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Why the United Nations is a toothless denture

Wednesday, 9 July 2014 - 3:29pm IST | Agency: dna

The hostilities between newly independent India and Pakistan had also given rise to the second-oldest dispute at the United Nations (UN), which incidentally, still remains unresolved after over six decades. Recently, the Indian government asked the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) to vacate its bungalow in New Delhi which was allotted to the mission over 40 years ago as a short-term arrangement on a gentleman’s promise.

Six decades later and countless violations of the ceasefire from both sides of the border, the UNMOGIP’s wings have been clipped severely by the Indian government which doesn’t let it function but nonetheless has been tolerating its presence so far.

However, with the new Indian government asking UNMOGIP to vacate its premises in New Delhi, is it the beginning of an end of the UN’s presence in Kashmir? The government clearly thinks so and has made it clear that the UNMOGIP has “outlived its relevance”.

In January 1948, the UN passed resolution 39 which established the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) to investigate and mediate the Kashmir dispute. The UN, in April 1948 decided to enlarge the role of the UNCIP and passed resolution 47 which included the use of observers to mediate and stop the fighting between the two. In 1949, a team of unarmed military observers reached Kashmir to supervise the ceasefire between India and Pakistan and report to the security general of the UN about the progress.

But in 2013 alone, there were close to a hundred ceasefire violations by Pakistan, up from 93 in 2012. As recent as May this year, during the visit of Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif for the swearing-in ceremony of Indian PM Narendra Modi, the ceasefire was violated with both sides exchanging skirmishes.

The UNMOGIP has indeed lost its relevance after India and Pakistan signed an agreement defining the Line of Control in 1972. India, back then, had said that with the establishment of the LoC, the mandate of the UNMOGIP had lapsed and was no longer required in the region. Pakistan did not agree with India’s argument and the UN continued to maintain its presence because of the absence of a Security Council resolution specifically terminating the need of the UNMOGIP. Currently, there are 40 military observers, 23 international peace civilian personnel and 45 local civilian staff working for the UNMOGIP. The 40 military observers in the mission come from Chile, Croatia, Finland, Italy, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Sweden, Switzerland and Uruguay.

Acting at the advice of the then governor general of India, Lord Mountbatten, and India decided to take the Kashmir issue to the UN on January 1, 1948. However, the partisanship of the British on the Kashmir issue left Nehru deeply dissatisfied and he regretted going to the UN, as noted by Ramchandra Guha in his book ‘India After Gandhi’.
This brings us to the pertinent question of the relevance of the UN peacekeeping missions around the world since its inception.

Since its beginnings in 1947, peacekeeping missions have gotten more and more complex. Initially, the opposing sides were willing to accept UN’s role in their dispute. However, as the disputes got more complex and intertwined in nationalism with a massive rise in fatalities, humanitarian aspects came to dominate the UN peacekeeping missions. The landmark Brahimi Report tabled at the UN General Assembly in 2000 said, “The United Nations was founded...in order to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. Meeting this challenge is the most important function of the Organization, and to a very significant degree it is the yardstick with which the Organization is judged by the peoples it exists to serve. Over the last decade, the United Nations has repeatedly failed to meet the challenge, and it can do no better today.”

Even though the rate of success of UN peacekeeping missions was noteworthy in the beginning, since the start of the 21st century, new challenges faced by the UN have cast doubts on its authority. The failure of the UN peacekeeping missions can be understood from the fact that there was no concept or mention of “peacekeeping” in the UN charter. Moreover, with the passage of time, the complexities in the nature of conflicts grew and the UN saw a massive drubbing in its efforts to maintain peace and save lives in African countries like Angola, Rwanda and Somalia. As seen recently in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq, the UN’s resolve to be the world’s peacekeeper has been severely dented.

The UN is understaffed and constrained by budgets. The evolving role of the countries, regional actors and the UN in maintaining peace and calm has not been successful to say the least. The future of these missions lay in the UN’s acceptance of regional actors and their roles in maintaining peace and tranquility in their regions. However, ‘African solutions for African problems’ saw the world wash off its hands from Darfur and with the African Union clearly failing to act, the atrocities continue till this day. If the UN has to succeed in its mandate, then it needs to act rather than be a bystander and let the world run riot.

Shubhashish is a journalist who is now pursuing a Masters in International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS, London. He can be reached at shubhashish@msn.com

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