By Jawed Naqvi
Channel 4’s new exposé of the Sinhalese army’s unspeakable atrocities against Sri Lankan Tamils should put the focus not only on that country’s scant respect for the Geneva Conventions, it must shine the light on Colombo’s partners in a crime which was no less in its enormity than a near-successful attempt at ethnic cleansing.
The culprits most outstandingly include Pakistan and China chiefly because they armed and advised the government of President Rajapakse to carry out the war that ended in a gut-wrenching climax.
The world’s civilised men and women should call to account the role played by the United States and India among those that looked away when women and children were being slaughtered or raped and victory trophies videographed by jubilant soldiers.
One such memento has fortunately found its way into the safe hands of the British broadcaster and has set off a delayed debate in the Indian parliament. Tamil MPs are questioning New Delhi’s aloofness from a UN move to nail the Sri Lankan government.
The debate is of a piece with other cosmetic overtures the world makes year-round, 24/7 towards calamitous dénouements that stalk ordinary people.
Nothing much will come out of the Indian debate if the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finds non-Tamil allies to sustain its precarious majority in parliament. If not, New Delhi will be compelled to censure Sri Lanka, something it doesn’t really wish to do, not the least because Sri Lanka deliberately doesn’t tinker with India’s military depredations in Kashmir and other restive regions.
Callum Macrae, director of the film Killing Fields to be shown by Channel 4, says the cold-blooded murder of a young son of Velupillai Prabhakaran by government troops is only one more proof of a pattern of executions that were carried out at the behest of Colombo’s top leadership. Even the US commandos left alone the wives and children of Osama bin Laden.
What really emerges from the charges against the Sri Lanka government and its rejoinder by denial is an international charade about injustices.
For example, the Indian parliament was once a major forum to discuss international struggles. On Wednesday, however, as Tamil MPs shed mock tears over the outrage in Jaffna, there was not a whimper of protest, not even from the left parties, over yet another act of butchery unleashed by Israel on the Palestinians in Gaza.
Did we hear a bleat out of Pakistan against the aerial murder of innocents as it occasionally protests about its own? The reason for me to mention Pakistan on Palestine is linked to the Sri Lankan perfidy.
Remember that Gen Musharraf was on his way back from Colombo after handing over a hefty cheque and promise of arms to the Sri Lankan government when he hit the ground running to stage the coup. I asked Gen Musharraf at a news conference in Islamabad soon after he took power why he had two sets of principles about freedom struggles. He supported the Kashmiris but opposed the Tamils. He said it was not Pakistan’s policy to interfere in another country’s affairs.
That was rubbish. He had just come home after interfering in another country’s domestic stand-off by arming one side against the other. Recent reports suggest Islamabad is willing to live with the back-burner treatment the Kashmir dispute is now getting. Once a staunch supporter of Palestinians it now looks to the Saudis to show the way.
True, times have changed; the Cold War has ended; the Soviet Union has collapsed; the market called the shots (till it shot itself in the foot) and unequal wars became the beacons of hope for a global middle-class utopia. True, there is growing compulsion for every vulnerable Third World country to line up behind the remaining superpower.
The story of the last two decades of the Middle East reads much like an Agatha Christie novel about vendetta and perfect murder. Saddam Hussein and Qadhafi opposed the Saudis and their Fahd plan for peace with Israel. They were dragged out and killed by western protégés.
Hafez Assad was the third key opponent of the Fahd plan that aimed to give the Palestinians municipal rights in their homeland.
His son and current ruler of Syria is in the crosshairs. And then there would be none, or so the thinking goes.
As far as South Asia goes, there is something foul about the nature of quarrels that break out between the seven or eight neighbours. But prospects of peace between them seem just as sinister. Let’s go back to the year Saarc was founded in Dhaka in 1985. Who were the representatives of the member states? Gen Ziaul Haq, Gen Ershad, King Birendra, the Bhutan king, President Gayoom and Prime Minister Jayewardene.
Two military dictators, two absolute monarchs, an autocrat who had locked out his opponent from politics, and a president who never allowed any opposition to be formed on his archipelago.
In this motley group, India’s Rajiv Gandhi with his three-fourths majority in parliament shone like a ray of hope. But look closely: he had won the election following the worst post-Partition communal polarisation in India. It had followed the death of his mother and vendetta killings with state support of thousands of Sikhs by bizarre Congress nationalists.
Has the nature of the beast undergone a change because a new system of superficially democratic governance has come about here or there? Has the character of the state changed, say in Pakistan, because the military is perceived as weak before a civilian government? Let me apply a litmus test.
Suppose one day, with all the bonhomie between the traders of India and Pakistan, some businessmen in Karachi decide to import vast quantities of bauxite from India. Suppose the bauxite, as has happened elsewhere since the days of Columbus, could only be procured by vanquishing its native owners. What would the fleece be worth? What if a Musharraf clone decides to support the Indian state against the tribal people of Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, as China and the US did with Pol Pot?
The kaleidoscope of injustices throws up countless changing images. Just roll the mirrors with your attention intact.
Courtesy: The Dawn, 15 March 2012