A South Asian UNSG in 2006?
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari


Ms Rocca, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, is once again visiting Pakistan. She comes at a time when increasing revelations about abuse of Muslim prisoners and the Holy Qur'an by US authorities in Guantanamo Bay are impacting Muslim civil societies across the globe and especially in Pakistan which is also seeing the US abuse Pakistani air space ad nauseam with no sensitivity to Pakistani sovereignty or even domestic political concerns. While the US has managed to control Newsweek, the charge of inhuman treatment of incarcerated Muslims and desecration of the Holy Qur'an is being leveled from too many quarters, including International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), for it to go away. Yet the US has done almost nothing to punish the perpetrators. Instead it has continued to deny a reality, hoping that pressure tactics will silence the issue. All that has happened is that Newsweek has further lost any credibility it may have had internationally.
But Ms. Rocca also comes at a time when Pakistanis are lost in a thick cloud of feel-good atmospherics that surrounds the dialogue process today between Pakistan and India, despite little movement in substantive terms over the core issue. So she may have an easier time putting through the US perspective on Pakistan-India bilateral relations, including explaining why the US is hell-bent on undermining the strategic nuclear balance in South Asia by providing India with missile defense and other destabilizing weapon systems! That is if any one in Pakistan cares to actually ask these questions.
Naturally, with all these developments, few in Pakistan are aware of a very important issue that is now developing and one which will have a major impact, regionally and globally for Asia in general and for South Asia in particular. This issue is the selection-election of a new Secretary General of the UN, in 2006. This time it is Asia's turn and there is a strong South Asian contender in Sri Lanka's Jayantha Dhanapala - a leading retired diplomat, known for his active international role especially in relation to arms control and disarmament and the championing of non-discriminatory global norms. His remarkable Presidency of the 1995 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review and Extension Conference led to the passage of a set of decisions being adopted without a vote. The altercations besetting the present ongoing NPT Review Conference reflect the scale of Dhanapala's achievement in 1995. This success was a major reason for his being invited to serve as a member of the Canberra Commission along with 17 other international personalities who came together and published an important report on nuclear disarmament and proliferation in 1996. He also has vast experience within the UN organization itself and Kofi Annan appointed him as Under Secretary General from 1998 to 2003 to undertake the re-establishment of the Department of Disarmament after the 1997 UN reforms. His political experience complements his diplomatic one, as he is currently the Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process in Sri Lanka as well as Senior Adviser to the Sri Lankan President.
Dhanapala's substantive credentials stand out on their own merit and he reflects Sri Lanka's longstanding tradition of education and internationalism. But for Pakistan it becomes critical to lend support to a Sri Lankan candidate because of the strong strategic relationship the two countries share and also the importance of having a Secretary General from one of the smaller South Asian states that understands what it means to live alongside a major and ambitious power. For South Asia itself, it becomes extremely advantageous to have the international focus on the region - allowing for people across the globe to become aware of the richness of the region as well as its problems.
So far Asia has had only one Secretary General - U Thant (1961-1971) from Myanmar in Southeast Asia. Therefore, by any logic, a nuclearized South Asia should have a turn at putting one of its own in that seat. Here Pakistan's support becomes critical because we can lobby with the Arab world and other friends amongst the developing states. Contrary to popular assumptions, Pakistan does have influence amongst some important developing states - especially in terms of global issues.
Even though India may not be too keen to have a non-Indian South Asian candidate for the post of Secretary General, it seems difficult for India to openly oppose Sri Lankan candidature - although India will have a tough time in that a rival candidate is the present Thai Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Surakiat Sathirathai. While both Pakistan and India are seeking closer links with ASEAN, it does not suit our interests to support someone from outside South Asia when a South Asian candidate is present - and a highly qualified one. Equally, while Sri Lanka also has close relations with the US, Thailand has a strong military relationship with the US. Also, Thailand has been criticized internationally for its handling of its Muslim minority in three of its southern provinces.
So by all counts Dhanapala is a serious contender, unlike the earlier Sri Lankan candidate, Tyrone Fernando who was Sri Lankan Foreign Minister for two years from 2001, but who did not have the depth of international experience that Dhanapala has. Many young academics who heard him in Lahore earlier this year at the RCSS (Regional Centre for Strategic Studies) international workshop came away highly impressed by his two presentations on the issues of nuclear proliferation and the UN and disarmament - both in terms of content and presentation. Some youngsters felt he was one of the best speakers amongst a whole gala of academics and analysts.
For Pakistan it is essential to come out openly to canvass for our Sri Lankan friend, not only because of our bilateral ties but also because of the South Asia factor. After all, only last week we saw the parliamentarians from South Asia recommend an eventual Union of South Asia on the European Union pattern, at the SAFMA-sponsored meeting in Pakistan. If we are seeking a more viable SAARC framework and closer South Asian integration, then we need to show that commitment by taking up Dhanapala's campaign proactively and in advance, rather than vacillating and hedging around the issue.
Despite the flexing of muscle power by the US, the Secretary General continues to be critical within the UN because he can take peace initiatives, bring forth global issues center stage and impact the legitimacy or otherwise of parties and perspectives to a conflict. His annual report highlights global developments and reveals international priorities for the future. His selection of personnel also impacts UN discourse and development.
In the immediate future we have some critical issues that will be raised within the UN - ranging from nuclear proliferation to terrorism to Iraq. Other non-traditional security issues are also going to find more space within the UN agenda in the coming years. A South Asian voice through the Secretary General will be a major plus for this region as well as for Asia and the international community. Pakistan should take the lead in supporting Sri Lanka to reach this goal.
(The writer is Director General of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


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