U.N. plays down “guidance” on Kashmir
(Updated August 6, 2010 at 5:05 p.m. EDT with new remarks from U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky.)
The United Nations is playing down a statement on Kashmir a U.N. spokesman sent to a small group of reporters last week. After India made clear that it was very unhappy with the language on Kashmir issued by the U.N. press office, the world body explained that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had never uttered the offending words — at least not in an official statement.
This is the full text of what U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky has described as “media guidance” on Kashmir, as provided to Reuters by one of the reporters who received it by email on July 28:
“In relation to recent developments in Indian-administered Kashmir, the Secretary-General is concerned over the prevailing security situation there over the past month. He calls on all concerned to exercise utmost restraint and address problems peacefully.
“The Secretary-General welcomes the recent resumption of Foreign Minister-level talks between India and Pakistan. He encourages both sides to rekindle the spirit of the composite dialogue, which was initiated in 2004 and had made encouraging progress on some important confidence building measures, and to make renewed efforts to address outstanding issues, including on Jammu and Kashmir. He underlines the need for patience, perseverance and compromise on all sides.”
On Aug. 3 Nesirky played down that email during the daily U.N. briefing: “The Spokesperson’s Office released to the media guidance which was prepared by the U.N. Secretariat, and that seems to have been taken out of context. This was not a statement of the Secretary-General.”
Nesirky was asked a number of other questions about the “guidance” — was it genuine; what was taken out of context; was it authorized by Ban’s office; what is Ban’s view now; etc. His response was: “I don’t have anything to add.”
The seemingly anodyne statement comes as a separatist strike and security lockdown has dragged on for nearly a month-and-a-half in Muslim-majority Kashmir, a region at the core of a long-running dispute between India and Pakistan. Analysts are worried that if New Delhi fails to check the growing protests, deaths and rights violations Kashmir could slide into a fresh phase of armed uprising that could hurt peace efforts between India and Pakistan.
So where did the U.N. guidance on Kashmir come from? Nesirky said it came from the U.N. secretariat, not the press office. U.N. officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the text had been vetted by Ban’s chief of staff, veteran Indian diplomat Vijay Nambiar.
Allegations surfaced in the Indian press suggesting that Farhan Haq, the U.N. spokesman who emailed three U.N.-based reporters the “guidance” on Kashmir, was Pakistani and had come up with the language on Kashmir by himself. On Aug. 6, Nesirky defended Haq, a U.S. citizen born in Washington, DC.
“I really take exception to the insinuations based on ethnicity that you’ve seen and I’ve seen in Indian publications,” he told reporters. “I firmly reject them. Not only are they offensive, they are wrong.”
The question remains — does this reflect Ban’s views on Kashmir? Privately U.N. officials say it does, though he would rather not speak publicly about the issue to avoid angering India, a politically powerful developing country and one of the top contributors of troops to U.N. peacekeeping missions around the world.
Every day, the U.N. press office issues statements on various issues. The headline on one recent press release was “Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s statement on floods in Pakistan.” The actual title of the press release, however, makes clear that it is Ban’s spokesman, not Ban himself, who is speaking: “Statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the floods in Pakistan.”
Similar to the Kashmir “guidance,” the statement on the flooding in Pakistan is in the third person as the spokesman explains to readers what Ban is doing and how he feels about the flooding: “In response to the tragic flood disaster in Pakistan, the Secretary-General has asked his Special Envoy for Assistance to Pakistan, Jean-Maurice Ripert, to travel to the country as soon as possible.”
U.N. officials say that this awkward wording has evolved from the fact that sometimes the secretary-general never sees the statements composed by his army of advisers and issued under his name by his press officers.
Or perhaps that wording also offers the U.N. secretariat a way to distance itself from language that backfires, as in the case of the Kashmir “guidance”?