Can the new UN General Assembly President midwife India's entry into the Security Council?


The UN headquarters in New York (Photo: Rahul Kumar)

The election of Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid as the President of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) has major implications for India.

Shahid got a massive backing by bagging 143 votes out of the 191 ballots cast while the former foreign minister of Afghanistan, Dr Zalmai Rassoul got 48 votes. Shahid will now preside over the 76th session of the UN body that will commence in September 2021. He will take over from Turkish diplomat Volkan Bozkir.

The President of the UNGA is elected through a secret ballot by a simple majority for a one-year term. India had openly and vociferously supported Shahid's candidature, despite the fact that the opposing candidate too came from a friendly country.

For India, Shahid's election is a big win and makes a global statement as China was backing the other candidate.

In New York, India's Permanent Mission to the UN tweeted: "Hearty congratulations to Maldives Foreign Minister @abdulla_shahid for the robust victory and for being elected as the 76th President of the UN General Assembly".

Speaking exclusively with India Narrative, an Indian diplomat who had served at the UN, said: "It makes us look good. The President of the UNGA has an important role to play in international diplomacy. He is like the speaker in a parliament, a neutral head but one who gets things done in your favour."

For India there are a number of issues close to the heart which lie unresolved at the UN.

The first is the issue of reforms in the UN Security Council (UNSC), which have been debated for long but have not moved. India is peeved and has shown its annoyance at many international fora at the highest level.

In fact Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing the General Assembly in September 2020 had said: "Till when do we have to wait? Till when will India be kept away from the UN's decision-making process?" He strongly urged the comity of nations that the UN has to move with changing times. "Reform is needed at the UN and India is waiting for that reform to happen", Modi said last year.

The diplomat told India Narrative: "The proposed changes to the UNSC, which is the most powerful among the UN bodies, remains stuck with the UNGA. If the President shows interest in the matter, he can reinvigorate the process of reforms to the UNSC. He can push matters forward and then it depends on how India plays its cards".

In February this year, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, in joint remarks in Maldivian capital Male had praised Shahid's rich diplomatic experience for the UNGA presidency and hinted that India

would collaborate with him on UNSC reforms. India is currently a non-permanent member of the UNSC for two years.

Jaishankar had said: "Foreign Minister Shahid, with his vast diplomatic experience and his leadership qualities is, in our view, the best equipped to preside over the General Assembly of 193 nations of the world. ... We would really like to work with you during our membership of the United Nations Security Council for 2021-22”.

Despite a India-friendly UNGA head and capacity to nudge decisions, analysts point out that it would be too much to expect a UNGA head to swing India's entry as a permanent entry into the UNSC core. That decision will essentially rest on a consensus within the permanent 5 veto-wielding members of the UNSC, who, so far, do not see eye-to-eye on India's presence in an expanded Security Council.

Another area in which India would like the UNGA to push harder is fighting international terrorism, terror financing, radicalisation and cyber-recruitment. India also wants the global fora to hold countries accountable for aiding and supporting terrorists. India's various foreign ministers have been raising the issue relentlessly on global platforms for over two decades.

India has been raising the issue of ratification of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) at the UN to combat terror and make sure that countries are brought to justice for aiding terrorists.

For the moment, Shahid's election as the UNGA President is a big win for India. It presents the country with an opportunity to take up once again certain key issues pending for long.