Let none obstruct Kadir

There are separate pits in hell, so goes the yarn, allocated to countries. The guards there are having a hell of a time, it is said, trying to prevent those languishing in these pits from escaping. But in a far away corner, there is said to be a pit sans any guards. For no one has ever escaped from it. Whenever someone begins to crawl up the slippery walls hoping to escape hundreds of others promptly pull him down. And the name board above this unguarded pit reads, ‘Sri Lanka’.

This national trait succinctly captured in the yarn is reflected in protests from some quarters against Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar running for the coveted post of the Commonwealth Secretary General. The LTTE lobbyists are hysterical and are making frantic efforts to have us believe that the world will end if Kadirgamar is elected to that post. Others are grinding their axes under the pretext of crusading for democracy in Zimbabwe. According to them, the African nations supportive of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe are behind Kadirgamar’s candidature and as such Kadirgamar should not contest or if he dares do so, he should be defeated by all means.

True, African nations are with Mugabe and Sri Lanka is likely to get their support against the incumbent Secretary General who will also be in the fray. But should that mean Sri Lanka has to stay away so that Don Mckinnon will win with ease? It is also being argued that if Sri Lanka woos the African nations, it will, in so doing, forfeit its right to condemn Zimbabwe for Mugabe’s despotism.

This argument is fraught with obfuscation. Even if Sri Lanka were to pull out from the race, someone else would get these votes. If that happens, by extension of the flawed argument, that country too won’t be able to censure Mugabe. Or in the event of the candidate supported by pro-Zimbabwe Africans losing, there will emerge a new rift in the Commonwealth—between pro Mugabe Africans and others.

Why should one belabour reductionism and try to attribute Sri Lanka’s entry into the fray to Mugabe’s machinations? Apart from the prestige of the post, which naturally accrues to the holder and, no doubt boosts his ‘ego’, the country he represents surely stands to gain. How a country like Sri Lanka badly in need of international clout will benefit from having a person like Kadirgamar at the helm of the Commonwealth is too obvious to merit elaboration.

There is reason for the LTTE sympathisers to worry about this prospect. Kadirgamar, it should be recalled, was the man whose relentless efforts have put the LTTE in the straitjacket of foreign bans. But why should others worry? Mugabe in a far away land with no hostility shown towards Sri Lanka, we believe, could not be the real reason.

Be that as it may, Mugabe is no saint. He is a despot and Zimbabwe will be a better place without him. But is he the only despot in this world?

Remember Pinochet of Chile? He was also a despot of the worst order responsible for crimes against humanity. But he has been a bosom pal of Britain, the knight astride the steed of morality charging at Mugabe. Remember Papa Doc of Haiti, who killed his countrymen in their thousands and plundered the national wealth of that country? He was backed to the hilt by the US until he became too embarrassing. The US provided Saddam Hussein, the despot on the run, with ‘crop spraying’ helicopters during the Iran-Iraq war knowing only too well that they were used for chemical attacks on Iranians. A US Senate Inquiry revealed in 1995 that the US had supplied to Iraq samples of all strains of germs—courtesy the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention —which Iraq used for producing biological weapons? The UN weapons inspectors later found the sites where the weapons had been made. Iraq obtained uranium from Portugal, France and Italy and embarked on building centrifuge enrichment facilities with German assistance. So much for despots and their allies.

The detractors of Kadirgamar accuse Mugabe of land grab and destruction wreaked on white man’s property. But they don’t mention Wellassa, which had been Sri Lanka’s rice bowl before 1817. Have they forgotten that the British reduced Wellassa (meaning in Sinhala One Hundred Thousand Paddy Fields) to rubble to quell Keppetipola’s rebellion against the tyranny of the British and that the British rendered tens of thousands of Kandyan peasants landless by grabbing their land for plantations?

Mugabe has come under fire over rigging polls. Quite rightly! But the fact remains that elections held—however rigged they may be—are much better than no elections at all. Here in Sri Lanka the LTTE, which hasn’t faced any election and therefore doesn’t have representation even in a local government authority has appointed itself the sole representatives of Tamils and is demanding a de facto separate state encompassing one third of Sri Lanka’s landmass and two thirds of its territorial water. And the other day we had EU Commissioner Chris Patten meeting the LTTE leader and shaking hands with him granting in the process some legitimacy to the outfit against whose crimes Mugabe’s violence pales into insignificance. So why bash only Mugabe?

Kadirgamar’s age also appears to be a source of worry for his critics who want him out of the race. Look at the Pope leading one of the most powerful institutions in the world, the Catholic Church. Nelson Mandela is another example. So why should Kadirgamar be considered too old?

Kadirgamar is unarguably fully qualified to run for the post of Commonwealth Secretary General. And he deserves the unstinted support of all right thinking Sri Lankans. Whether he will succeed or not remains to be seen but run he must. And let none obstruct him by trotting out flimsy excuses.

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