India to vote for Maldives in UNGA President election next week

Decision will disappoint Afghanistan, which has former Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul in the running.

India will vote in support of Maldives’ Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid at the election for the President of the General Assembly (PGA) in the United Nations next week, a decision which will disappoint another close neighbour, Afghanistan, which has former Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul in the running.

The race between both South Asian neighbours for the post, which is being chosen this time from the Asia-Pacific grouping, will be decided in the election on June 7.

According to a senior official in Kabul, the Ghani government has formally requested India to vote for Mr. Rassoul, and was still hopeful of securing support. However, at least three government officials aware of the process here have said that India has made it clear that it cannot vote for Afghanistan as it had committed support for the Maldives, and suggested that Mr. Rassoul’s candidature had been announced only in January, which was quite late for the race.

“Normally it takes about a year to canvass for a position like the UNGA President,” said one official. “While Afghanistan had sounded us out earlier, they did take very long to announce the candidate, and by then we had already taken a call [on the Maldives].”

Sources suggested that the announcement of Mr. Rassoul’s decision to run had taken many in Delhi by surprise, as they had hoped that Mr. Shahid to be a consensus candidate in the Asian grouping, which gets its turn once every five years.

“A vote for the President of the GA is always very divisive both for the concerned regional group, as well as for the wider membership of the UNGA. Such a situation allows the major powers who have veto privileges outside the UNGA to use the elections to pursue their own agendas,” former Indian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Asoke Kumar Mukerji told The Hindu.

In 2016, Fiji won the election after a bitter contest with Cyprus that saw the U.S. and China taking different sides.

Officials suggested that in the current contest, China could support Afghanistan.

While most countries have not disclosed their vote yet, India had confirmed its support to Maldives during a virtual meeting between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Mr. Shahid in August 2020, and Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla had made a public statement during a visit to Male in November last.

‘Vast diplomatic experience’

“With his vast diplomatic experience and leadership qualities, Foreign Minister Shahid has the best credentials to preside over the General Assembly in these tumultuous times,” Mr. Shringla had said.

Given major global moves on Afghanistan as the U.S. prepares to pull out all troops in September this year, New Delhi is keen that its stand is not seen as taking a position against Afghanistan, and officials stressed that the vote was not an indicator of bilateral ties with either country, both of which are close partners of India.

Afghan officials also indicated that they hoped India would remember Afghanistan’s decision in 2013 to bow out of the race for a non-permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council, thus enabling India to occupy the present tenure in 2021-22, as New Delhi was particularly keen to mark 75 years of Indian independence as a UNSC (United Nations Security Council) member. In a rare move, the decision was proposed by then Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai at a cabinet meeting, as a gesture of goodwill conveyed to the Manmohan Singh government at the time.

However, the officials pointed out that India had supported Afghanistan on several occasions since then, including its successful run for a seat on the prestigious United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) last year.

“The support extended in 2013 by Afghanistan for India’s candidacy for the UNSC elected seat in June 2020 was in the specific framework of peace and security issues, and India has reflected fully Afghanistan’s interests in her participation in UNSC decision making during the past five months of her membership,” said Mr. Mukerji, who was India’s U.N. Ambassador (2013-2015) at the time.

The PGA is elected once a year for a term that begins with its session in September, and is key in deciding which resolutions will be brought before it. In the SAARC region, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh have all had UNGA President positions in the past, while Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan nominees have not been PGA ever.

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