On Friday, September 27th, Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Imran Khan individually took the stage to address the UN General Assembly at its 74th session. Both speeches were met with much anticipation as tensions between India and Pakistan have continued to rise following India’s abrogation of Article 370 and military occupation of Jammu and Kashmir. While both leaders’ powerful rhetoric captivated their audiences, their addresses differed greatly as they consisted of different topics and expressed differing priorities and ideals.
Throughout his first UN address since 2014, PM Modi chose to focus on the theme of the assembly which was “Galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action, and inclusion.” Modi placed great importance on the fight against terror, improving development initiatives, and climate change action, all the while reiterating the great strides India has made under his terms. As this year marks the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Modi attempted to honor Gandhi's “message of truth and non-violence” which he claimed “is very relevant for us even today, for peace, development and progress in the world.”
Modi began his speech by taking pride in India’s democratic elections. He stated, “the world’s biggest election took place in the world’s biggest democracy, the highest ever number of voters voted my government into power for a second term with an even stronger mandate than before.” He proceeded to declare that “the message that this mandate conveys has an even greater significance, a wider and more inspiring one.”
Modi followed this by highlighting many of the development initiatives he has overseen within India. He stated, “When a developing country is able to successfully implement the world's biggest sanitation campaign within the “Clean India Mission” building over 110 million toilets in just 5 years for its countrymen, all its achievements and outcomes are an inspirational message for the entire world.” Modi also chose to highlight two of India’s most successful 5-year schemes such as the health insurance scheme and India's largest financial inclusion scheme.
When addressing the issue of climate change, Modi declared India’s campaign to ban single-use plastic within the next five years. He also attempted to encourage other nations to become more involved in climate action by stating that, “India's contribution to Global Warming is very low. However, India is one of the leading nations when it comes to taking steps to address this issue.”
The final and largest point of Modi’s speech was centered around the elimination of terrorism and the creation of peace. When addressing the issue of terrorism Modi stated, “We believe, that this is one of the biggest challenges, not for any single country, but for the entire world and humanity...I firmly believe, that it is absolutely imperative, that the world unites against terrorism, and that the world stands as one against terrorism.”
Modi concluded his speech by proclaiming, “Today, the message from the world's largest democracy, for the International community is still the same: "Harmony and Peace."
Prime Minister Modi’s speech was directly followed by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s address to the UN. Khan chose to focus on climate change, radicalism, the threat of nuclear war, and the issue of Kashmir.
Khan began his speech by emphasizing the importance and urgency of dealing with climate change. He stated, “Pakistan is among the top 10 nations in the world affected by climate change...If nothing is done, we fear humans are facing a huge catastrophe.” He declared that, “Rich countries who contribute the most to greenhouse gas emissions must be held accountable.”
Khan then shifted the tone of his speech by focusing on the issue of radicalization and islamophobia. Khan attempted to destigmatize Islam and prevent radicalization. He stated, “We all know that marginalization leads to radicalization. We must address this issue." He declared that, “Islamophobia, since 9/11 has grown at an alarming pace.” He implored nations to change the way they view Islam by stating, “Human communities are supposed to live together with understanding among each other. But Islamophobia is creating a division.”
Khan then focused on the issue of Kashmir. When addressing Indian action in Kashmir he stated, “They [India] illegally revoked Article 370.” He discussed the conditions within Kashmir by declaring that women, children, and sick people are “locked in as animals” and claiming that “13,000 boys have been picked up and taken to God knows where.” He proclaimed that, “We must lift this inhuman curfew which has lasted for 55 days.” He warned that if this curfew is not lifted, “Kashmiris will be further radicalized,” which could result in a terrorist attack. He argued that Pakistan would be blamed for this and it would result in two nuclear-armed countries coming face to face.
Khan then encouraged the nations of the UN to intervene in the issue of Kashmir in order to prevent radicalization and potentially war. He asserted, “Before we head in that direction the UN has a responsibility... is it going to appease a market of 1.2 billion or is it going to stand up for justice and humanity?” He reemphasized the danger of allowing the issue in Kashmir to continue by declaring, “If a conventional war starts, anything could happen. But supposing a country seven times smaller than its neighbor is faced with a choice: either you surrender or you fight for your freedom till death. We will fight and when a nuclear-armed country fights to the end it will have consequences far beyond the borders, it will have consequences for the world.”
In the conclusion of his speech, Khan emphasized that, “I am not threatening a nuclear war; it is a worry.” He reiterated that, “This is the time when you, the United Nations, must urge India to lift the curfew...and this is the time when the UN must insist on Kashmir’s right to self-determination!”
Both nations chose to exercise their 1st right of reply just hours after each speech. Vidisha Maitra, the first secretary MEA of India took this opportunity to criticize Imran Khan’s speech and garner support for India’s abrogation of Article 370. While Pakistan's representative chose to emphasize its disdain towards Indian actions in Jammu and Kashmir.
Photo credit: www.unmultimedia.org