Rising above stunts summersaults and acrobatics

  • By  Dr Shanthikumar Hettiarachchi
  • Sunday, 10 November 2013 00:00
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa with Queen Elizabeth 11 Head of the Commonwealth (File photo)
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa with Queen Elizabeth 11 Head of the Commonwealth (File photo)


As preparations are underway to welcome the CHOGM leaders, it must be noted that it is for the first time since the Non-Alignment Conference in 1976, that such a high profile Summit is being held in the country with the participation of heads of governments. Terrorism kept all apart from each other. Most leaders that attended the NAM Summit are no longer alive or have retired from active politics. The demeanor with which the then premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike, gave leadership to the Non- Alignment Movement in it’s hey days was indeed commendable and guests paid high tribute to her. Attendees including Indira Gandhi, Anwar Sadat, Marshal Tito,

Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere, Fidel Castro and Muammar Khaddafi made such a mixture of divergent political dispositions even within the Non Alignment Movement. They attended the Summit despite such differences, debated issues with sharp mutual criticism but with profound respect for each other and remained as far as possible Non-Aligned, until the major changes that swept the global geopolitics with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Sri Lankans did welcome NAM leaders with warmth despite the economic hardships they were undergoing with an enforced economic downturn. This time too, they will warmly welcome the CHOGM 2013 leaders despite their differences, because they are the honored guests of Sri Lanka. 
CHOGM’s 2013 leadership is yet another different group of leaders that represent the old British colonies with hybridized political views and perspectives glued to rapid social and economic policies. Interestingly CHOGM 2013 has three politico-diplomatic exploits that come under our focus and analysis.

Gambia’s withdrawal  

Firstly, the West African state, The Gambia’s withdrawal from the CHOGM. This case was pending back and forth ever since the 1994 coup after which Yahya Jammeh declared himself as its president. The United Kingdom particularly has had sour political relations with the way the subsequent elections were conducted and alleged repression of dissidents and prisoners. The Gambian sources declared that they “decided that The Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism” which the Commonwealth secretariat in a communiqué described the decision as “most regrettable and disappointing”. 
The Gambia should not have been diplomatically impulsive to a radical withdrawal because political leaders must remember that they are elected by the people for a job to be done. Peoples’ choice is primary over the individual choice of any one single head of a government, CHOGM or otherwise. This is the hard end of democracy which all elected members need to bear in mind. People elect and depose whom they wish with their choice, when the time arrives.

Canada’s politicizing

The second diplomatic and the politicized summersault is the ‘Canadian boycott’. Its premier Stephen Harper already seemed to have created a new double standard with his recent ‘endearing visit’ to Indonesia and embracing fully a new friend across the miles. In fact Harper willfully and shamefully ignores Indonesia’s own treatment of religious minorities and the free hand given to the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamist movement that believes in the re-establishment of caliphate that would provide stability and security to both Muslims and non-Muslims in the predominantly Muslim regions of the world. Wonder whether Harper had a moment to raise some of those issues with him. However, Australia’s new premier Tony Abbott, who met Harper in Bali during the same visit to Indonesia in late October, emphatically said that he intended to travel to the Colombo CHOGM in mid-November 2013, despite calls for ‘a boycott’ from human rights groups. His response to Harper was “You do not make new friends by rubbishing your old friends or abandoning your old friends.” Himself a pro-monarchist, the Australian Premier Abbott said vowing that his government would “take the Commonwealth seriously”.

The second challenge to Harper came from non other than from the former Canadian Premier Brian Mulroney who said that Canada should not boycott the upcoming Commonwealth meeting in Sri Lanka. His words are realistic and contextual. “If you were going to boycott the Commonwealth because of illustrations of improper government or abusive treatment of people within some of the member countries, some day you wouldn’t have too many people around that Commonwealth table for tea.” (One would wonder whether he insinuates here the infamous British legacy of governance of the colonies as well). Mulroney further said, “There’s a lot of developing countries in there, countries with problems, and the best thing, I think that we can do, is be there at the table and illustrate, by our presence, the value of what we’ve learned as a country over 146 years and how we conduct ourselves with our democracy and with our generosity to friends internationally.” A good piece of political advice for Harper from one of his own predecessors if he cares to learn, consider amend already flawed and strained diplomatic relations with friendly nations.

Strangely the Canadian political rhetoric has a ‘history of boycotts’ which has not brought any diplomatic resolutions for this North American state struggling with its own ‘settler colonialism’ issue where the European white settlers simply settled on the indigenous land and outnumbered them permanently. The Canadian boycott of Moscow Summer Olympics in 1980 over the Russian invasion of Afghanistan was one instance. (Good to remind Canada about what it did with 10 years of combat operations in the same territory was not an ‘invasion’). Boycott of Mexico over a Canadian woman being jailed since 2008 with neither a judicial nor diplomatic resolution – but a boycott. Canada is yet again, wanting to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. It seems that the Canadian syndrome of boycott is normal to its political psyche but what the Harper Government lacks is the skill of engagement with friends and foes with robust debate and critique. Instead, Harper has taken the easy-cozy option of boycott, ducking real issues and the qualities of statesmanship. Canada must learn that 21st century governance cannot be manipulated by residual colonial approaches of intimidation but through skilful engagement, transparent and accountable diplomacy. Not one policy for Indonesia and yet another for Sri Lanka, embrace one and despise the other – Jekyll and Hyde diplomacy. People of Canada need to be aware that their franchise might be at stake in the hands of those who
adhere to simplified and outdated forms of protest with flimsy boycotts and fail intelligently to contest as grown up politicians. Tony Abbot, Brain Mulroney and many others have responded adequately to the Harper government about his obsessional boycott syndrome, regrettably denting the Canadian legacy of hospitality.

India’s stance

The other diplomatic acrobatic is what goes on in the Delhi government. One would wonder how the world’s largest democracy (which it advertises itself boldly for right reasons) is in a ‘state of in-betweenness’ whether or not to attend the Colombo CHOGM – ‘to be or not to be’. This is a very clear sign of an unstable state of affairs on the part of the Singh government in the face of its own political future. It must be clearly stated with a straight backbone of diplomacy, in the name of its foreign policy what India wishes and wishes not. Somewhere down the line of Delhi protocol, there is indeed a missing link of right diplomacy. It is one thing to deploy intelligence to collect data of friends and foe (just like the US did with Brazil, Germany and France). But it is yet another thing, show casing the weakness of a great people of India and its historically magnanimous statesmanship and leaders of character, to bypass responsibility. Delhi Government may or may not attend the CHOGM, but this political non-pointedness indicates diplomatic vacillation, and the very unpredictable political future of the incumbent government. A friendly nation like Sri Lanka, its sovereignty as an independent state and its territorial integrity cannot be put on ransom for a political party of another government. And the CHOGM institutionally cannot allow to be punished for the India’s poor governance by the party in power and its politically obsolete kingmakers up and down the country. CHOGM should take this matter of political bullying and ransom as a serious aspect in its agenda because such can destabilize smaller countries like Sri Lanka

India must solve its own complex issues and problems without making scapegoats of its neighbors. Sri Lanka has just come out of the terrorism menace which India schizophrenically loved and hated. The result was the biggest blow to India’s political DNA from any outside enemy since its violence ridden independence in 1947. The recently elected chief minister of the Northern province Justice C. V. Wigneswaran has an analogy for India as well (even though he had Tamil Nadu politicians in his mind). In mid-September this year, speaking to The Hindu he compared the Sri Lankan situation to a home where the husband and wife are having a fight.  “We will fight, but sometimes we come together. The next door neighbor must not come and say ‘you must divorce, you must divorce’. That is not your business,” he also said. Diplomacy is not acrobatics of appeasement.

The CHOGM leaders when gathered in Colombo should be able to reflect carefully about these ‘boycottings’ and ‘Yes or No’ to participation at the proceedings, as such can be matters that could dent the future of CHOGM.  By the time CHOGM Mauritius 2015 happens, it is hoped should have a better equipped collection of leaders to forge ahead with regional concerns than someone’s constituency- voter- based politics or national politics of a member state or else a mere individual-led-politics which also politicizes the international institutions like CHOGM. If such is not addressed, then it is most likely a several repeat telecast of The Gambian scenario might be inevitable.

 Last modified on Friday, 08 November 2013 14:04

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