Monday, March 21, 2011

'Don't Ask for Whom Bell Tolls'

On Libya, it increasingly appears India is getting torn between loyalties - to the strategic partnership with the United States and Barack Obama's promise to support Delhi's bid for a permanent membership in the UN Security Council on the one hand and the wider ramifications of the western military intervention in a UN member country which also happens to be a fragile nation that like many developing countries in the African continent are still grappling with their post-colonial identity. Woven into all this is the great pantomime that is unfolding about the new world order, especially West's angst over its decline and over Asia's rise. The Delhi newspaper Mail Today featured my commentary on the imperative for India to be far-sighted. The text of the article titled 'Don't Ask for Whom Bell Tolls' is reproduced below:

‘Don’t Ask for Whom Bell Tolls’
By M.K.Bhadrakumar

The narrative sounds simple: Arab awakening has reached Muammad Qaddafi’s land, Libya. And, as Omar Khayyam wrote, “The Moving Finger Writes; and, Having Writ, / Moves on: nor all Your Piety nor Wit / Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line.”

But the narrative is deceptive. The Resolution 1973 adopted by the United Nations Security Council on Friday provides for “all necessary measures” by the international community to protect civilians in Libya. It is a deeply flawed resolution insofar as it wasn’t backed (as traditional) by any detailed account of the ground situation, was passed in unseemly hurry and its wording lends itself to varying interpretations, while its implementation is left delightfully vague. Clearly, hindsight tells that the West wanted a fig-leaf to legitimize its ipso facto intervention in Libya and to expand its scope to include “regime change” in Tripoli.

Put plainly, the script is already written and only the stage needs to be readied. Yet, two veto-wielding powers, Russia and China, that consider international law and UN Charter regarding inviolability and sanctity of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member countries allowed the precedent-setting R-1973 to pass through. They wanted the western actions to be somehow made as accountable as possible in the circumstances, while factoring in that western intervention in stoking the fires of a Libyan civil war was already a geopolitical reality.

India, too, abstained and its stance rested principally on the plea that peace efforts (specially by African Union) must be given a chance and there ought to be much more clarity about what is happening in Libya, aside the disquiet that outside intervention may only exacerbate the overall situation. Russia and China have reacted strongly to the air strikes by the “coalition of the willing” – US, UK, France and Canada – and demand that the military operations cease forthwith. So has Africa Union. So has Arab League, which despite its domination by “pro-West” oligarchies, fear the wrath of public opinion over the aggression of another Muslim country by western nations. Arguably, West counts on only one major supporter – Israel.

Unfortunately, from a principled position, Delhi has since backtracked by avoiding condemnation of western air strikes or demanding their cessation, and instead counseling restraint on “all parties”. This balancing works in favour of the West. Which is, of course, a great mistake on India’a part. The heart of the matter is that this is a momentous occasion when India needs to carefully ponder for whom the bell tolls.

The stunning reality is that the bell tolls not only for Qaddafi. Libya is a fragile nation of recent origin and is unlikely to withstand the pressure of foreign intervention. Its tribal, clan politics are a recipe for disintegration. More important, the only unifying force may turn out to be Islamism, which if it rises in the debris of civil war would profoundly impact international security in a wide arc of Greater Middle East stretching all the way to Afghanistan in India’s extended neighbourhood.

Furthermore, Libya’s disintegration or division will send reverberations deep into the African continent where, too, modern nation states that emerged in the post-colonial era are struggling with arbitrary boundaries, and nationhood remains under challenge (eg, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania). Nor can we overlook that a fierce race for Africa’s fabulous resources has resumed lately, harking back to the brutal colonial era. China’s entry into Africa, western economies’ fitful recovery, angst over the West’s steady decline, inexorable rise of Asia, energy security – all these form a cauldron from which the alchemy of the Libyan crisis derives. Overarching considerations include the projection of North Atlantic Treaty Organization as the sole global security organization that has the capacity and experience to intervene in “hot-spots” in the future even without UN mandate.

The narrative, therefore, that Libya is a template of the Arab revolution is crafty deception. Washington has put the Libyan operations under its Africa Command. No wonder, African Union hears the footfalls of a blood-soaked era that it thought had disappeared into history books. Delhi needs to be far-sighted about its stakes in the Libyan pantomime.

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