MR António Guterres is the perfect pick for the “most impossible job in the world”. I had the pleasure of meeting him when I headed UNAMI in Baghdad and was much impressed by the ability, humanity, commitment and determination he brought to the achievement of his challenging tasks as head of the UNHCR.

To be endorsed so quickly and unanimously by the UN Security Council in such a fractured international milieu speaks volumes for the respect Guterres personally commands. He has demonstrated those rare qualities of heart and mind that he will need more than ever as he takes up his new responsibilities on Jan 1, 2017. Many of those who applaud and welcome him today may well become inclined to hold him responsible for their own policy lapses (including failure to consult him) tomorrow.

The responsibilities of the UN secretary general (UNSG) are listed in Chapter 15 of the UN Charter, particularly Articles 97-101. His job description is “the chief administration officer (CAO) of the (UN) Organisation”. But it is much more than that. The long-serving Russian permanent representative (PR) in New York, Vitaly Churkin, observed “the secretary general does not control the Security Council; the Security Council controls itself”. This is a reality which can represent a significant constraint, and sometimes a major obstacle for a secretary general content to be little more than a CAO.

The current US PR, Samantha Powers, in her UN General Assembly address noted the UN will need to do much more than before to contribute to a peaceful world. Interestingly, a predecessor of hers, John Bolton, insisted the UNSG should stick to being a CAO instead of worrying about the legality or legitimacy of US actions around the world! Despite Powers’ welcoming remarks, Bolton more accurately defines the US attitude towards the role of the UNSG except when it comes to commenting on the actions of its adversaries. To be fair, other powers behave similarly. Nevertheless, Guterres appears determined to help put in place a basis — through prioritising human dignity — for building global peace and security in the face of several imminent global threats.


Guterres has demonstrated those rare qualities of heart and mind that he will need as he takes up his new challenge.


From a Pakistani perspective, we might recall Article 99 of the UN Charter which says “the secretary general may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security”.

Several UN resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir have been adopted under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter. These resolutions do not have a self-enforcing mechanism for implementation and have accordingly been regarded by some experts on international law as “advisory opinions” rather than legal obligations. This view is challenged by other experts who hold that even if a UNSC resolution is not enforceable, that does not derogate from the legal obligation to respect and implement its provisions just as with UNSC resolutions adopted under Chapter 7 which have a self-enforcing mechanism.

Nevertheless, Article 99 can be said to enable the UNSG to bridge the gap between resolutions under Chapter 6 and 7 whenever he sees a situation threatening international peace and security. The long-standing human and political rights situation in India-held Kashmir — in conjunction with the fact that India and Pakistan are neighbouring nuclear weapons powers that have fought wars over Kashmir on several occasions and could be on the verge of another conflict situation — could draw the attention of Guterres in the context of the discretion afforded him by Article 99.

This would need to be a focus of Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. India’s contention that Kashmir acceded to it is in conflict with Article 103 of the Charter as well as a specific resolution of the UNSC. Similarly, the validity of the Shimla Agreement rests on its consistency with the UN Charter, including Article 103.

Guterres in referring to conflict situations mentioned Syria and noted how other conflicts are interlinked in a globalised world — often through global terror networks. He did not mention Kashmir among his list of conflict situations. This was less an omission on his part than a result of the cumulative failure of Pakistan’s Kashmir policy over several decades.

This highlights the reality that unless Pakistan’s Kashmir policy is contextualised by a country image of good governance, human rights protections, human resource development, democratic institutional development, the rule of law, dismantling terrorist structures without distinctions, real progress in the fight against high-level corruption, impunity, arbitrary decision-making, etc it will not have much international understanding and support for its foreign policy views. This has been amply demonstrated.

Meanwhile, Cyril Almeida was on the ECL for endangering the credibility of a dubious if precious national narrative! Such ‘patriotism’ remains the last refuge for certain kinds of people. A credible narrative does not need protection.

From a global perspective, Guterres will be challenged to develop his policy drive and direction and to build or rebuild the institutional and political credibility of the UN in an increasingly fluid, irrational and violent world. The whole capitalist order is transitioning towards something viable or much worse — nobody quite knows. The US presidential race is said to be the worst in US history. What will US ‘leadership’ lead us towards? Neither of the US candidates seems to offer much hope. Putin is either leading a Russian renewal in historical Russian style or overstretching the reduced resources of his country to face down a more resourceful if wayward adversary. China is changing the world scene with extremely interesting ideas for a more connected, integrated and peaceful world. But it is also exasperated by the perceived challenges of ‘pivots’ and ‘re-balancings’ designed to contain it within an increasingly obsolete world order.

Accordingly, at a time when the world may be teetering on the edge of confusion and chaos there is also a real prospect and an even greater need of a new and more exciting role for the UN. The quiet passion and wise counsel of its new chief will be a prime asset in his arsenal. The global powers in turn will owe him their understanding and cooperation.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.