Originally Published 2011-04-06 00:00:00 Published on Apr 06, 2011
With Gaddafi around, there will be no peace in the Arab region. Africa will also be badly affected. That is why Gaddafi's Foreign and Interior Ministers and several Libyan Ambassadors deserted him. What high moral dictate or compelling necessity led to India's neutral stance in the vote on Security Council Resolution 1973?
Col. Gaddafi's terror and India's UN vote
The widespread movement of peaceful protests throughout the Arab region is much more than a revolt or rebellion to grab power from this or that monarch or dictator, though it will topple autocratic rulers who try to resist the tide. The movement marks the beginning of a pan-Arab phenomenon of the awakening of a civilization from centuries of slumber.

Not all Arab countries are alike, but there are common features to the protests: protesters all over are young men and women - children of the age of knowledge fired by the driving ideas of our time, of people-power and people's rights, freedom and liberty, democracy and enfranchisement. They are adept at exploiting the power of the Internet and Facebook as tools of mass organisation. Their energy, idealism and determination are infectious and they have gained the sympathy and support of the general populace and, in some countries, even the respect and understanding of the armed forces. There is little evidence of coordination or cooperation among protesters in different countries, but they are all motivated by a new-found sense of power to shape their own destiny. Memories of the past glory and achievements of Arabia animate their drive for the renewal and modernisation of their societies.

A thousand years ago, the Arab region was known for its high achievements in astronomy, philosophy, algebra and mathematics, for its cities of cultural renown and its centres of trade and commerce, for rulers of great wisdom and for the imaginative arts of story-telling. The best scientists of the time came from this region, which conversed on equal footing with Indian and Greeco-Roman civilizations on its eastern and western flanks. That creative spirit withered after the 14th century; and Western dominance after the first World War and the settlement, so called, of 1922 destroyed it altogether. The current political upheaval in these ancient lands is the harbinger of an Arab Renaissance.

The Arab world is not a monolith, but once democracy is established in all these countries, their coming together into a Union of Arab States would be a natural development. From Morocco to Yemen, these countries have much more in common than the constituent states of the European Union. The Union, I believe, will be a group of moderate states friendly both to the East and the West. Islam is a vital part of an Arab's life, and he does not see a threat to his religion from any quarter. His struggle is for liberty, democracy, modernity, progress and dignity. On the long road to the goal there are hurdles in the shape of vested interests of tribal chieftains, obdurate autocrats and unyielding kings. There is no tolerance among the people for dictators seeking to perpetuate dynastic rule and they will be the first to go. For reasons of tradition, tribal loyalty, real or supposed sanctity of holy descent and belated public munificence, some of the royal houses of Arabia may gain some time, but the demand for reform of monarchical regimes is also gathering force and only those will survive that acquire popular sanction as constitutional monarchs.

The Arab region lies at the geographic centre of the three continents of Asia, Europe and Africa. Its inherent strategic importance is enhanced by its abundant resources of oil and gas. Therefore, whether one likes it or not, the fact remains that strategic, political and economic interest of major powers are engaged, and that reality cannot be wished away. Developments in North Africa, across the narrow Mediterranean Ocean, are bound to be of special interest and concern to France and Italy. The US has security relationships with virtually all Arab countries, and despite Washington's closeness to the rulers, the first non-white US President has, with prescient wisdom, called the region's dictators to quit, and nudged its kings and sheikhs to reform and liberalise their regimes. In Libya's case, President Sarkozy has gone a step further and accorded recognition to the Revolutionary Council.

Contrary to the late Professor Huntington's view, Arabs are not inhospitable to liberal ideals, and they do share the universal hunger for liberty, human rights and democracy. President Obama recognised this and chose to stand by the Arab people, braving criticism at home and risking the odium and disaffection of Arab allies and friends. This is the sort of thing leaders are for.

Too much is being made of the so-called Shia-Sunni divide in the Arab world and a consequent rise in Iran's role and influence in the region. In my own experience of the region's people, an Arab is an Arab, be he Sunni or Shia. In Bahrain and Syria, Sunni and Shia Muslims are seen together in the protests demanding regime reform and people's enfranchisement. Iran's dispatch of warships to Arabia's Mediterranean shores, supposedly in support of Syria's Asad and Lebanon's Hizbullah, is likely to prove a counter-productive provocation. Egypt's influence and example will reshape this region - not Iran's or, for that matter, Turkey's.

In this environment of a regionwide liberating upsurge, where does Gaddafi, the most antiquated of recent history's despots, fit in? He has threatened to chase and slaughter Libyan dissenters, to the last man or woman, house-by-house and room-by-room. His army of mercenaries is doing just that and it has to be stopped. With him around, there will be no peace in the Arab region, and Africa will also be badly affected. That is why Gaddafi's Foreign and Interior Ministers and several Libyan Ambassadors have deserted him; that is why the Arab League and the African Union had asked the UN Security Council to ensure safety of the Libyan people. That is why Lebanon, under a Hizbullah Prime Minister, chose to move Resolution 1973 in the Council, and that is why at least two Arab countries have joined, and more may join the US, Britain and France in the air assaults on Gaddafi's marauders.

No one was asking India to send its air force or ground troops to Libya: so, what high moral dictate or compelling necessity led to India's neutral stance in the vote on Security Council Resolution 1973? President Medvedev of Russia has publicly nullified his own government's criticism of the resolution. China's abstention, in effect, means support for action against Gaddafi to proceed. India's abstention implies indifference to the continuation of a genocide openly launched by a brutal dictator. What is the point in a country being on the Security Council if it is to sit on the fence on issues of this gravity?

The abstention vote was bad; the explanation of vote and its elaborations that followed made it worse. Information was not wanting; TV screens in Delhi and New York had all that was needed for a decision. Or, did someone here really believe that Gaddafi would heed our advice to abjure violence? Brazil and Germany might have had valid domestic reasons for their abstaining in the vote: India's links with its Arab neighbours are of a different dimension altogether. In its moral space, at least, India should be seen standing by the people.

(The writer, a former Foreign Secretary of India, is President, ORF Centre for International Relations, New Delhi)

Courtesy: The Tribune
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