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Mainstream, Vol XLIX, No 15, April 2, 2011

Silver Lining amid Ominous Forebodings


Friday 8 April 2011, by SC

As we go to press disturbing news has come from Washington: according to one report, highlighted by Russia Today or RT, one of the most independent foreign news channels in the world, US President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorising the CIA to arm the anti-Gaddafi rebels in Libya; other reports quote senior American officials suggesting a fierce debate within the US Administration on this issue of supplying arms to the Libyan rebels with some apprehending that such a step would deepen US involvement in a civil war in that country especially when it is confirmed that some rebels are having links with the Al-Qaeda (the RT insists that about a thousand jihadists are in the ranks of those battling Gaddafi’s troops). As these reports reveal the complex nature of the Libyan crisis with knowledgeable sources maintaining that the anti-Gadaffi elements have little in common with the pro-democracy upsurge witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt as well as in Yemen and Bahrain, latest information from the battlefront underlines that forces loyal to Col Muammar Gadaffi have advanced rapidly on March 30, seizing towns they ceded just days ago following the allied airstrikes as the rebel fighters beat a chaotic retreat.

All these only show up the failure of the airstrikes on Libya. In this situation what would Obama do? Raise the level of US and Western involvement by arming the rebels through the CIA as has already been reported? That would only intensify the hostilities in the country and heighten the resolve of even those Libyans not necessarily enamoured of the country’s autocratic leader to fight the aggressors trampling over Libyan sovereignty. This is precisely what countries like Russia had brought into focus while opposing the airstrikes. Of course, there was an element of contradiction in the position of those states (including India)—they did not oppose the UN Security Council’s resolution endorsing no-fly zone over Libyan territory (at least Russia, if not China, should have vetoed it; instead they, along with India, abstained) and are now condemning the airstrikes and the proposed arming of the rebel forces by the West in general and the US in particular. However, Moscow has publicly asserted—through a statement by its Foreign Minister—that foreign powers had no right to arm the rebels under the mandate approved by the UN Security Council.

Meanwhile the nuclear crisis in Japan has escalated. As radioactive iodine, thousands of times higher than the permissible safety limit, was discovered in the sea near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 30, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency reported and the plant’s operator publicly acknowledged for the first time that four of the six nuclear reactors at the complex would have to be scrapped. These are doubtless ominous developments. And against this backdrop it is learnt that Japan is considering plans to drape the shattered nuclear reactor buildings with special covers to limit radiation and dump contminated water into a tanker anchored offshore.

In contrast the scenario in our neighbourhood has undergone a positive change at least for the present. The semifinals of the one-day cricket World Cup at Mohali between traditional rivals India and Pakistan (which ended with India winning by 29 runs in a thrilling match punctuated by changing emotions) on March 30 found the Pakistan PM arriving with a host of other Ministers to watch the encounter at the invitation of the Indian PM who too was there alongwith the chairperson of the ruling UPA. The two PMs also met outside the field in the evening and Manmohan Singh hosted a dinner for Yousuf Raza Gilani. The meeting was yet another move towards ‘permanent reconciliation’ between the two countries without in any way brushing the issue of the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai under the carpet.

Beyond rhetoric, the first India-Pakistan Home/Interior Secretaries’ meeting after 26/11, held in New Delhi prior to the Mohali summit, covered substantive ground taking into consideration both sides’ sensitivities and reinforced hopes of sustained dialogue in the days ahead (that may not be to the liking of jingoists on both sides but is the only available option in the circumstances). These talks ended with concrete decisions—(a) setting up a hotline between the Indian Home Secretary and Pakistan’s Interior Secretary; (b) Pakistan agreeing to allow a commission from India to visit Islamabad in connection with the 26/11 attacks probe; (c) an agreement on letting the CBI and Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) hold a meeting on human trafficking, counterfait currency, cyber crimes, Red Corner Notices; (d) Pakistan informing that voice samples of the alleged plotters of the 26/11 terror strikes would be provided to India if the Lahore High Court sets aside the decision of a lower court to reject a plea on that score; (e) the two sides declaring their intention to release civilians and fishermen who have completed their sentence by April 15. Besides, each side updated the other on the probes into the Mumbai attacks and the Samjhauta Express blast. These talks’ success has raised the expectation of some advance towards solution of the Siachen and Sir Creek issues in the coming days.

The hopes generated can, of course, be smothered as had happened in the past. The danger emanating from the upsurge of fundamentalism of the Taliban variety in Pakistan and the muscle-flexing by the Hindu communalists in India as well as terrorist depredations from across the border should not be minimised. The ISI-controlled military’s influence over the civilian administration in Islamabad also poses a threat to enhanced bonhomie between the two states as well and its power and authority should not be underestimated.

And yet hope survives despite all the difficulties to be encountered and hurdles to be negotiated in the near or distant future. Whatever has been achieved in the regional setting in the last few days does indeed constitute a silver lining in the midst of the ominous forebodings from the latest events in Libya and Japan.

March 31 S.C.

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