Thursday, 21 July 2011

Secretary of State Clinton in Chennai: The Said and the Unsaid

The entirety of the address by Secretary of State Ms Hillary Clinton is available almost everywhere but for those of us who listened to her in the Anna Centenary Library auditorium on 20th July, the said as well as the unsaid are relevant. Foreign dignitaries have not found Chennai to be of apparent significance and so it was interesting to listen and note the speech made here en route to Indonesia and further.
The speech was divided into several sections each highlighting different aspects of the intention of the visit. Echoing President Obama’s “emerged India” stance in the address to the Indian Parliament, Ms Clinton claimed that Asia’s decisions will be shaped by India, as opening up of the Indian markets will play a major role in South East Asia, Central Asia and beyond. Deep and abiding bonds between India and USA were also referred to by Ms Clinton. So it was not a new revelation when she spoke of the gains to be got from co operation in trade ; and the advances made in co operation in counter terrorism and cyber terrorism, in securing maritime interests, deepening defence co operation , climate change and other spheres .
There was a reference in the speech that India should play a role in the democratic transition in the Middle East , but what was the specific democratic institution that needed help in its formation, and how would it fit into that society and when placed in juxtaposition with the aspirations of the people there, and what clear role India is expected to be play in the Middle East turmoil was all left unsaid .
The statement that USA would support India’s aspiration for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council came with caveats. First, Ms Clinton felt that India should play a major and defining role in Myanmar and engage with the junta and discuss issues of human rights .India also needed to reach out to the junta leaders and the military regime to engage with Aung San Su Kyi to usher in much needed reforms in that country . Secondly, India should use its good offices and should convince the leader’s in Iran about nuclear proliferation and their military nuclear program. Thirdly, India should offer all help needed to Nepal, Bangladesh and Maldives. In this context, several issues were left unsaid. The role that Pakistan plays in global proliferation and how the USA plans to contain that issue; the role of Pakistan in allowing terrorist forces to act against India from its territory and the continued role of certain Pakistani elements in it were not mentioned in this address specifically albeit they did come up in Delhi. When Ms Clinton spoke of a greater global role in which USA, China and India should join hands, the human rights violation issues were not even alluded to nor was there any mention of the flagrant violations in China of human rights or about the actions by the Chinese government against ethnic minorities seeking their basic rights. Neither was any mention made of the often obvious and the sometimes subtle methods used by China regarding its claims on Indian territory. After all, the USA establishment is well aware that trust and respect for the sovereign rights of a nation is the precursor to all co operation and India would need more assurances.
The Secretary of State referred to the pluralistic democratic system in India which allows people of all faith and economic levels to participate in the election process. Referring to Sri Lanka , and drawing applause for it, Ms Clinton stated that she wished to see in Sri Lanka the participation of all its citizens equally in the political and economic life of the country. However, there was no mention of the human rights violations that occurred during the final push of the internal war, evidence of which has now been placed in global view nor was there any censure for the policies of the Sri Lankan that clearly marginalizes a section of its own citizens.
Ms Clinton stated that USA is committed to the withdrawing of troops in Afghanistan by the deadline and that the troops may leave but that is not to be seen as disengaging, she stated rather emphatically that: “we will be there”. Bringing up the issue of reconciliation and seeking Indian support for the process, she went on to explain that reconciliation will be acceptable only if all violence by the Taliban is eschewed. Coming in the wake of the recent attacks by Taliban suicide bombers on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul on 29th June the night before the start of a conference about the gradual transition of civil and military from foreign forces to Afghans ; the killing of Ahmad Wali Karzai , the governor of province of Kandahar and the half brother of President Karzai, for which the Taliban took responsibility , as well as the killing of Jan Mohammed Khan , one of the key advisers to President Karzai ; one fails to see from where the confidence and belief that Taliban will give up violence is drawn. Reconciliation is obviously not working the way it should. .In fact, it seems to be the classic stance where there is a show of reconciliatory moves by an organization committed to violence , which is then used for recuperation and strengthening of itself. Ms Clinton’s speech seemed to be full of hope about the adoption of a constitution in Afghanistan which would not only ensure that minorities and women are given equal rights but also make them an integral part of the electoral system. However, all the positive attitude about the eventual US led stabilization process in Afghanistan is disrupted by the negative flow of events. The call for support from India for the reconciliation process was clear; but the fear that reconciliation will give Pakistan an advantage in Afganistan which may bedetrimental to Indian interest and the possible failure of the process which would spiral into unabated violence and its regional and consequent global impact was left unsaid.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Unrest in the Middle East - Arresting The Malaise or Malady

Humanity is on the roll demanding for itself the rights which are built into its psyche and have been denied to it for long periods by despots , oligarchies , repressive monarchies and military regimes . The juggernaut on the move is crossing artificially created national boundaries and in its wake leaving many dead and the living more resolute to break free of the shackles of tyranny and control.
Those earlier sporadic protests that had intermittently heralded the reasons for change were firmly put down. They were seen as unconnected events caused by minor elements that would learn their lesson when faced by severity. The disconnect between the rulers and the ruled in these countries had grown so deep that the ruling establishment remained oblivious to the growing general discontent. Their reliance on the loyal and ruthless armed might of their nations may have been strengthened by the crackdown and the seeming success of the mowing tanks of Tiananmen Square in 1989. Ruthlessness and arbitrariness, they seem convinced, was the solution to every murmur of discontentment. Basic rights of their citizens to live without fear and with dignity and to choose their leaders was considered an anathema in these countries Therefore , Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya , Iran and even as this is being written , more nations are in upheaval. The Middle East is in the throes of battle between the ruling houses and those demanding more rights .Fear of life, so assiduously inculcated in the minds of the people of these nations, seems to have fled and is now replaced by assertiveness of the crowds for their rights.
Uncontrollable corruption, denial of legal and political rights viz. absence of free and fair elections, draconian state emergency laws and absence of freedom of speech as well as social causes like unemployment and spiraling food prices are cited as the reasons for the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. The rage caught spread swiftly from the youth and the articulators of human rights to the discontented populace. The apparent resilience of the thousands of Egyptian protestors in the face of the mighty power of the state and the inherent conviction of their cause is modern day triumph of the civil disobedience movement. The movement is bound to spread to more nations that have been pursued unpopular disputable policies. Undoubtedly the genesis of the movement sweeping the Middle East and nations with Muslim populace was in Egypt but to perceive the movement as a wave of Islamisation sweeping the world would be over simplifying the undercurrents.
Will the people who have demand more freedom and a right to better life, cast away those very freedoms in the name of religion and allow radical elements to fill the vacuum created by the fleeing establishment? It seems contrary to the purpose. It is not a malaise that they have sought to alleviate; it is a serious malady that they have vowed to debilitate. It is therefore, incumbent on the international community to view the events are they truly are and not coat them with the colours that suit their national policies and interest. The nations that have enshrined basic human rights in their constitutional framework and secured them for their own citizens have a global responsibility to condemn those regimes that have denied it for too long to their people.