India, Pak at UN

THE speeches at the United Nations General Assembly by India and Pakistan premiers  is a major annual event that attracts a lot of media and public attention in South Asia. One major point of interest is the lingering India-Pakistan animosity, largely driven by their long-standing fight  over Jammu and Kashmir. Since revocation of Article 370 in August 2019, the speeches  have assumed an even bigger news value. More so, in Kashmir, where people eagerly look forward to these speeches to see if there's anything in store for them.

In his speech Prime Minister Narendra Modi once again skirted Kashmir and instead chose to focus on climate change, poverty alleviation, developments in Afghanistan, and United Nations Security Council reform. He hailed India as “mother of all democracies,” saying the country had democratic traditions for thousands of years. He termed his own rise from humble beginnings to prime ministership of India as reflective of Indian democracy’s strength.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in his speech talked about Afghanistan and Kashmir and called for bold steps to pre-empt the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan saying “a destabilized, chaotic Afghanistan will again become a safe haven for international terrorists.” Khan once again highlighted the  oppression and human rights violations in Kashmir. He, however, said that Pakistan desires peace with India, as with all its neighbours”, but a sustainable peace is “contingent upon resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute”.

Later, it was left to the diplomats of the two countries to continue the bitter exchange. While Pakistani diplomat Saima Saleem rejected India’s contention that Kashmir was its “internal matter,” India’s diplomat Sneha Dubey in her aggressive speech called Pakistan “an arsonist” who was behaving like a “firefighter.”

India always brings up terrorism sponsored from across the border and Pakistan makes counter accusations and also seeks to highlight the situation in Kashmir. This acrimonious exchange is a routine spectacle at the United Nations where the mutually antagonistic positions are ritualistically rehearsed at various meetings.

If anything, it also underlines the lingering estrangement between the neighbours that has further deepened since New Delhi's withdrawal of Article 370. Situation can be expected to improve if the leaders of the two countries deem it in their core interest to engage.

And if not then we can only hope that the current climate of distrust and antagonism doesn’t lead to further escalation of tensions. More so, when due to suspended talks, the two countries lack the diplomatic tools to manage the fallout. It is therefore important that the two countries get back to the dialogue and work towards the resolution of their longstanding issues for durable peace in the region.

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