Friday, 24 August 2012

Conduct Assange trial in neutral venue (PO)

M D Nalapat 
Especially during the 1950s,it was India led by Jawaharlal Nehru that incessantly lectured other countries about how they should behave.The then PM of the world’s most populous democracy fancied himself to be expert on global issues,the reason why he retained the External Affairs Ministry till the last day of his life in 1964. Sadly,the glowing testimonials to Nehru by his numerous acolytes cannot disguise the fact that by that year,India had been comprehensively isolated.

With the exception of Bhutan,no 
country backed Delhi in the 1962 war with Beijing,even Colombo and Kathmandu,which have long been close to India. Even after Nehru imposed a cease-fire in Kashmir and took the dispute to the UN,more countries backed Pakistan than India,a list that included the US. Of course,it needs to be remembered that the administrative elite in the UK could still not bring itself to “forgive” India for the effrontery of believing that freedom was preferable to bondage under the Union Jack.Officials such as Philip Noel-Baker worked tirelessly at the UN to ensure that opinion swung against India, a situation that continued till the dawn of the 21st century, when 9/11 resulted in a sharp decline for backing within the US and the EU to those favouring the breaking away of territories from India.

Nehru’s constant preachiness ensured that critics of India remained so. In particular,his sharp-tongued favourite, Vengalil Kumaran Krishna Menon,spewed vitriol on former colonial powers and their newfound champion,the US,while he led the Indian delegation to the UN. In contrast, Pakistan’s delegates acted in a very deferential manner towards representatives of the Great Powers, thereby making certain that Nehru’s gamble (of taking the Kashmir issue to the UN) failed to generate any positive effects for India,although it must be said that the move was greatly appreciated by Edwina and Louis Mountbatten,who suggested the reference to the UN to Nehru in the first place.

Although Indira Gandhi and to a lesser extent son Rajiv sought to continue to preach international morality to countries that not so secretly looked down on India because of the country’s poverty, by the 1990s,this tendency had changed into one of quiet acceptance of geopolitical realities. Since that time,Nehru’s cloak of International Moralist has been worn by 
the senior members of the NATO bloc,principally the US, France and the UK. These three powers never cease to remind the world of their own presumed morality,and of the low standards of the rest of the international community When emails purportedly from Asma Assad,the First Lady of Syria,surfaced in NATO media,those who procured them were presumably rewarded. However,when Bradley Manning,an idealistic soldier in the US military,shone daylight on a trove of emails from the State Department, or exposed the heinous murder of innocents by criminals piloting US combat aircraft,he was arrested and is now immured in a windowless cell.

The whistle-blower who exposed the targetted killing of unarmed civilians from the skies ought to have been given a reward rather than prison,except that NATO’s commitment to free speech extends only to that which suits its strategic objectives. And while Manning is in prison,the man who gave him a platform to reveal his secrets,Julian Assange,remains in what is effectively a prison,a room at the Ecuadorian embassy in London,in daily fear lest British police breach diplomatic protocol and apprehend him That the sexual charges brought against Assange are serious is without a doubt.Unless the founder of Wikileaks faces a court and convinces it of his innocence,
the stain will continue to cast a shadow not simply on him but on the ace whistle-blower that he helped to create,Wikileaks. However,given the fate of Bradley Manning and countless others judged to be less than helpful to the war aims of NATO, it would be foolhardly to expect fair treatment in Sweden,a country closely connected with several NATO member-states,and which fully backs the EU in its efforts at retaining in the 21st century the primacy the continent enjoyed in the 19th century. Clearly,justice will only be assured if the trial of Julian Assange takes place in a country where the long shadow of NATO does not fall. Given that India has become an auxiliary of the alliance since 1998, clearly this country would not be a fit venue.

Far better would be Brazil or Argentina, countries that have demonstrated a feisty independence of power blocs. Just as alleged international human rights violaters have been tried in Europe despite coming from Africa,on the (often specious) ground that justice is not possible in Africa, it is clear that Julian Assange ought to face his accusers in a neutral venue Hopefully,either Assange himself or Ecuador will make the suggestion to the international community, to conduct the trial of the Wikileaks hero in a venue that is independent of NATO influence.An alliance that is blind to its own transgressions while constantly hectoring others about (what it considers to be) theirs is hardly the unbiased body that is needed if a trial is to be fair. Julian Assange ought to agree to face a trial,one in which hopefully his name will be cleared,provided that it take place in a neutral venue.

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