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‘No country should take advantage of Afghanistan’ says Modi at UNGA address

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly. Source: AP/UN News

NEW YORK: In his address to the UN General Assembly, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed concern over the situation in Afghanistan, saying it was essential to ensure that the war-torn country’s territory is not used for terrorist activities.

In a roughly 20-minute speech delivered in-person and in Hindi, he called upon the international community to help the women, children and minorities of Afghanistan and said that it was imperative the country not be used as a base from which to spread terror.

“We also need to be alert and ensure that no country tries to take advantage of the delicate situation there, and use it as a tool for its own selfish interests,” he said in an apparent reference to Pakistan. Modi did not mention Kashmir or the long-simmering conflict there, in contrast to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech the previous evening.

Modi also highlighted what he called the need to protect oceans from “the race for expansion and exclusion.” India and China have long competed for influence in the Indian Ocean.

Modi’s speech came a day after the prime minister met one-on-one with President Joe Biden and participated in a summit of “the Quad”: the US, Japan, India and Australia. The members of the informal Indo-Pacific alliance have been uneasy as China’s power grows in the region.

On the heels of waves of coronavirus surges that have ravaged India, Modi made no mention of his own country’s death toll that experts believe numbers in the millions. He reaffirmed last week’s announcement that India would restart exporting vaccines next month.

India paused its export of vaccines in April after donating or selling 66 million doses to nearly 100 countries. The halt left many developing countries without adequate supply as India was expected to be a key supplier.

“Deeply conscious of its responsibility towards mankind, India has resumed the process of providing vaccines to those who need it in the world,” Modi said, inviting vaccine manufacturers to come to India and touting Indian scientists’ advances.

Modi also reiterated last year’s criticism of the United Nations, saying it was incumbent on the international body to strengthen its own effectiveness and boost its credibility.

“Today, all kinds of questions have been raised about the UN,” he said. “We have seen such questions being raised related to the climate crisis. And we also saw that during COVID, the proxy war going on in many parts of the world, terrorism, and the recent Afghan crisis have further highlighted the seriousness of these questions.”

India has long pushed for a permanent seat on the Security Council, the most powerful organ of the United Nations. Earlier in his speech, Modi referenced India’s global influence by underscoring that “every sixth person in the world is Indian.”

This comes as India and Pakistan verbally sparred during night’s “right of reply” period. PM Imran Khan had also accused Modi’s Hindu nationalist government of propagating Islamophobia.

Following Khan’s speech in which he accused India of human rights abuses and fomenting terrorism, an Indian diplomat essentially flung those same accusations back. Pakistani diplomat, Saima Saleem, said India also resorted to “state terrorism” to suppress the people of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

Less than an hour after Modi’s speech concluded, a coalition of groups outside the United Nations building protested what organizers described as “the Modi government’s assault on human rights, secular democracy, and persecution of religious minorities, Dalits, and farmers in India.”

Hundreds of Kashmiris staged a demonstration denouncing Indian atrocities in Kashmir and calling on the world body to take urgent steps to grant the right of self-determination to the Kashmiri people.