Sushma Swaraj has reached New York to attend the UN General Assembly's 73rd session
New York: The 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, the biggest stage for backdoor diplomacy, has begun. Not all of it takes place within the hallowed walls of the UN Headquarters in New York. 95 heads of state, 4 vice presidents, 42 heads of governments, 3 deputy prime ministers and 48 ministers will be present. India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, who has already landed in New York, has a packed schedule ahead. Ms Swaraj has already held preparatory meetings ahead of what is seen as the 'World Cup of diplomacy'.
Here are the 10 biggest developments as India stakes its claim at the UN:
In her address to the UN General Assembly, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj will likely mention calling off talks with Pakistan after the kidnapping and killing of 3 policemen. India could also respond to the UN report which slammed India on the human rights situation in Kashmir. The UN report had said 'human rights violations and abuses on both sides of the LoC' had taken place. Last year, Sushma Swaraj had attacked Pakistan saying "We set up IITs, IIMs. Pak created Lashkar, Jaish-e-Mohammed".
Last year, Pakistan's Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had spoken before India's Foreign Minister as heads of states speak before ministers. This year, India will address the UNGA before Pakistan, just a few hours apart. So, Pakistan's address to the UNGA will in some part likely be a response to what India says. In 2017, it took Pakistan's PM all of three minutes to first mention Jammu & Kashmir in his address.
India's Ambassador to the UN Syed Akbaruddin said there have been requests for more than 30 bilateral meetings, although the names of those who will hold talks have not been revealed yet. Since bilateral meetings at the UN have often been described as 'speed dating' with nations, the question remains over how many such meetings Sushma Swaraj can pull off.
India will find itself between a rock and a hard place when US President Donald Trump chairs the UN Security Council, as he is expected to attack Iran. Nikki Haley, Trump's representative at the UN, has already said that India ought to rethink its relationship with Iran. This is because the Trump administration has said that it will not give access to the US financial and banking system to any country dealing with Iran. To make matters tougher, Iran happens to be India's third largest supplier of crude oil. Iran has also invested $500 million in building the Chabahar port, which gives India access to Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan.
India is also set to focus on climate change and on how to implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Sushma Swaraj on Wednesday will take part in an informal High-Level Leaders Dialogue on Climate Change with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. India's Ambassador to the UN has already stated Climate Action as India's 2nd biggest priority at this UNGA.
The UN General Assembly will hold a special session on tuberculosis for the very first time. India has pledged to eliminate the disease five years before the UN Development Goal of 2030 and will take the opportunity to showcase the work done on this front. Health Minister JP Nadda will also be in New York to take part in High Level meetings on Tuberculosis and non-communicable diseases.
Another challenge India will face in the UN is the Rohingya crisis, over which no decisive action has yet been taken by the UN. Attempts to intervene in the crisis have been blocked by China and Russia, who say that Myanmar and Bangladesh ought to resolve the crisis by themselves. India's challenge will be to address the political controversy that erupted after ministers in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government said Rohingyas could be deported.
Over India's push for a permanent place at the UN Security Council, little has happened so far. India could possibly push more aggressively for it this year. As a part of larger reforms at the UN, the last action taken, which set the stage for India's permanent place at the Security Council, was in 2015, when the UN General Assembly adopted a negotiating text by consensus. Sushma Swaraj had then said that "more than 160 nations had expressed support for this effort."
India is one of the largest contributors to the UN's 49 peacekeeping operations across the globe. India's envoy to the UN, Mr Akbaruddin, had called it India's "sad distinction" of having the "most number of troops who have laid down their lives for the UN". What remains to be seen is how India will leverage this contribution at the UN.
To counter China's growing global influence, India plans to attain leverage through contributing to development programmes, like the South South Cooperation, a part of the UN Development Programme, in which India plans to play a key role. Digital co-operation is said to be another focus, with the Secretary General, having proposed a panel for it.