But behind the scenes, an intense diplomatic battle between India and China has played out over the past six months.
The Maldives put forward their candidature for the president’s job back in December 2018, naming Abdulla Shahid, the foreign minister. At the time there was no other candidate. Maldives has never taken any of the big jobs in the UN earlier, so supporting them was the right thing to do. India threw its diplomatic weight behind Shahid, lobbying for him in world capitals. In November 2020, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla visited Male and went public with India’s support. Former US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo had also indicated support to Shahid.
However, in January 2021, former Afghan foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul suddenly threw his hat into the ring and became the rival candidate, throwing the process open. Now Rassoul and Afghanistan as close to India as the Maldives, so it seemed like a bit of a dilemma for New Delhi.
But the bigger question UN diplomats were asking then, was, why did Rassoul enter the contest? It turned out China and Pakistan played a large role in supporting Rassoul against Shahid, albeit informally. However, the last few months have seen a vigorous negative campaign carried out by both countries against Shahid.
For China, the Maldives under Ibrahim Solih is not nearly as friendly as it was during the Yameen years. This was a good way to put up headwinds against Shahid’s candidature.
Second, it was intended to put India in a quandary. Third, knowing India had already supported Shahid’s candidature, the move to put Rassoul there was also to be an indication to Kabul that New Delhi would not always support them.
The robust result notwithstanding, the election was the result of intense campaigning. The post of the UNGA president for the 76th session is an important one in the UN’s universe. The president steers the general business of the UNGA. More importantly, the entire reform process of the UN Security Council and the negotiations are run by committees appointed by the UNGA President.
Official sources said, “While FM Rassoul also has strong credentials, by the time his candidature was announced, Maldives had already garnered extensive support. Moreover, Maldives has never held the office of PGA, while Afghanistan has held this post during the 21st GA session in 1966-67.”