So it is not surprising that the Pakistani authorities are even now trying to convert a terrorist attack on Mumbai into an “India-Pakistan” issue. After all what was the purpose of an all-party meeting in Islamabad expressing the “resolve of the Pakistani nation to defend its honour and dignity”? And expressing support “to the government and armed forces in defending Pakistan's security interests.”
If there is a threat to Pakistan's sovereignty or security, it comes from the so-called “non-state” actors that its army uses to further strategic objectives vis-à-vis India and Afghanistan.


Just how the UN functions is apparent in the case of the sanctions committee. According to The New York Times, a note distributed by the sanctions committee to its members said that the US, backed by Britain and France, had tried to add Hafiz Mohammed Saeed to the list in May but they were blocked by China. An earlier attempt of 2006, too, was blocked by China. No doubt the Chinese acted at the instance of Islamabad.
Since 9/11, the world has sought to present a united front against terrorism. The UN has passed three major resolutions. In the wake of 9/11, UN Security Council resolution 1373, acting on the draconian Chapter VII enjoined on states to criminalise fund collection for terrorist acts, freeze such funds and sequester property of people involved. It also demanded that states refrain from support “active or passive” to those involved in terrorism, “deny safe haven” to those who planned or carried out such acts, and sought cooperation of states in fighting terrorism, declaring “ ...acts, methods and practices of terrorism are contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations”. It called upon Member States to “become parties as soon as possible to the relevant international conventions and protocols” and “to increase cooperation and fully implement the relevant international conventions and protocol”. It also established a 15-member Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC).
In 2004, it adopted resolution 1535, that led to the creation of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) to provide the CTC with expert advice on all areas covered by resolution 1373. CTED was established also with the aim of facilitating technical assistance to countries, as well as promoting closer cooperation and coordination both within the UN system of organisations and among regional and intergovernmental bodies.
During the September 2005 World Summit at the United Nations, the Security Council — meeting at the level of Heads of States or Government for just the third time in its history adopted resolution 1624 that called on states to prohibit “by law incitement to commit a terrorist act …prevent such conduct…[and] deny safe haven to any persons” who may be involved in terrorism. The following year the UN General Assembly passed the UN Global Counter-terrorism strategy and plan of action which condemned terrorism and called for cooperation in fighting it.


Yet the problem with this impressive body of international law which by the last count includes some seven UN resolutions condemning terrorism is that we still lack a single definition of terrorism. The United Nations has been struggling to come up with one, but has not yet put it down in black and white. Some blame the Israelis for this, others the Arab world. So we all end up “condemning” and “fighting” terrorism, without being agreed on what it is. This is the escape clause that had helped countries like Pakistan to make their war against terrorism a highly selective act. They are assisted in this by countries
like China which think nothing of privileging friendship over international morality.
In this climate of opinion India needs to exercise some care. While the kind of move that has been initiated by E. Ahmed is fine, it must be wary of trying to push a resolution in the Security Council or having someone else do it. This is because China could append a clause demanding that the world body address the Kashmir issue. This is transparently a case of a wanton terrorist attack on India, not an India-Pakistan issue.
This article appeared in Mail Today December 11, 2008

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