No side either admits it or takes credit for it, but fortuitously enough, India and Pakistan often have achieved parity in terms of bureaucratic power at the United Nations in New York.
When Boutros Boutros Ghali was the Secretary General of the United Nations, some Pakistanis at the UN repeatedly voiced concern that he was too strongly influenced by then Under Secretary-General Chinmaya Garekhan, formerly India´s Permanent Representative to the UN. Similarly, years earlier, the Pakistanis were miffed that another Under Secretary-General, Virendra Dayal, had the ear of his boss, Javier Perez de Cuellar. For their part, Indian diplomats have often complained that no Indian heads a UN agency – a complaint made more competitive by the fact that one such head, Nafis Sadik, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), is Pakistani and has been in the position for 11 years.
On the whole, however, this kind of blinkered carping does not figure in the larger scheme of things at the United Nations in New York, where the Secretariat as well as major agencies such as UNDP (for development), UNFPA (population) and Unicef (children) are headquartered. Indeed, for all the nationalistic flag-waving that does exist even in the UN, there have been many examples of Indians and Pakistanis cooperating and rising together in the international civil service.
Indian and Pakistani diplomats alike point to the relationship between Iqbal Riza, a Pakistani, and Shashi Tharoor, an Indian, as a sign of how misguided the view of Indian-Pakistani “zero-sum” competition at the UN is. Riza and Tharoor both served under Kofi Annan when the Ghanaian diplomat headed the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. They worked closely together in handling UN peacekeeping work in Bosnia-Herzegovina. When Annan took over from Boutros-Ghali as Secretary-General at the beginning of 1997, both men rose to the Secretariat´s top ranks, with Riza taking the coveted chief-of-staff (Chef de Cabinet) role and Tharoor in a prominent advisory slot. Indians and Pakistanis have no problems getting along, says a former South Asian staffer, pointing the finger in an entirely different direction in a show of regional solidarity, “The real problem is the Latin Americans always trying to get the top posts for their region.” (The rise of the Latino in the United Nations Secretariat harks back to the period of Boutros Boutros- Ghali´s successor, Peruvian Javier Perez de Cuellar, who served two terms as Secretary-General from 1982 to 1992.)
For many years, the number of Indian and Pakistani diplomats in senior UN posts have been more or less equal. In terms of senior Under Secretaries General – the rung that is immediately beneath the Secretary-General – the two sides are equal at present. If Iqbal Riza is Chef de Cabinet, Nitin Desai from India heads the Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, a position created after the Rio environment summit in 1992. Similarly, while Tharoor, perhaps better known for authoring books such as The Great Indian Novel and Bollywood, is an executive assistant to Annan, Pakistan´s Qazi Shaukat Fareed handles roughly a similar number of world crises as Director of the UN Department for Humanitarian Affairs. No side either admits it or takes credit for it, but fortuitously enough, the two South Asian neighbours have often achieved parity in terms of UN bureaucratic power.
Some UN staffers believe that such parity is unnecessary, and insist that the lack of it would be not be objectionable to either side. “Countries don´t really care how many of their nationals occupy certain UN positions, it´s just the way things turn out,” says one Pakistani diplomat – who, nonetheless, is well aware of all the senior spots occupied by his compatriots. The larger point is true enough: all UN employees are international civil servants who profess loyalty to the institution and not to their nations of origin.
One thing is certain: the India-Pakistan wrangling notwithstanding, all South Asians at the UN have an endearing attachment to their region as a whole. Two senior officials, Iqbal Haji and Amit Bhattacharyya, have been bringing together many of the South Asians at the UN for a somewhat-regular South Asia Forum, which offers feisty discussions on regional controversies in a collegial atmosphere more typical of a US think tank.
South Asians in North America
Perhaps what sharpens the sense of relative unity among diplomats from the Subcontinent is the pressure from the United States, which is known to regard staffers from South Asia as being a bit too independent minded. Washington reportedly was anxious to see Virendra Dayal, considered an unrepentant leftist, depart from the UN´s top ranks. It pushed for the Indian diplomat to obtain a “golden parachute” once Perez de Cuellar´s term finished.
Two years ago, right-wing Republican Senator Jon Kyl put similar pressure on Riza, requesting that the Pakistani official, then Assistant Secretary-General for peacekeeping, waive the traditional UN immunity from testifying so that he could appear before the US Congress to explain what role, if any, he had had in the capture of two Americans by Iraq´s government. Kyl never explained why he believed Riza, based in New York, could have played any part in the two Americans´ ordeal. The two civilians working for the UN mission at the Iraq-Kuwait border had been seized by Iraqi soldiers when they got lost driving at night and unwittingly crossed the border from Kuwait into Saddam Hussein´s lair. When the two were released unconditionally by Saddam (expecting US appreciation which never came), and no evidence of treachery by Riza ever materialised, there was a suspicion among a few UN staffers that the Pakistani diplomat had been singled out by Kyl because he had earlier refused a helicopter contract for a US firm, Evergreen, which the Iraqis claimed was a front for the Central Intelligence Agency.
There have been other officials who have been criticised more by the US than by any South Asian rival – most notable among them being Nafis Sadik. She has been the bugbear of some Congressional Republicans who contend that she has steered UNFPA to fund programmes, in countries like China, which allow abortion, involuntary sterilisation and other banes of the Christian right. (Sadik´s profile on population issues even earned her a rebuke from the Pope when the two met in a bid to iron out differences before the 1995 population conference in Cairo.)
In contrast to the chill with many US politicians, Sadik boasts of friendly relations with Indian officials, even arguing that New Delhi had offered her its support in her current campaign to be elected Director-General of the World Health Organisation. Her positive image throughout South Asia, however, has not translated into significant political backing from the Nawaz Sharif government, confides a New York-based Pakistani diplomat. Instead, he said, “Islamabad has decided that it won´t even post one official to campaign full-time for her to get the WHO job.” As a result, Sadik is regarded as a distant second in the WHO race, to former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, who enjoys the political support and general goodwill that only a Scandinavian socialist could command at the world organisation.
Sadik´s plight is in many ways typical of South Asian officials at the UN. For all the tussle over top spots and other UN goodies that India and Pakistan get into, both are woefully behind countries of the West in actually pushing the case for their own nationals. The fact that South Asian countries hardly ever push for their own kind is a truism that goes back decades – as far back as the early 1960s when King Mahendra of Nepal was cold to one proposal that his Permanent Representative to the UN, Rishikesh Shaha (who chaired the committee investigating the death of Secretary-General Dag Hammerskjold), be considered for the top job.
A Matter of Representation
Those who make it their interest to study the posting of South Asians at the United Nations look not only at the seniority of nationals, but the numbers also. As jobs seen to have prestige and first world lifestyles in the heart of the West, UN positions are in high demand. Unfortunately, openings are few and far between, particularly due to years of budgetary crisis and the continuous threat of re-structuring that the UN Secretariat has suffered for a decade or more. Because of the very few jobs that come vacant, great store is kept by ´contacts´ for anyone to get a job in the United Nations.
Those who get in at senior levels tend to be South Asians (mostly Pakistanis and Indians, due to the clout their countries command) who have served in their respective permanent missions to the United Nations. Those who join at the junior rungs tend to be sons and daughters of South Asian diplomats, or others, who have studied in close-by United States colleges and are able to get a foot in the door through internships and voluntary work.
Jobs in the United Nations are, firstly, divided into the General Services (GS) and Professional categories. Among Professionals, the categorisations are made between the ´P´ levels (with staffers starting at the entry-level of P-1 and over the course of two decades, with luck, moving up to the P-5 category) and the Director-level ´D´ categories. While one´s professional abilities may be enough to ensure progress through the ´P´ levels, to enter the ´D´ level generally requires political push to overcome the competition for posts among all the regions of the world, including Europe, East Asia, West Asia, Latin America, Africa.
The following breakdown of South Asian nationals working above the P1 and D1 levels shows India well in the lead. But Pakistan has an equal number of high-level staff despite its smaller population size.
|Country||P1 and above||D1 and above|
Figures above are as of June 30, 1996, when the last survey was done – and since then Pakistan and India have each had one high-level rise (Riza and Tharoor).
As to the question which South Asian country is over or under represented in the United Nations bureaucracy, the analysis can be complex. The UN has a formula whereby nations´ post allotment is in proportion to its UN dues assessment. Under the formula, a fair distribution for Bangladesh would be 4 to 14 posts, India 27 to 37 posts, Nepal 2 to 14, Pakistan 4 to 14, and Sri Lanka 2 to 14. By that standard, India, with its 42 geographically distributed posts, is the only South Asian country over-represented in the Secretariat (this does not include the agencies such as UNDP and Unicef), while Bangladesh and Pakistan are on the high end of their range, and Nepal and Sri Lanka in the middle. Bhutan and Maldives have no staffers at the United Nations, only diplomats representing them in their respective missions.
Brian Urquhart and the late Erskine Childers, respected senior staffers at the Secretariat who continued to write about UN affairs after retirement, published a report in 1996 on ´representation´ at the United Nations. According to them, the only countries really over-represented at the UN were the US and Europeans, which occupy the majority of top spots. Going by their analysis, South Asians should unite and root for more positions at the United Nations, regardless of nationality.