TRIBUTE series

MAY 2002


Hopes for peace are low after the collapse of the Arab Summit in Beirut

The overshadowing event on the international scene at the moment is the apparent failure of the Arab Summit, which was held in Beirut in April. High hopes for a break in the deadlock had been entertained about this summit as it had the support of both UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and US President George W. Bush.

However, disaster dogged it from the start – mainly due to the absence of key members. Out of the 22 members of the Arab League, eight heads of state didn’t attend. A notable absentee was Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and the most telling irony was the absence of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat himself. Israel hadn’t lifted the travel ban on Arafat to enable him to leave his headquarters in the West Bank.

Furthermore, the Lebanese government, which was hosting the summit, refused to allow Arafat to address the summit over a live satellite video link from Ramallah. In protest, the Palestinian delegation walked out of the meeting. However, Arafat subsequently instructed his delegation to return on the understanding that a recording of his speech would be played to the delegates.

The objective of the summit was to discuss a Saudi peace proposal that offered Israel normal relations in exchange for its withdrawal from territory it has occupied since 1967. Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rejected the proposal outright on the grounds that a return to the 1967 borders would destroy his nation.

This breakdown will be a disappointment to world leaders who had welcomed the peace initiative. In contrast, there was rejoicing in Israel because a successful summit that presented a unified Arab position on peace could have embarrassed Sharon and hastened the demise of his coalition government.

The failure of this initiative, which had the powerful backing of Saudi Arabia, was billed as one of the most positive and promising so far, and this setback is lethal to the peace process. This could lead to chaos with the escalation of attacks by Palestinian militants through suicide bombings and crushing reprisals by Israeli armed forces.

Meanwhile, there are internal problems in India, Nepal and Pakistan, as a result of the campaign launched by the US and its allies against the Taliban specifically, as well as global terror in general.

In India, a dramatic example of domestic terrorism was the attack on the parliament, which was attributed to Pakistani militants from Kashmir. In fact, border tension between India and Pakistan over Kashmir has been generating acts of terrorism against India quite apart from the threats posed by the situation in Pakistan.

A controversial antiterrorism law was adopted by the Indian parliament at the end of March. The Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) has been condemned by the opposition as draconian and the government was obliged to summon a joint session of parliament to secure its adoption.

Home Affairs Minister L. K. Advani stated: “We can’t score a decisive victory against terrorism unless special laws like this are adopted.” He also argued that this bill has become necessary because of India’s proxy war with Pakistan, which had cost 61,000 lives. Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi condemned it as a violation of basic human rights.

India is facing yet another form of terrorism, which is not less virulent in the communal violence that plagues the subcontinent periodically. There was a serious upsurge recently in Ahmedabad when Muslims and Hindus fought each other for days, and the government almost lost control of the situation.

This incident was linked to the events in Ayodhya and an attack on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. The situation reflects the current tension in Pakistan that could be fomented by militants who are in opposition to President Pervez Musharraf’s government.

Meanwhile, Pakistan was shaken by the terrorist grenade attack on a church in Islamabad where foreigners including diplomatic personnel were killed. This occasioned an evacuation of the families of US diplomatic staff by the US State Department. Musharraf sounded defiant in his Independence Day address when he renewed his pledge to wipe out the scourge of terrorism.

Nepal is still battling its terrorist problem and the recent attacks by Maoist guerrillas have caused considerable casualties. This has become a serious security threat and the Prime Minister of Nepal Sher Bahadur Deuba had discussions with his Indian counterpart Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on this issue during a visit to New Delhi.

The meeting resulted in a joint statement pledging cooperation on the issue of cross border terrorism.

BY  The late Deshamanya  Dr. Vernon L. B. Mendis