Tuesday, June 20, 2006

It's Dhanapala vs Tharoor at UN

With India nominating its candidate, the race for the United Nations Secretary General's post is gaining momentum.
And definitely, Shashi Tharoor's nomination for the top UN job by India should come as a surprise if not disappointment for Sri Lankan candidate Jayantha Dhanapala, who must have been looking forward to his India visit next month to seek support.

During his visit to New Delhi last month, Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera had informed India about Dhanapala's candidature and requested support.

But the Indian foreign office merely said that it had taken note of the matter. What followed was stony silence until Shashi Tharoor's candidature was announced.

India's long silence on this issue had definitely intrigued experts and strategists worldwide.

One reason, which is seen by most of the experts, is that in 1995, Dhanapala had been rather unhelpful to India at the Conference on Disarmament, which he chaired.

The conference had decided to renew the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) indefinitely, and in doing so, enshrined a strong international legal system against nuclear proliferation.

Dhanapala, it is alleged, connived with the US and other big Western powers against India.

India's nominating a candidate, while Dhanapala had thrown his hat in the ring much earlier, may not be taken by Sri Lankans very kindly.

"Certainly, the Sinhalese will think that this is another back stab by India," says Dr S Chandrasekharan, Director of South Asia Analysis Group, a New Delhi-based think tank.

But Tharoor's nomination is in no way going to deter Dhanapala's chances at the world body, according to experts in New Delhi.

"If you see the history of UN Secretaries General, barring a few, most of them had been from smaller countries. So if that is a consideration, Sri Lanka stands a better chance," says Colonel R Hariharan, an intelligence expert based in Chennai.

The present Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, whose term ends on December 31, is from Ghana and his predecessors were from nations like Egypt, Peru and Myanmar.

Also, the New York-based Foreign Policy Journal had tipped Dhanapala as the man most likely to become the UN's next Secretary-General.

"He gets the most favourable odds of 6 to 1 as compared to former US President Bill Clinton, who stands a 1 in 1,000 chance," the journal says.

South Asia watchers believe that Dhanapala might just be the right guy, as he is preferred by the US, the world's only Super Power.

His wide experience, both within and outside the UN system, and his contribution to international affairs in critical areas like disarmament and management of conflict, place him ahead of his rivals.

"Considered by many in the diplomatic community to be the front-runner, the former Under Secretary-General for disarmament knows how to navigate the UN inside out," notes the Foreign Policy Journal.