THE ROVING DIPLOMAT
SHOCK AND TURMOIL RULE
The world is in turmoil due to cultural destruction and national dissent
The world was shocked when the Taliban destroyed the Bamyan Buddha statues and other priceless relics in Afghanistan. At first, it seemed only to be a threat that resulted in a chorus of universal protests from states and international bodies, including personal appeals by the Secretary-General of the UN and the President of Sri Lanka.
But the deed had been done and it amounts to one of the gravest crimes against civilisation in modern history.
The issue is not that they were the priceless relics of a particular religion, venerated for over a thousand years by millions throughout the world – but rather, that they were a part of the priceless heritage of humankind. Their destruction was a crime against humanity itself as well as civilisation.
It wasn’t an act committed during the course of war or a conquest but a case of sheer barbarity that was unprecedented in history, considering that even the barbarian invaders of Rome like Alaric the Goth and Attila the Hun spared the cultural treasures of the Eternal City.
The destroyers of Bamyan have thus descended to a new level of barbarism – a chilling thought at a time when humankind seems committed to a new order of cultural amity, concord and understanding.
In the meantime, the international scene continues to face challenges and see tensions arise at political, regional and international levels, as well as initiatives to cope with them. These include the Middle East peace process, military conflict in Macedonia, political uncertainties in South Asia, new developments in Russia and issues in US-Russian diplomacy.
The ongoing peace process in the Middle East has been marked by crucial developments upon which its future could depend. One of them is the summit meeting of 22 Arab states in Amman to discuss the conflict. Several decisions were taken in Jordan; they included the provision of emergency aid to the Palestinian National Authority and acceptance of an Iraqi pledge of US$ 887 million from its oil revenue for Palestine.
A key issue was the normalisation of relations with Iraq in the context of the Kuwait invasion but the summit failed to agree on this.
Nevertheless, the meeting was also notable for the opportunity taken by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to reconcile with his old rival – PLO leader Yasser Arafat. This was the first bilateral meeting between leaders of Syria and Palestine in eight years, and the summit was able to forge a degree of unity between Arab states regarding common action.
However, the respective leaders expressed disappointment at the UN Security Council’s rejection of a proposal to despatch a peacekeeping force to the Middle East.
The real objective of the Amman Summit was to mobilise support for Palestine in the face of ongoing hostilities between Israel and Palestine. Israel’s blockade of Palestinian settlements in the West Bank is the main provocation for the violence.
It was alleged that the Israelis had used poison gas in the Gaza Strip and Palestine has called for a complete rejection of Israel by other Arab nations. The Arabs have also threatened to cut diplomatic ties with countries that establish embassies in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the international reaction to the prevailing situation has been varied. The UN Secretary-General condemned the excessive use of force by Israel but the US has been critical of Arab leaders by blaming them for the escalation of violence.
In South Asia, there is political turmoil in India and Bangladesh, and its governments are under heavy pressure. In India, this is due to the disclosure of a serious arms and bribery scandal, which has threatened the 22 party coalition and triggered efforts by opposition parties (led by the Congress Party) to overthrow the government.
The Indian parliament went into recess to consider a counter-strategy. It doesn’t seem as if the government is in danger of being overthrown as polls have shown majority support for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. His record so far for weathering many a crisis may be an assurance of the PM’s ability to surmount this challenge as well.
Ironically, this political crisis comes at a moment when India is on the threshold of joining the exclusive ‘satellite launch club’ where it will be in the company of the US, the European Space Agency, Japan, Russia and China. This will take place shortly with the launch of a satellite.
In Bangladesh, the turmoil is a continuation of the campaign that the opposition has been waging against the government of Prime Minister Sheikh
Hasina Wazed. At the heart of the protest is the demand by Begum Khaleda Zia for Hasina’s resignation.