The theme for debate in the 67th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) is fascinating as well as elusive: “Adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations by peaceful means.” The General Assembly is the main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations, comprising 193 members. It is a unique forum for multilateral discussion on full spectrum of international issues. More than 120 presidents, prime ministers and monarchs are attending the meeting. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon predicted that “the ministerial session will be among the busiest ever, reflecting the tumultuous time in which we live - a time of turmoil and transition.” It is also taking place “against a backdrop of widespread violence linked to intolerance,” he said.

Overwhelming mood at the gathering is of despair, disappointment and frustration. So far, the recent anti-Islam movie, Syrian civil war, and Iranian nuclear programme have dominated the show. Lingering conflicts of Kashmir and Palestine have also come under discussion. Interestingly, all these issues have a Muslim dimension. Though the UN carries a huge baggage of unresolved conflicts, it would be worthwhile to evaluate the current session’s performance in the context of these issues.

At the outset of his address, President Asif Zardari said: “Before I take up my speech, I want to express the strongest condemnation for the acts of incitement of hate against the faith of billions of Muslims of the world and our beloved Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).......The international community must not become silent observers and should criminalise such acts that destroy the peace of the world and endanger world security by misusing freedom of expression.”

The Egyptian President, Mohammed Morsi, said that the insults to the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) are part of an organised assault on Muslim religious and cultural values and cannot be brushed aside. “The obscenities that I have referred to that were recently released as part of an organised campaign against Islamic sanctities are unacceptable.......We reject this. We cannot accept it,” Morsi maintained. “We will not allow anyone to do this by word or deed.......Egypt respects freedom of expression, (but) not a freedom of expression that targets a specific religion or a specific culture,” he added.

The OIC Secretary General, Prof Dr Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, said that the international community needs to unite behind action to implement international law, which warns against any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, aggression or violence.

The US President, Barack Obama, condemned the “mindless violence” over the anti-Islam movie. He said that the US could not ban the controversial video under the First Amendment of the American Constitution. He said: “There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There is no video that justifies an attack on an Embassy. There is no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.”

As regards the Syrian conflict, there is no likelihood of a breakthrough on the deadlock; though Ban said that “it will be foremost in our minds.” He further added that the world must “stop the violence and flow of arms to both sides, and set in motion a Syrian-led transition as soon as possible.......the international community should not look the other way as violence spirals out of control.......brutal human rights abuses continue to be committed, mainly by the government, but also by the opposition groups.” Russia and China have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions. “To increase pressure and to increase the isolation of the regime of Assad is one of the goals,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters.

Ban sounded an alarm in the context of the Palestinian conflict. He said: “The door may be closing, for good” on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “the continued growth of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory seriously undermines efforts towards peace. We must break this dangerous impasse.” Mellowed down by failure of last year’s effort to make headway on acquiring statehood, President Mahmoud Abbas has come up with a modest offer seeking an upgrade of Palestine’s UN status. The Palestinians expect overwhelming support from the Assembly for the enhanced UN status, which would increase their international legitimacy and grant them access to UN agencies and possibly the International Criminal Court.

Iran’s nuclear programme is another sticking point. Keeping this in view, Ban urged “Iran to take the measures necessary to build international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme.” The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, however, appears convinced that the Iranians are close to developing a nuclear weapon.

Meanwhile, the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has shrugged off the talk of an Israeli attack on his country’s nuclear facilities. He said: “Arms race and intimidation by nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction by the hegemonic powers have become prevalent, and Iran finds itself under threat from world powers seeking to impose their views.......A state of mistrust has cast its shadow on the international relations, whilst there is no trusted or just authority to help resolve world conflicts.” He urged that the UN should be restructured, noting that many pressing global issues are the result of mismanagement.

Reportedly, President Obama opined that Iran and Syria were on the losing end of a sweeping tide of democracy in the region. The US “will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.......A nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained,” Obama said. Whereas Iran has denied Western accusations that it seeks a nuclear bomb. Against this backdrop, Secretary General Ban condemned the “shrill” talk of war between Israel and Iran. He rejected the “threats of potential military action by one state against another. Any such attacks would be devastating.”

The OIC Contact Group on Kashmir met on the sidelines of the UNGA. The meeting was co-chaired by OIC Secretary General Prof Ihsanoglu, and attended by Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and representatives of Saudi Arabia and Niger; Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also attended it. Prof Ihsanoglu reaffirmed OIC’s continued support for the people of Kashmir and assured that it would spare no efforts in supporting their legitimate struggle.

In her address, Foreign Minister Khar reiterated the Government of Pakistan’s commitment to “remain constructively engaged with India” for the early resolution of the Kashmir dispute. She highlighted the human rights violations in IHK and called upon New Delhi to take necessary steps, in accordance with the UN resolutions, to ensure respect for the Kashmiris’ rights. In his statement, Mirwaiz updated the meeting on the latest situation in IHK.

Peace and security is a prerequisite for the stability needed for global economic growth, sustainable development and social progress. However, it is unfortunate that the UN’s contribution towards global peace has diminished over the years. The General Assembly’s current session may not achieve much beyond reiteration of already states positions. It is, indeed, a divided house! And, it is alarming that polarisation within the UN is snowballing on a Muslim vs non-Muslim basis; its restructuring is long overdue. Though the UN may credit itself for not letting the World War III occur, a multitude of conflicts sprinkled all over the world necessitate a bold course correction, lest it meets the fate of its predecessor - the ‘League of Nations’.

The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam