Sunday, October 30, 2011

Was NATO's intervention in Libya justified?

Disclaimer: I do not intend to authoritatively decree (not that I have any power to do so) as to whether or not NATO’s campaign in Libya was justified or legal. I just wanted to state a few facts and pose a few questions that merit deeper attention.

It’s October-end and the world remains awash with stories related to Col. Gaddafi’s controversial death refusing to die down. We all know that Col. Gaddafi – who had ruled Libya since 1969 – was recently killed in his hometown Sirte on October 20th. He had been dislodged from power in a civil war that had erupted in February 2011 following similar anti-government protests in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt.

Beginnings (February 2011):

The anti-government demonstrations in Tunisia (December 2010) and Egypt (January-February 2011) had earlier led to the ouster of long-time rulers Ben Ali (of Tunisia) and Hosni Mubarak (of Egypt) respectively. Subsequently, anti-government protests began in the Libyan city of Benghazi. The protesters came to be known as ‘rebels’ and they waged war against the Libyan government. Meanwhile, many prominent government officials and diplomats defected to the side of the rebels. The world media reported that the rebels were fighting for democracy and freedom and we as yet do not have sufficient reasons to not believe in this version of events. Nevertheless, rebels advanced rapidly in the next few weeks capturing many of Libya’s important cities. However, Government forces launched a counter-offensive and drove off rebels from town after town. Eventually by March 2011, the rebels were pushed back to their strongholds of Benghazi and Misrata. The rebels called for international assistance.

Foreign intervention and Gaddafi’s ceasefire offer (March 2011):

On March 17, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted the UNSC resolution 1973 that authorized the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya in order to protect civilians from any airstrikes by Col. Gaddafi’s forces. Thus, UK and France began a series of airstrikes in Libya in order to neutralize the Libyan Air Force so that it did not pose a danger to civilians. Nevertheless, immediately after the passage of the UNSC resolution 1973, the Libyan Government declared ceasefire with the rebels.


The Libyan Government too cited the well-being of civilians as the reason behind it’s decision to declare the ceasefire. The Government further said that it sought assistance from Turkey (a powerful NATO member) and Malta to supervise and implement the ceasefire. However, it seemed the West had already made up it’s mind. After having secured the UN approval to bomb Libya, how could the NATO resist embarking upon the military adventure? US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flatly dismissed the ceasefire offer by the Libyan government. She said "…we would have to see actions on the ground and that is not yet at all clear." Of course, it remains a mystery if the Western nations ever made any serious efforts to “see actions on the ground”. I have not yet come across any news report that shows Turkey or Malta responding to Libyan government’s offer to supervise the ceasefire.

Nevertheless Hillary Clinton went a step ahead and decreed that "We will continue to work with our partners in the international community to press Gaddafi to leave and to support the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people." [Emphasis added] Wow! Did she forget that the UN mandate was only to protect civilians, not to overthrow the government? The fact that Clinton openly called for removal of an internationally recognized Government amounted to breach of UN Charter which prohibits use of threats against sovereign nations. Anyways, we all know that the rules of international diplomacy are quite different for Western nations, so we shall not bother with this little issue any further.

So, despite Gaddafi’s calls for ceasefire, the NATO went ahead with it’s airstrikes and fighting continued. Of course, there remains the big possibility that Gaddafi was never sincere about the ceasefire proposal. In fact, the rebels claimed that the government forces continued shelling rebel-held Misrata and Benghazi even after the official declaration of ceasefire. So which side do we trust – the government version of implementation of ceasefire or the rebel version of breach of faith? One possible way to gauge the two sides’ sincerity is by studying their official announcements. While the government asked Malta and Turkey to supervise the ceasefire, the rebels dismissed the government’s offer saying that Gaddafi is a “liar”.

The rebel commander Khalifa Heftir said, "Gaddafi does not speak any truth... All the world knows that Muammar Gaddafi is a liar. He and his sons, and his family, and all those with him are liars."


Nevertheless, amidst all the chaos and all the difficulty in determining who was speaking the truth, the Western nations had already made up their mind that Gaddafi must go. So began airstrikes over Libya on 19th March, giving no time for the government’s ceasefire proposal (which was announced on 18th March). Fighting continued and rebels advanced under NATO’s umbrella. Rebels captured city after city and Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule looked in serious peril.

Gaddafi’s election offer (June 2011):

In June 2011, after the tide of war had turned against them, Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam announced that Col. Gaddafi was willing to hold elections and that he would step aside if he lost. Saif al-Islam further said that the elections could be held within three months and transparency would be guaranteed through international observers. However, NATO and the rebels rejected the offer.

The rebel spokesman Abdel Hafiz Ghoga gave the logic behind rejecting the election offer. "We tell him (Saif al-Islam) that the time has passed because our rebels are at the outskirts of Tripoli, and they will join our people and rebels there to uproot the symbol of corruption and tyranny in Libya," Hafiz Ghoga told Al Jazeera.


It is indeed a novelty to see purported pro-democracy rebels opposing elections and more specifically denying a leader (Gaddafi) a chance to prove his support. Anyways, fighting continued and NATO resumed bombing operations. Meanwhile, reports emerged of human rights abuses by both the government and rebel forces. Reports also emerged of NATO bombings purportedly killing civilians.

The Climax (August – October 2011):

Slowly and steadily rebels advanced towards Tripoli aided by NATO air cover. By 22nd August, Tripoli was in rebel hands. Gaddafi loyalists held out for a couple of months more in Bani Walid and Gaddafi’s hometown Sirte. Commentators have often described the resistance put by Gaddafi loyalists as fierce even in the face of imminent defeat. In fact, NATO officers expressed surprise at the resilience shown by Gaddafi fighters in the face of rebels’ advance and NATO’s airpower.

New York Times on October 10th, “NATO Commander Says Resilience of Qaddafi Loyalists Is Surprising”



On October 20th, NATO bombed a convoy in Sirte resulting in the wounding and eventual capture and killing of Col. Muammar Mohammad al-Gaddafi (1942-2011).

Some time in future, when dispassionate analysis would be possible without prejudice, maybe our posterity will be able to judge whether Muammar Gaddafi was a greedy dictator or an anti-imperialist nationalist (or both)… Till then, we can ponder if the foreign intervention in Libya was justified or legal. And what it means for the future of Africa. Is this just a precursor of things to come? More wars to lay hands on Africa’s resources?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Anna no longer supports referendums

We live in a strange world. Third World countries are “liberated” by occupying them; humanitarian intervention is carried out by dropping bombs over cities. Weak countries are asked to prove that they are innocent of harbouring any evil intentions rather than prosecutors proving guilt: Iran is repeatedly asked to prove that it has no intention of embarking upon a nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile, back home in India, pro-democracy activists seem unable to make up their minds as to what is more important – democracy or territorial integrity.

Picture this:

Headlines on 2nd October, 2011

Headlines on October 14:

So, what views of Prashant Bhushan did Anna Hazare disapprove of? Well, it turns out that Prashant Bhushan supports the idea of a referendum to resolve the Kashmir issue. Apparently Anna Hazare has a secret formula to determine when referendums are required and when to be rejected. Anna Hazare went even a step further and declared that Kashmir is an integral part of India. Well, it is customary of Hazare to settle all matters by his declarations – like how he declared that only his version of Lokpal bill was worthy enough of being passed by the Parliament.

Meanwhile, Prashant bhushan’s support for Kashmiri’s right of self-determination has so much infuriated the anti-corruption “nationalists” that they are demanding he be removed from the core of Team Anna.

Surely, we live in strange times.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Is this the most exciting UN General Assembly Meeting?

So, its after a considerable length of time that I am writing in my blog. Many things have changed since I last wrote about Arundhati Roy and her defiance on the Kashmir issue. As of now, the international arena of diplomacy seems more exciting and thrilling than any drama could be. As I write, diplomats in the United Nations are busy in proclaiming, communicating and negotiating new and old stands on issues that are set to shape the world as we know it.

Palestine applies for full membership, 63 years after Naqba:

In 1948, Zionist migrants from Europe and other parts of the world proclaimed the Jewish Homeland of Israel in much of what was the British mandate of Palestine. Jews sought refuge in the Holy Land as they sought to escape the Holocaust and the pervasive anti-Semitism in Europe. However, the cost of resettling the Jewish refugees was unfortunately borne by an unsuspecting people, who had little to do with Hitler’s Lebensraum or Britain’s imperialist empire or American ambitions. In their bid to create a homeland for the Jews, some Zionist terrorist groups like the Irgun and Haganah drove out Palestinians from their homes, killing those who refused. Some 700,000 Palestinians became refugees in 1948 in order to resettle the Zionist refugees mainly from Europe. The Palestinians were left to pay the price for Israel’s creation. The exodus of Palestinians from their villages is called “Naqba” (catastrophe) by Palestinians. Israel calls it the War of Independence.

For years, the struggle of the Palestinian people centred around the key question of “Right to Return”. The 700,000 Palestinian refugees who were driven out in 1948 (and now number around 5 million) have still held on to their dream of returning to their ancestral homes, braving years of international disdain and indifference towards their plight. Nevertheless, after the 1967 war, the focus steadily shifted from “right of return” to “right of statehood” for the Palestinians. However, Palestinians still retain strong views on the question of return.

Settlement construction a key roadblock to peace:

Negotiations over the establishment of a Palestinian state began in 1993 and have been dragging on ever since. While many reasons can be attributed to the stalemate in the “peace process” over the years, the one major factor that has emerged as a key roadblock to talks in recent years has been Israel’s settlement construction. Israel has been constructing Jewish settlements in the occupied lands of Palestine, in contravention of international law and thus making it increasingly difficult for a viable Palestinian state to emerge in the future.

The difficulty that the settlement construction posed to Israel-Palestine peace was even recognized by US President Barack Obama. After assuming office, Obama pursued hard to revive the Mid-East peace process and asked Israel to extend it’s freeze on settlement construction. However, Benjamin Netanyanhu (Israel’s Prime Minister) eventually decided to resume settlement construction which led the Palestinian leadership to withdraw from “peace talks”. Not only is Israel’s settlement construction a roadblock to confidence-building between the estranged parties, so are the other Israeli policies of expanding Jewish residential construction in East Jerusalem (the widely accepted capital of any future Palestinian state). Moreover, Israel’s security wall that cuts through the West Bank, dividing Palestinian territory from Palestinian territory has further strengthened misgivings over Israel’s intentions toward securing a peaceful settlement of the age-old conflict.

Israel’s belligerence in Gaza does not instill confidence in Israel’s seriousness for achieving peace:

Israel’s belligerence has been further displayed by it’s activities in the Gaza Strip. Israel violated a fragile ceasefire agreement with Hamas on November 4, 2008, when the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) intruded into the Gaza Strip and reportedly killed six Hamas fighters. This incident led to the breakdown of the truce that had held for about the prior six months and paved way for the massive Israeli bombing of Gaza starting in December 2008. The Israelis called it “Operation Cast Lead” and the Palestinians call it the Gaza massacre. The confrontation between the IDF and Hamas in Gaza left some 1,166 to 1,417 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

Nevertheless, the western media has the remarkable ability to portray the victims as being somehow responsible for their unfortunate fate because of some irresponsible decisions that the victims themselves made. The irresponsible decision that the victims of Gaza made was to elect Hamas as their representatives in elections in 2006, for which it was logical that they should pay a price. The Gazans deserved to die because they elected the killer and terrorist organisation of Hamas. And, the Hamas is a terrorist organisation because it resists Israeli occupation of Gaza and kills Israeli Defence Forces. It is terrorism if you kill the IDF and oppose occupation. It is counter-terrorism if you kill the Hamas, even if you have to violate a truce to kill the Hamas. It is counter-terrorism if you drop bombs from F-16s in busy and crowded refugee camps in Gaza. The civilians killed in such operations are unfortunate casualties, who suffer such fate because of the extremist group Hamas and partly because of their poor decision to elect the Hamas. The 1300-odd Palestinians killed by Israel do not make to the Western media’s list of people killed by terrorism.

Frustrated Palestinian leadership finally applies for statehood in UN:

Thus, the aforementioned Israeli policies – aggressive policies in Gaza (including maintainaing a blockade on Gaza), settlement expansion in West Bank, Jewish construction in East Jersulaem – have all added to growing frustration of the Palestinian leadership with the so-called “peace talks”. Therfore the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decided to apply for full member status in the 66th UN General Assembly 2011 being held at New York. Abbas submitted the formal request to UN Secy. General Ban Ki Moon on 23rd September 2011. The statehood bid is doomed to fail as the United States of America is likely to veto it down in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Israel’s stature diminished in international community:

Nevertheless, the statehood bid has been largely endorsed by almost all the countries in the world expect only the US and Israel. This alone stands as a great diplomatic victory for the Palestinian leadership and Mahmoud Abbas. Thus, we have Israel’s status being steadily pushed to that of Apartheid-era South Africa. Israel is turning out to be the pariah state in the international community, some full 10 years after Isreal itself started a campaign to liken Yasser Arafat (Palestinian leader) to Osama bin laden in the aftermath of September 11 attacks in New York. That was 2001 and now its 2011. Its amazing how tables turn and how perceptions change.

India defies USA in the UN:

No less interesting has been the diplomacy being played out by Indian officials in the UN. India took two important diplomatic decisions which have firmly affirmed the Government’s commitment to pursue an independent foreign policy and to go against America’s positions. The two decisions are;-

  1. to endorse Palestine’s statehood bid
  2. to diplomatically engage with Iran

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his UN Assembly speech said,

"India is steadfast in its support for the Palestinian people's struggle for a sovereign, independent, viable and united state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognizable borders side by side and at peace with Israel. We look forward to welcoming Palestine as an equal member of the United Nations…"


Manmohan’s speech stood in stark contrast to Obama’s speech, where the US President urged the Palestinian leadership to return to the negotiating table with Israel rather than seek “unilateral declaration” of statehood. Obama remains concerned that such a “unilateral declaration” of statehood (never mind that the supposed “unilateral” declaration is supported by almost all countries in the UN except the US and Israel) will jeopardize the non-existent “peace talks” that have been dragging on for years and which seem to serve only one purpose – prolong Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Meanwhile, India also differed from the US on one more important foreign policy issue – Iran. PM Manmohan Singh held a bilateral meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York in the sidelines of the UN meet. (It maybe noted that PM Manmohan Singh is not meeting US President Obama in the current trip, however much should not be read into it) While Iran has been subjected to economic sanctions and virulent accusations of human rights violations and nuclear proliferation from the West, it is a very contrasting picture to see the Indian PM (the head of Government of a G-20 country) holding a bilateral meeting with the Iranian President Ahmadinejad who has been widely reviled by the Western media. The meeting underscores that India views Iran as a stabilizing factor in Afghanistan, contrary to Western perceptions. And we have reason to hold such perceptions because Iran was one of the few countries (along with India and Russia) that backed the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan prior to 2001. Indian foreign policy understandably remains committed to limiting the influence of Taliban and like extremist outfits in post-NATO Afghanistan.

[refer to]

Thus, as events pan out, we see greater international isolation of the US and Israel. Fewer countries in the world are today ready to endorse Israel’s seeming impunity from international law. Meanwhile, India’s defiance of Washington over the question of Iran should be welcomed as another positive development towards creation of a multi-polar world order.