Hypocrisy and diplomacy...
IQBAL passionately believed in a world without borders and had a healthy contempt for the modern concept of the nation state: In taza khudaon mein bada sabsay watan hai/Jo pairahan iska hai woh mazhab ka kafan hai(Of all the new false gods, the biggest is the nation/The garb of this idea is the death shroud of religion)
This despite the three eventful years that the poetic genius spent in Europe during which he acquired a BA at Cambridge, a law degree at Lincoln’s Inn and a Doctor of Philosophy at Munich University. The farce this past week at the United Nations over a resolution that was supposed to condemn the war crimes against Sri Lankan Tamils reminds one of Iqbal’s observation.
Defying public opinion and pressure from the Tamil parties, the Indian government chickened out of a UN rebuke of the Lankan government. Instead, working with – surprise, surprise – Pakistan and China, India persuaded the United States to water down the UN Human Rights Council resolution. Understandably, the move outraged the Tamils in India and around the world forcing the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) to quit the coalition and precipitate a serious crisis for the embattled UPA government.
Now why would the Indian government bend over backwards to bail out Sri Lanka at the cost of its own survival, especially when it’s already struggling on all fronts and a critical general election looms? Passions have been running high since a recent Channel 4 documentary revealed the shameful killing of the 12-year old son of LTTE chief Prabhakaran. Government spokespersons explained in two words: National Interest.
Apparently, our foreign policy establishment felt that if India supported the UN resolution it might open the door for similar calls on our own role in Kashmir. India’s apprehensions aren’t without basis. Last week, Indian parliament in one voice condemned a unanimous resolution by Pakistan’s National Assembly questioning the execution of Afzal Guru. Since the surreptitious execution of Guru in unseemly haste by a desperate government to deflect the attention from its myriad woes, Kashmir has been on the
Aijaz Zaka Syed boil all over again. Many fear a return of the blood-soaked instability of the 1990s.
The Himalayan paradise over which the nuclear neighbours have been squabbling for the past six decades has seen more than its fair share of grief. Long years of conflict have claimed more than 100,000 lives. Thousands remain missing.
The picturesque region the size of Britain is also one of the most militarised, with half a million security forces breathing down the neck of a restive, alienated population. Repeated demands by Kashmiri parties for curtailing military presence, greater economy and repealing of black laws that protect security forces from the law and due process have met stony silence in Delhi.
The supreme national interest, as government spokespersons put it, prevents the Congress government in Delhi from doing what is right in Kashmir. No wonder it chose to rescue Sri Lanka at the UNHRC to the horror of rights groups and the Tamils. Truth, justice, rights and humanity itself are conveniently sacrificed at the altar of the nation state and national interest. What is a nation without its people though? And how can foreign policy prevail over humanity and its basic values?
A veteran diplomat has the cheek to admonish a DMK lawmaker during a television debate for his ‘ exaggeration’ of the Lankan Tamils’ predicament saying, “Don’t call it genocide. It becomes genocide only when hundreds of thousands are killed!” Apparently, snuffing out a couple of thousands of lives here and there counts little in the pursuit of national interest and foreign policy goals.
Besides Kashmir, what apparently forced India to go soft on Lanka is the island’s growing bonhomie with China and Pakistan. While the Pakistan-Lanka relations go way back – when Musharraf was fired by Nawaz Sharif bringing about his own fall, the general was playing golf in the island – China’s clout and investments have been growing at an alarming pace for India.
The Chinese arms played a significant role in routing of the once invincible Tamil Tigers. Sri Lanka has just opened its second international airport, totally financed by the Chinese Renminbi which is also bankrolling 42 other major projects at a cost of $4.1billion. No wonder India isn’t keen to needle President Rajapaksa.
China too had serious issues with the UNHRC resolution and the US assertion that the international community has the right to confront nations that persecute their citizens. Given the situation in Tibet and the state of the once vibrant Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, this is understandable. It was also in Pakistan’s national interest to back Colombo on the question of Tamils ignoring what Muslims have lately been facing in Sri Lanka. This week, the OIC flayed for what it’s worth the escalating violence against Lankan Muslims. But then given the state of minorities in the Islamic republic, it’s hardy in a position to lecture Lanka.
The ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrine sounds noble in theory and could have saved thousands of precious lives if applied objectively and universally. Imagine the critical difference it could have made in Syria where more than 70,000 people have perished on the world community’s watch over the past two years.