UNITED NATIONS -- Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan are both vying for the same seat on the UN Security Council.
On October 21, the United Nations General Assembly will elect five nonpermanent members to the Security Council for two-year terms that begin in January. Both Islamabad and Bishkek want to replace Lebanon on the 15-member council's Asia and Arab bloc seat.
Kyrgyzstan, a UN member state since 1992, declared its aspirations for a Security Council seat as far back as 1997, but it is the first time Bishkek has formally put forward its bid.
By contrast, Pakistan, the world's sixth-most populous country, has been in the UN since 1947 and already served six two-year terms on the council. As one of the largest contributors to the UN peacekeeping force, it's seen as a heavy favorite. But it also has a frayed relationship with Washington, where administration officials have recently complained publicly about Islamabad's lack of cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
In its favor, Kyrgyzstan hosts both U.S. and Russian air bases and has the region's first female president, Roza Otunbaeva. Working against it is its failure to prevent major ethnic clashes last year and what international critics say were the ethnically biased prosecutions that followed.
In a last-ditch effort to persuade the Central Asian nation to withdraw its candidacy, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Khar visited Bishkek on October 18 and met with Otunbaeva, apparently to no effect. Hours later, Otunbaeva's office released a statement, confirmed by Kyrgyz diplomats at the UN, saying the Central Asian nation would remain a candidate for the Security Council seat.
Munir Akram, who was Pakistan's permanent representative to the UN from 2002 through 2008 and served two terms as president of the Security Council, told RFE/RL that gaining a seat on the council would be a political and diplomatic success because it would elevate that country's influence in world affairs.
He judged Pakistan's chances of regaining a seat on the Security Council as "excellent."
"Pakistan is a very large country [and] it has vital national interest in the issues on the agenda of the Security Council," Akram said. "Kyrgyzstan, I think, has never as such made vital contributions to international peace and security. Pakistan is the largest troop contributor to [UN] peacekeeping operations. I think the comparisons in the contribution that are made and can be made by the two countries are very stark and very clear.”
For his part, Talaibek Kydyrov, Kyrgyzstan's permanent representative to the UN, told RFE/RL that while Pakistan is a formidable opponent, he thinks his country's chances are "good."
"We are sending each year a certain number of peacekeepers to serve in a score of African countries. We’ve gained experience in peace-building and have contributed to preventive diplomacy [activities]," Kydyrov said. "There is a regional UN center for preventive diplomacy located in Ashgabat. We have experience in postconflict development."
Kyrgyzstan has also been an active participant in the work of the UN Human Rights Council, he added.
Otunbaeva announced Kyrgyzstan's intention to seek a seat on the Security Council in her speech to the General Assembly on September 22.
"The Kyrgyz Republic as a member of the group of landlocked countries, of the group of small countries with economies in transition, and as a young democracy with a multifaith population, supports the need for wider representation of all categories of countries in the Security Council," she said.
Ambassador Kydyrov added that if elected, Kyrgyzstan -- with a population of some 5.5 million -- will represent the interests of all small and landlocked countries who are members of the UN.
“We are stressing the fact that Kyrgyzstan is a small, developing, landlocked, mountainous country. More than half of the UN member states are small, developing countries," he said. "We have many common interests, so in this regard we are focusing on gaining support among the small, developing countries.”
Winning a seat on the council requires the support of two-thirds of the 193 General Assembly UN member states who are present in the hall during the ballot. There is no veto power in a General Assembly vote.
Considerable backroom diplomacy and jockeying for position takes place in the run-up to Security Council elections. Alliances are forged and promises of support are secured in exchange for past or future favors. Kyrgyzstan has waged a quiet but vigorous diplomatic campaign to gain supporters, with the help of staff from Bishkek's European missions who have been temporarily reassigned to the UN.
The prevailing view among UN diplomats is that Pakistan has a higher level of support within the General Assembly than Kyrgyzstan. But Bishkek's resistance to pressure to withdraw has led to speculation that it has the support of one or more influential UN member states.
Pakistan's Akram said that Kyrgyzstan's adamant resistance to various offers to withdraw from the race implies exactly that.
"There are suspicions in Pakistan, and among Pakistanis, as to why this is so -- whether Kyrgyzstan has been encouraged and supported in its insistence by some major powers, whether neighboring countries or larger powers far away from Pakistan," Akram said.
Still, he added, any vote in the General Assembly is hard to predict because members don't announce their decisions beforehand and alliances can, and do, sometimes fall apart at the last minute.
The October 21 vote is an annual election for five of the 10 nonpermanent seats on the council. Among those competing for the European seat this year is Azerbaijan.
The remaining five are permanent, veto-wielding members Russia, China, the United States, Britain, and France.