In his first interview after taking over as India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, Ambassador TS Tirumurti emphasised the key agenda and priorities of India at the world body. He will serve as the Indian envoy at a crucial time when India is set to become a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) after over a decade.
Speaking to India Today from New York, Ambassador Tirumurti was confident that India will be elected in the group of elite 15 by winning a two-thirds majority. He said that his focus will be to “strengthen the voice of those who are not heard”.
At a time when the UNSC has been used against India by Pakistan with help from its all-weather friend China, the Indian envoy said that he will not look at India’s presence in the Security Council purely through the “narrow prism of India-Pakistan bilateral issue”. Trimurti emphatically said that there were no takers for Pakistan’s “false propaganda” and India’s fight against “cross-border terrorism” and “terror financing” will continue.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
How has the beginning of your stint been, given that you took office in these difficult times of the Covid-19 pandemic?
TS Tirumurti: Thank you Geeta for having me on your programme. Yes, I have landed in the midst of Covid-19 in New York. It has been a very difficult time for the US, particularly New Yorkers. It has not been an easy time for the UN as well. Everything is going on in virtual mode.
So, it has not been an easy time for the UN and certainly very difficult for the US but I must say that I have been very fortunate. I have been able to communicate with many of my colleagues in spite of COVID and the lockdown.
What would your key priorities be as India’s envoy to the UN, especially in the context of the forthcoming elections to the UNSC where India is a candidate?
TS Tirumurti: The immediate priority is naturally to get India elected in the forthcoming elections for the non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. This will be in a few days on the 17th of this month.
In fact, this will be the first activity inside the UN premises since it was closed down in mid-March.
External Affairs Minister Dr Jaishankar has already launched our set of priorities for our stint in the UN Security Council. We have set ourselves five overarching priorities under the acronym NORMS, which stands for New Orientation for a Reformed Multilateral System. The five priorities include:
- First is ‘New Opportunities for Progress’. We have always been known for working closely with our partners, particularly in the context of development and developing partnerships, to ensure sustainable peace. The repercussions of Covid-19 have impacted all of us like never before. Even in the COVID situation, we have assisted more than 120 countries. Consequently, to be in the Security Council in the post-COVID period gives us an opportunity to put forward our development and peace agenda.
- Secondly, we will focus on an ‘Effective Response to International Terrorism’. India has been a victim of cross-border terrorism and you are aware of our strong interest in fighting terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Our presence in the Security Council will help pursue concrete and result-oriented action.
- Our third priority would be ‘Reform of Multilateral Systems’. Prime Minister has already put forth his vision of “reformed multilateralism”. Even as we remain committed to multilateralism, we are equally conscious that it does not reflect contemporary realities. We need to do so to make the multilateral system credible and effective. An important step in this direction will be the reform of the Security Council where India has a strong claim.
- The fourth priority is to have a ‘Comprehensive Approach to Peace and Security’. Armed conflicts around the world are getting increasingly complex. Traditional and non-traditional security challenges continue to grow. We need to give greater direction to the mandates of UN peacekeeping operations. You are aware that Indian peacekeepers have played a historic and pioneering role in the UN peacekeeping even while they are protecting lives across the world. We need to protect the protectors.
- Our fifth priority will be ‘Technology with a Human Touch’. India has made tremendous progress to bring technology to the people. We would like to take our example to the world and promote technology as a force for good and enhance ease of living.
Overall, during our tenure, we will seek to reflect our ethos of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ – the World is One Family.
The most important development that we will see in coming days is India joining the UNSC as an elected member? How confident are you of securing the seat even though India stands unopposed? It comes after a decade when last we had Hardeep Puri sit in that room.
TS Tirumurti: We have received tremendous support. Countries see our presence in the Security Council as not just strengthening the Council but also strengthening the voice of those who are not heard. Of course, I am also reaching out to the various countries to ensure that our message and our priorities for the Security Council are understood and appreciated.
They see that India will add value to the UNSC. I have pretty big shoes to fill after minister Hardeep Puri’s stint.
Afghanistan gave up its turn for India. How important was it for India to be in that room? The UNSC recently has been used against India by Pakistan through their all-weather friend China?
TS Tirumurti: I don’t want to see our presence in the Security Council purely through the narrow prism of India-Pakistan bilateral issues. India has a global role, more so in the context of COVID. COVID-19 has made us rethink how we can use multilaterism and international cooperation to make this a better world. We have the ability to work closely with partners and overcome old and new fault lines.
We have advocated dialogue and fairness to solve global issues. We have a great opportunity to shape the post-COVID scenario. Therefore, our election to the UN Security Council will be very timely.
Recently, the UN envoys of OIC nations met and Pakistan tried to raise the alleged persecution of minorities in India. But, it seems like there are no takers for Pakistan’s propaganda anymore?
TS Tirumurti: There are no takers for such false propaganda. Pakistan has tried to couch its anti-India disinformation campaign in religious terms and raise this in OIC in New York but found no takers. You are already aware that on the 50th anniversary of OIC, India was invited for the first time as the chief guest on the first of March last year at their Foreign Ministers’ meeting where the late Hon’ble Sushma Swaraj had participated.
We also have excellent bilateral relations with OIC countries, especially in the last few years, including in the Gulf and Africa and others where our relations are at an all-time high. The OIC countries share, acknowledge, appreciate and value our pluralistic and democratic ethos.
Terrorism has been spelt out as one of the key agendas by EAM Dr Jaishankar. How would you take up the issue of terrorism, especially cross border terrorism at the world body?
TS Tirumurti: As I mentioned, terrorism is definitely one of the priorities for our Security Council agenda. It is an enduring threat to international peace and security having linkages across the border and regions in recruitment and operations. The UN itself has recognised the grave threat posed by terrorism and has set up the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism in 2016 to bring the issue to the fore to involve the wider UN membership to join efforts to put an end to the scourge.
We will take it up strongly and address both its sponsors as well as the various dimensions like the abuse of ICT by terrorists, stop the flow of terror finance and ensure greater coordination to fight terror. It will be a comprehensive way, looking at all dimensions of terrorism.
Finally, with the changing global order in the wake of the pandemic, could there be a serious relook in the rising demand for UN reforms and expansion of the UNSC that would reflect the right representation of a changed world order?
TS Tirumurti: Reform of the Security Council is going to be a very important part of our agenda. There is definitely a need to look seriously into the reform of the Security Council. As I mentioned, Prime Minister has made a clarion call for reformed multilateralism. The status quo of the multilateral system is what some countries would like to revert to and reinforce. This does not reflect current realities.
It is also not in the interest of developing countries, which have started playing a major role within the United Nations and outside, but whose voices have not found traction in these multilateral bodies. Consequently, there is a need to go beyond the 1940s multilateral architecture and provide for greater representation, starting with the UN Security Council. In other words, the multilateral architecture needs to get contemporary and reflect reality to be relevant.