March 31, 2011

Caution over misadventure

March 31, 2011 2:50:05 PM

G Parthasarathy

Rather than go along with the West and back its duplicitous decision to ‘intervene' in Libya, India has decided to chart its own independent course in foreign affairs.

After emerging from a situation two decades ago, when the country was bankrupt and internationally isolated following the collapse of the Soviet Union, India can derive satisfaction with what has been achieved since then. The nuclear tests of 1998 and end of global nuclear sanctions by the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008, has led to worldwide recognition of India as a legitimate nuclear weapons power. It is now for India to negotiate skillfully with partners like Russia, France, the US and Canada, to see that agreements on nuclear power it signs are economically advantageous and meet the highest standards of transparency and nuclear safety.

With a sustained high rate of economic growth and increasing integration with the world economy, India is now a member of the G-20 and the expanded East Asia Summit comprising the members of ASEAN together with the US, Russia, Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand. India is closely linked to emerging economic powers like Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa, through forums like BRICS and IBSA. It is only a question of time before India joins the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, laying the grounds for a larger profile in Central Asia. But, it is crucial that despite its economic progress, India has to retain its strategic autonomy, if it is to be respected internationally.

India’s candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council has been endorsed by all its permanent members except China, which remains distinctly obstructive. But, given the absence of consensus on the size and composition of an expanded UNSC, it is evident that there is still a long way to go before India’s ambitions on this score are fulfilled. In the meantime, there have been unambiguous suggestions from the US and even American client states like the UK that India would be considered worthy of a permanent seat in the UNSC only if the ‘international community’ (a euphemism for the Nato members) is satisfied with how India ‘behaves’ with its voting on important contemporary issues as a non-permanent member of the Security Council. These are pressures India will have to resist and deftly deal with.

Despite these blandishments, New Delhi appears to have broadly shaped the contours of how it will proceed to deal with Western pressures involving the typical Western double standards on ‘human rights’ and their pet topic of ‘Responsibility to Protect’. One is all too aware of how Nato did not hesitate to dismember Yugoslavia in the 1990s after virtually demonising the Serbs. Force was then used to carve out and recognise Kosovo — an action mercifully not sanctified by a majority of UN member-states. The UN General Assembly Resolution of 2005 on the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ has been used at the convenience of the Nato members to pressurise and seek to remove regimes alleged to be guilty of “war crimes, genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”.

Needless to say, Nato would not dare to act on anything the Russians do in Chechnya, or against Chinese clampdowns in Xinjiang or Tibet. Genocide in Rwanda will be long ignored, because it is a poor African country with no oil or mineral resources. A blind eye will be turned when a Sunni minority ruling elite in Bahrain clamps down on the Shia majority in the country, because the US’s Fifth Fleet has bases in Bahrain. But, if Colonel Muammar Gaddafi clamps down in oil rich Libya, he is subject to a ‘No-Fly Zone’ and bombed by the virtuous British and French with American backing.

There now appears to be a clearer enunciation of Indian thinking on such issues. After consultations with like-minded emerging powers like Brazil and South Africa, India made it clear that on issues like developments in Libya it will first seek consultations with regional groupings like the Arab League and African Union before finalising its response. Rather than blindly following the Western lead, India would seek to forge and back a regional consensus in formulating its policies.

This would mean that in developments in sub-Saharan Africa, Indian policies will take into account prevailing views and a consensus, if any, in the African Union. On Zimbabwe, the advice of South Africa would be more important than that of Whitehall. In Myanmar, India will seek to promote and back a consensus evolved in consultation with Asean. The views of the GCC would be of primary importance in formulating policies on developments like the Shia-Sunni divide in Bahrain. This policy makes it clear that India is not going to be a rubber stamp for Anglo-American and Nato policies of selective use of force against regimes considered distasteful.

Over 17,000 Indians living across Libya have safely returned home, thanks to commendable work by our Ambassador Manimekalai and her staff. Col Gaddafi knows that India is not exactly pleased by his use of air-power against his own people (as Pakistan is regularly doing in Balochistan and in its tribal areas). India nevertheless joined hands with Russia, China, Germany and Brazil in abstaining on the March 17 UN Security Council resolution on Libya because of the absence of carefully considered guidelines on the use of force amidst a raging civil war, the lack of specificity on the countries and organisations undertaking the military effort and the absence of any clarity on how a political solution would be evolved to end the Libyan impasse.

The fiasco in Somalia and the attempt for ‘regime change’ in Iraq demonstrate how misguided external intervention can have disastrous consequences. India is concerned that the military intervention in Libya is going to result in a prolonged stalemate and growing radicalisation in West Asia. It will inevitably be perceived there as an attempt to partition an oil rich Muslim state.

If ‘gunboat diplomacy’ was the hallmark of European colonial powers in the 19th century, ‘No-Fly Zone’ Nato diplomacy seems to be the order of the day after the Cold War. Lessons will be learned only after European powers, who have no appetite for real combat and body bags in tough places like Afghanistan, face the wrath of people opposing them, as the Americans faced by ill-advised military interventions in Lebanon in 1983 and in Somalia in 1993. Tired and tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Americans appear understandably more cautious in taking the lead in intervening in Libya.

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