The Rajapaksa government, true to form, first got wires crossed over the suspension of Pakistan from the Commonwealth and then regained sanity and stood by that friendly nation. It is heartening that in spite of initial bungling, Sri Lanka has at last shown that it is not devoid of gratitude by opposing the suspension tooth and nail.
Sri Lanka is not short of friends but those fine-weather friends turn away at the first sign of things turning foul. But, Pakistan has always stood by her. True, the situation in Pakistan has taken a turn for the worse with President Pervez Musharraf becoming more and more autocratic. He stands condemned for his emergency rule and the suppression of the Opposition. But, Pakistan cannot be helped in any way by conferring pariah status on her. For, Musharraf is not Pakistan!
The Commonwealth ought to twist President Musharraf`s arms hard in a bid to dissuade him from plunging Pakistan deeper into the present crisis. But, the use of its membership as a bludgeon to beat a member state cannot be countenanced on any ground. On the other hand, Musharraf may look an angel?at least as of now?in comparison to the tyrants that the leading lights of the Commonwealth have sponsored. Britain, which is on a crusade to democratise the world, defended the Pinochet regime in Chile to the hilt in spite of his Caravan of Death which left thousands of civilians dead. What moral right does Britain have to speak of democracy?
Never mind Pinochet. What about the terrorist outfits operating from the British soil with the avowed goal of destroying her Commonwealth allies? The British lawmakers are batting full time for some of those terrorists and even defending their macabre causes in the British Parliament so unashamedly. Britain has no qualms about granting permission for events organised by the very terrorist organisations it claims to have banned. The LTTE, which assassinated President Premadasa and Foreign Minister Kadirgamar, almost succeeded in accounting for President Kumaratunga and is zeroing in on President Rajapaksa, is operating openly in London. Worse, the British Navy had the audacity to entertain an LTTE leader on one of its warships off the Eastern cost in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster. How would Britain react if an Al Qaeda leader responsible for the London attacks was ever allowed to board a warship belonging to a Commonwealth nation? One would like to know what the Commonwealth proposes to do with the member states that are aiding and abetting sinister campaigns to bring about the downfall of other members. Isn`t it those states that must be thrown out of the Commonwealth first of all? The first to go will be Britain!
President Musharraf has been helping the US-UK campaign against terrorism, risking his life and Pakistan`s national security. Osama and his fanatics together with the Taliban are now training their guns on that country because of Musharraf`s involvement in war against them in Afghanistan. He is still known as `Our Man` in the US and the UK for the services rendered. Sanctions on Pakistan for having gone nuclear were lifted when Musharraf jumped in with both feet to support the so-called war on terror in the aftermath of 9/11 horror. At that time, everybody turned a blind eye to his military uniform, which has, to some world powers, suddenly become something like a red rag to a bull.
Ironically, the Commonwealth leaders are said to meet with the objective of extolling the virtues of human rights, democracy and good governance. If so, how can they justify the choice of Kampala as a venue? Do they see Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni as being any different from Musharraf?
Museveni was instrumental in ousting two presidents and has a sordid track record, though he has been able to curry favour with the West. President Bill Clinton, it may be recalled, visited him and chose to call him `the head of a new breed of African leaders`.
However, his involvement in the invasion of Congo ruined the image he had been building among the Western leaders. In the Hague, Congo has accused the Ugandan troops of having committed crimes against humanity such as massacres during their presence in that country in support of rebels.
Besides, there are hundreds of allegations of human rights violations against Museveni at home. Director of International Justice Programme at the New York-based Human Rights Watch Richard Dicker has accused Museveni of `displaying authoritarian tendencies towards his judiciary`. He recalls how the Ugandan security forces stormed a court that released five suspects on bail, who had been in custody for over one year on treason charges. They were rearrested and produced before judges in other parts of the country. Later judges staged a strike in protest against interference with their work.
Thus, how can the Commonwealth leaders resort to punitive action against Pakistan while enjoying Musevini`s hospitality and helping him sanitise his autocratic rule with the help of the presence of a host of leaders including the Queen?
As former Minister and UNP MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament the other day quoting the late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, Pakistan is one of the few countries that have really stood by Sri Lanka in her war against separatist terrorism. It was Pakistan that promptly answered Sri Lanka`s desperate call for big guns when the troops were trapped in Jaffna with the LTTE banging on the gates in 2000. But for those weapons rushed immediately?the military personnel were trained in record time to handle them?the war would have taken a different turn.
Therefore, the only way Sri Lanka can avoid being branded an ungrateful pariah is to defend Pakistan with might and main.
It behoves the Rajapaksa government to tender an apology to the Pakistani people for what happened at the foreign ministerial level in Kampala and assure them that there won`t be a repetition of that blunder.