Lend a hand, morally

Different people follow different types of protests to rid themselves of their miseries from the tyranny of self-appointed dictators. But in most such struggles the victims of oppression expect at least sympathy and moral support from all those who believe in the values of democracy.

However, our sensitivities about America’s intervention in other countries seems to have blinded us to the cause of human rights in countries like Libya. India takes pride in claiming to be the largest democracy in the world and it is in an altogether different position than Russia and China who may have their reasons for not extending support to Libya’s fighters. It is important to remind ourselves of some of these reasons instead of blindly pursuing an anti-US stand in international developments.
It will be presumptuous on the part of proponents of the “hands off policy” in Libya to conclude that a few reverses suffered by the protesters indicate a collapse of the Libyan people’s revolution, and that supporting the failing side even morally is not a prudent step for India.
But what counts more in these revolts is the spirit of the people and their readiness to sacrifice their lives for achieving their own liberation and liberation for their successive generations. India cannot appear to be indifferent to the aspirations of the victims of tyranny in Libya.
Some critics of the policy of support to the UN resolutions have expressed the view that the Arabs may not have the same zeal for freedom as people in some other countries. There can be nothing more erroneous than this conclusion. The Arabs have already demonstrated in half-a-dozen states that they are willing to face any hardships to achieve their legitimate rights as in a genuine democracy. It would be quite unfair to the Arabs to condemn them as lacking full faith in democracy or to conclude that they can be easily suppressed by the tyrants of the deserts who usurped power to rule over them.
What’s going on in the streets of Libya now is a totally unequal fight. It is in this context that the UN resolution on the “no-fly zone” over Libya is crucial. We in India may not always agree with the stand taken by various Presidents of the US on international issues, but even President Barack Obama’s sharpest critics cannot but admire the courage he has shown to stand up boldly against the tyrant in Tripoli and provide the moral lead to other leaders in the world who agree with him on the basic issue of saving people from being slaughtered. Mr Obama announced a few days ago in plain language that “some nations might be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries”, but “the US is different and as President I refuse to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action”.
How unequal are the two sides? According to reliable statistics, Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi’s Air Force is 18,000 strong with 13 bases. Also, he has quite a large number of Russian attack helicopters and transport aircraft. Without effective enforcement of the no-fly zone and allied aerial attacks as found necessary, the rebels will be unable to continue their march to Tripoli or to protect their hold on the Cyrenaican region. This region is very important as it’s the main source of oil revenues for Libya and if Col. Gaddafi regains control over Cyrenaica it will be a major blow to the cause of democracy for the Libyan people. This time the US has very wisely left the leadership of the Libyan operations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) and therefore implementation of the UN resolutions is mainly a Nato-led effort rather than a US-led one.
There has been a genuine fear among some supporters of non-intervention that the no-fly zone or airstrikes by the allies against the mercenary forces of Col. Gaddafi will trigger off escalation in the international price of oil and it would be inadvisable to invite such a crisis now when the Western world is just recovering from one of the severest economic crises. However, this apprehension is quite unjustifiable. Today’s oil market has plenty of buffer and it is reported that technically Saudi Arabia alone has the capacity to replace Libya as supplier of oil in the international market.
If we in India love our democratic way of life, in spite of various distortions in its implementation by us, we must develop a sympathetic attitude to the aspirations of the people in West Asia to end savagery. It would be difficult to justify our commitment to our own democratic values if we have no sympathy to such values in other places. Nobody is demanding that Indian soldiers fight side by side with the protesters or that they should force a change of regime on the Western models; these should be done by the Libyan themselves. However, we should not hesitate to express our sympathy and moral support to the people of Libya who had suffered so much for so long if we are genuinely committed to the values respected by all democratic nations.

P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra

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