Cherry-picking IBSA

No-fly zone over Libya

For a moment, it seemed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was hustled into another meaningless cabinet reshuffle, prompted by an urgent need to induct Mulayam Singh Yadav into the government, and in the process external affairs minister S M Krishna was compelled to surrender his portfolio to the doughty ‘pahalwan’ from Uttar Pradesh. Anything can happen, after all, in Delhi and nothing is quite beyond the realms of possibility anymore.

Certainly, the ‘low-profile’ stance Krishna adopted at the IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) foreign-minister level meet in Delhi on Tuesday still remains incomprehensible. It is a great privilege to host an international meet. Besides, courtesy and diplomatic propriety — and leadership qualities — demanded that as the host country India took the rostrum and announced to the world, “Yes, we three democratic countries from the developing world drawn from 3 continents and presently represented in the United Nations Security Council have taken a principled decision to oppose a ‘no-fly’ zone over Libya”.

Yet, somehow it was left to Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, foreign minister of Brazil, to annotate the IBSA’s stance. Indian spokesmen were nowhere to be seen. No dashing ‘public diplomacy’, either. Consequently, a virtual media blackout ensued.

Of course, Patriota is an accomplished diplomat and can speak authoritatively on conflict situations and collective security. After all, how many diplomats would peel off on mid-career sabbatical to do a PhD on ‘The Security Council After the Gulf War: Articulating a New Paradigm for Collective Security?’ Patriota ably explained the IBSA decision, saying “while this formulation doesn’t go into detail, it is an ‘important measure’ of what the non-western world is thinking. Why we say this, in part, is because the resort to a ‘no-fly’ zone is seen as expedient by a country but it weakens the system of collective security and provokes indirect consequences prejudicial to the objective we have been trying to achieve.”

He added: “It is very problematic to intervene militarily in a situation of internal turmoil. Any decision to adopt military intervention needs to be considered within the UN framework and in close coordination with African Union and the Arab League.”
The heart of the matter is that there is great moral ambiguity, political opaqueness and strategic miscalculation in the unseemly haste with which Britain and France are approaching the UNSC with the acquiescence of the US for a mandate to impose a ‘no-fly’ zone over Libya. The only quarrel we can have is the IBSA’s view of Arab League, which, despite the 45-day-old ‘Arab awakening’, still comprises ‘pro-West’ ancien regimes who may not even survive the coming New Year Day and is based in Cairo where a military junta holds the steering wheel.

Double standards

The moral depravity and political cynicism of the proponents of ‘no-fly’ zone is at once obvious. Washington, on the one hand, requests Riyadh to send weapons clandestinely to the rebels in Benghazi to fuel a civil war that becomes an excuse for western ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Libya, where Muammar Gadhafi is using the very same tear gas shells, bullets, tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships to attack the rebels that the Europeans sold to him.

Israel butchered five times more Palestinians in Gaza (including hundreds of children) in one go in Operation Cast Lead in 2008. What did the west do about it? It looked away. Let us face it. Britain and France aspire to intervene to save some of the vast investments that European companies made in Gadhafi’s Libya. They are particularly interested in a ‘no-fly’ zone in Libya’s northern tier where the oil terminals feeding Europe need to function. In order to legitimise the intervention, US and allies are seeking ‘regional consultations’. American President Barack Obama doesn’t want to drink out of the poisoned chalice his predecessor left behind in the Oval Office — doctrine of ‘unilateralist intervention’, ‘coalition of the willing’, etc.

A foreign intervention in Libya will turn out to be as horrendous a crime against humanity as the Iraq invasion was. Gadhafi is the grotesque end-product of a historical process of Arab nationalism (and socialism) that began high-spiritedly but somehow morphed into a pro-west, pro-capitalist regime under western encouragement. Ranged against it are Islamist forces. Do not underestimate the ideological and political basis of the current strife, which is being simplistically seen as a battle between Gadhafi and his people.

Like the Iraqis, the Libyans too have to grapple with multiple identities and a tortuous history, including a bloody colonial past. Therefore, interposing in a civil war by the western countries in yet another Muslim country when they are already up to their knees in rivers of Muslim blood can only add to the root causes of international terrorism.

Finally, imposing a ‘no-fly’ zone involves ‘degrading’ Gadhafi’s air defence systems, which means sustained aerial bombardment, ‘collateral’ deaths, and devastation of a country that, ironically, also happens to occupy the first spot on the UN’s Human Development Index for Africa.

Delhi knows all this. Yet, it somehow seems afraid to say so and keeps mumbling. You hear one reasoning today, another tomorrow. Delhi prefers to cherry-pick from the IBSA process and selectively laud the grouping’s emphasis on UNSC reform. Alas, we have become one-dimensional men (and women) who can’t even enjoy a cup of high-end Arabica coffee from Brazil.

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