By Geeta Mohan: United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in an exclusive interview with India Today, spoke on China blocking attempts to list Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Shahid Mahmood as a global terrorist. The UN chief called for more international cooperation to fight terrorism.
On Wednesday, China blocked a joint bid by the US and India to designate Shahid Mahmood as a global terrorist.
Guterres said the world needs more international cooperation in the fight against terrorism and it cannot accept the geopolitical divides to compartmentalise the issue of terrorism. Terrorists are global and we need a global response, Guterres told India Today.
Here are excerpts from the interview.
Q: We have noted that you began your visit by paying tribute to the Mumbai 26/11 terror attack victims. As you are aware, some of the perpetrators of the attack have still not been sanctioned by the UNSC due to technical holds. Just yesterday China placed a technical hold for the fourth time against a Pak-based terrorist in as many months. Would you like to weigh in on the fact that all these LeT terrorists have been directly or indirectly involved in the 26/11 attacks?
A: It is necessary to increase international cooperation in fighting terrorism. Terrorism has become a global phenomena. Terrorists are able to move from country to country — from Afghanistan to Syria to Libya to Yemen. And they use the most sophisticated instruments. Unfortunately, we do not have enough international cooperation to fight terrorism and creating conditions to affecting change.
The reason why, when I became the secretary general, my foremost priority was to create an office of counter-terrorism. Today, it has a meaningful capacity to cooperate, to support member states, especially in training, advice in relation to counter-terrorism policies and in relation to prevention of violent extremism that sometimes is the root of terrorist activities. But, we need more international cooperation and we need more accountability.
Q: Do you find the existing counter terrorism architecture of the UN sufficient and enabled enough to overcome such challenges? The UN is yet to define terrorism, so how does this architecture help?
A: There is a problem in having consensus over the definition of terrorism. That has to do with politics. But, that does not, in my opinion, make it difficult for us to work together effectively against terrorism. What we need is much more international cooperation in the fight against terrorism and we cannot accept the geopolitical divides to compartmentalise the issue of terrorism.
Terrorists are global so we need to have a global response. The problems that exist in relation to the definition of terrorism are problems that have to do with some internal questions in some states, but that is not a reason to be ineffective in fighting terrorism.
Q: This is your first visit since you took office for the second time and it is riddled with challenges. Speaking of the Russia-Ukraine war, is there a solution in sight? With the declaration of the four captured territories as part of Russia, has the window for negotiations been closed?
A: I do not expect a quick political solution to this problem. I think both sides are convinced that they will win. For the moment, the possibility of cessation of hostilities and political negotiations is not in sight. Of course, that does not mean that people should not work for it. But, realistically, I am not expecting it to happen in the short term. That is why we have concentrated our efforts, as United Nations, in trying to seize all opportunities to win trust or to address problems that can be solved independently.
As you know, after visiting Russian President Putin and Ukraine President Zelenskyy, we had an initiative of the UN to manage the liberation of the civilians who were in Azovstal steel plant. And then we have been working to create conditions to have the export of food products from Ukraine through the Black Sea initiative, and at the same time, we are working hard with the Americans, the Europeans and other countries who have imposed sanctions on Russia to make sure Russian food and fertilisers cannot be accessed by other markets. So these are the kind of things in which we have been talking to both sides and trying to offer our good offices to solve the problems that reduce suffering — suffering in Ukraine and suffering around the world. But, peace, in my opinion, is still a bit far away.
Q: Russia’s nuclear threat. What is your reading? Is it a threat or a warning for Nato not to enter Ukraine?
A: If one reads the Russian Nuclear Security Doctrine, what is written in the security doctrine which was invoked by Kremlin’s spokesman recently, does not foresee the use of nuclear weapons related to this conflict or to what is happening or might happen in this conflict. So, my deep belief is that there is no way that we can accept the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons in today’s world.
Q: India’s position on the war has been criticised by many. But, when it comes to looking at interests, most nations are indeed inward looking like most nations in the West. Has India been unfairly criticised for its position or is it time that nations think beyond self and strategic interests?
A: We are not judges. Our role is to promote dialogue. Our role is to promote understanding and at the same time our role is to defend the values of the charter. I am Secretary General of the United Nations, not of the West or of India or of Russia. The United Nations has a charter and the charter has values. One of the values is the preservation of territorial integrity of a country, of all countries. Obviously, when that territorial integrity was violated, as was my duty, I denounced it. Having said so, it is also my role to work and to have an open and frank dialogue with parties to the conflict and to all other countries, each one looking into the conflict through its national perspective.
As I said, our role is not to be the judge of the behaviour of others. Our role is to do our best to solve the problems that we can solve and to create conditions for a political solution in line with the values of the charter of the UN.
Q: Many are questioning the relevance of the UN as a body and an organisation that can affect change? Do you foresee a future for the UN in a more expanded form, taking into account the changing global order? Could there be UN reforms with expansion of the UN Security Council that could include countries like India and other countries as part of an expanded P5?
A: First of all, the United Nations is not the Security Council. The United Nations is a constellation of different organisations that today play a very important role in the world. India is the largest contributor of peacekeeping nations. Peacekeeping is saving lives in many parts of the world and that is the United Nations. Half of the humanitarian aid that is provided internationally is provided through UNHCR, UNICEF, World Food Program, and that is the United Nations.
In relation to nuclear security, the role of our agency on atomic energy, IAEA, plays a role. In food security, with WFP, we fight famine all over the world.
The United Nations is doing lots of very important things. And then we have the bodies that represent the member-states. The attention is focussed on this also. The Security Council is paralysed by geopolitical divides and the Security Council corresponds to the geography of the world and to the politics of the world from the Second World War. This is no longer the case and obviously, the Security Council has a problem and the problem, I’d say, is the relationship with the present world. That is why the reforms of the Security Council is extremely important. And I would say that, for the first time in the last General Assembly, there was an important step forward. Some of the P5, crucial elements of the P5 — France and the UK have always been open to reforms — but the three biggest ones were very reluctant in the past. But, we heard the US President saying that it would make sense to add another country from Latin America, one from Asia, as permanent members of the council. I heard the minister of foreign affairs of Russia saying that Brazil and India would be welcome as permanent members of the Security Council.
I strongly hope that it will be possible. It will take time, it will be complex. Let’s be honest. There are divisions that make it complex sometimes, but not all countries agree on who should represent this or that.
I believe that the door is open for a serious discussion to start and I hope that the door will be open for the reform of the Security Council to make it correspond to today’s world. Obviously, India today is one of the two countries with the largest population, it is the fastest growing economy in the world, it is fundamental to what is essential, that is a multipolar world. Only in a multipolar world will we have the possibility of a multilateral effect.
ON HIJAB ISSUE
Q: UN is the moral compass. Iran protestsâ€¦ imposition of patriarchal normsâ€¦hijab, etc on women of Iran, Afghanistan, curbing of rights and on the other hand there is the free world – countries in Europe and some instances in India where bans are being imposed on hijabs and burqa. What would you have to say to both those who impose hijab against the will of women and those who impose ban on hijab against the will of women?
A: We live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture and our obligation is to fight that. This is a question of power. Power is usually not given, it needs to be taken. It is time for women to take the power, to be able to live as they want in any society, respecting what is necessary to be respected in order for other women to be respected in their different approaches. Not all women have to dress the same way. We need a world in which women must be the masters of themselves and the masters of the way they are present in society.
ON CLIMATE CHANGE
Q: Climate change. You are also here to attend the launch of mission Lifestyle for Environment COP-27 climate summit which will be held in Egypt next month. Do you think the world is ready to deliver on climate change?
A: The world is not ready, the world is not delivering. We are losing this battle. That is why this initiative is important. We need a bottom-up approach. We need each one of us to take responsibility for our behaviour in relation to climate change, in order to demand from governments, companies, other key actors that they also behave so we are able to avoid climate catastrophe from which we are sleep-walking without effective consciousness in the world that this is the defining issue of our time.