Just how far we have to go before evolving even a rudimentary level of regionalism is reflected in the clamour among Southasian states regarding the new post for UN Secretary General. Sri Lanka, India and now even Pakistan plan to slug it out for a high office that symbolises, ironically, the finest attributes of inter-state cooperation. The refusal to engage with each other on an issue where countries usually cooperate on a regional basis is disheartening.
In accordance with the principle of regional rotation, it is Asia’s turn to be take the top post when Kofi Annan’s term ends at the end of this year. U Thant of Burma was the last Asian to have occupied the office, more than three decades back. The Thai deputy prime minister and the South Korean foreign minister have already thrown their hats in the ring. Some Eastern European candidates who have objected to the ‘regional principle’ are trying their luck as well.
But it was Sri Lankan career diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala, former UN Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs, who was rated as the front-runner for the post. Until now, that is. The race has suddenly become crowded, and all bets are off.
India has suddenly decided to nominate writer and UN official Shashi Tharoor, Anan’s confidante until recently and presently the Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information. The foreign policy establishment in Islamabad has decided to field one of its own, and is considering two possible candidates – the former head of the UN Population Fund, Nafis Sadiq, and its current ambassador to the UN, Munir Akram.
To begin with, the sudden proliferation of candidates probably mires the chances of any Southasian making it to Secretary General, and so it might have been best if the Sri Lankan candidate Dhanapala had been allowed to remain. The point is not the relative merit of the candidates, but the lack of any political will across the capitals of the region to collaborate on such an issue, despite the existence of that forum called SAARC. Contrast this competition with that of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is collectively backing the Thai candidate.
Dhanapala has been in the fray for months now, but because he was in charge of disarmament when the Non Proliferation Treaty – an agreement New Delhi abhors – was given an extension, South Block’s attitude is said to have been chilly. And India, which is so self-concerned about its germinating Great Power status, seems to have conveniently forgotten that the post of Secretary General tends to go to a candidate from a smaller country. Thankfully, Bangladesh and Nepal seem to have maintained some decorum and kept out of the fray, otherwise it would have been an even more complete Southasian embarrassment.
The next Secretary General of the United Nations may well be from Southasia, but he will not be a Southasian candidate.