The new neutralA new ethos is needed to replace old biases, discrimination and non-neutrality in diplomacy
When individual or collective conflicts push politics into a blind alley, neutrality becomes key to mediation and resolution. Mediation, in all its forms—cultural, individual, collective or judicial—requires neutrality. If seen through the lens of diplomatic history among nations and the cultural history of people, neutrality embodied with justice has not only been successful in bringing about peace but also sustaining it. Hence, the diversified nature of conflicts, inter- as well as intra-state, ethnic and group require the exhibition of extreme neutrality for a judicious and sustainable resolution of the antagonism that is destined to lead all of us towards collective destruction.
No sides to take
Inter- and intra-state, ethnic and national conflicts have frequently occurred in the post-modern world. The post-World War League of Nations, which culminated into the UN, was an outcome of many international/European treaties among nations, which were neither judicious nor brokered by neutral mediators. Hence, it provided a reason for World War II. The two World Wars were waged between colonisers and aspirants holding colonial ambitions, seeking maximum control over colonies and their wealth and natural resources. Thus, the birth of the UN became inevitable since a neutral body was the niche of the modern era of statehood. Meanwhile, the powerful among the countries also formed parallel alliances at regional and international levels to further their interests.
No doubt, the UN has gradually transcended into a comparatively neutral forum since the world needed to go a step forward to formulate an international legal framework, not only for the member states but also for the citizens of member states. However, it is the our duty to introduce further reforms, agree upon new legal and policy frameworks, reform the structure and the authority to exhibit maximum neutrality and impartiality.
Nations, governments and international institutions always have to deal with a complex patchwork of relations and behaviours when they have to switch between neutrality and securing their interests. Since national interest has mostly superseded justice and neutrality in interest-based competitions, diplomacy and internal-external engagements, neutrality today has become an absurdity. This was evident in the recent political crises in Syria and Ukraine. It has also been observed in the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Kurdistan Movement, the Tibetan issue and the freedom movement in Sindh and Balochistan in Pakistan.
In fact, the absence of justice-based neutrality, both in nation-states and international and regional forums like the UN, Saarc and the Organisation of Islamic Countries, despite coming up with remedies have also been deepening the old wounds of the people. This has resulted in the rise of gross human rights violations, ethnic cleansing and war crimes that victimise millions of innocent citizens and dissenters.
Power and interest-based politics and diplomacy have also given birth to another kind of discrimination. It is based on a discriminatory approach towards social leadership from the perspective of the oppressed or less powerful nations and ethnicities vis-à-vis monopolists and the powerful. The phenomenon is exclusively seen in broader civil society, which includes activists, journalists, writers, analysts, intellectuals, lawyers and other professionals. Usually, social leadership, associated with powerful ethnic groups, command more centrality and acceptability than leaders from among the group of oppressed people.
The phenomenon is more visible in the developing world, particularly in South Asian societies where social, institutional and structural development has historically been built around power. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal are the best examples of this tilt. Since the Pakistani state and power corridors, for example, are monopolised by ethnic Punjabi allied with the Urdu-speaking elite, the rest of the South Asian and the world societies have an unintentional bias towards the social leadership of Sindhi, Balochi, Pashtun and Siraki origin vis-à-vis those of Punjabi and Urdu origin. This further intensifies issues of high importance and complex nature. The leadership of Punjabi and Urdu origin in Pakistan is well connected with the state, to which they have historically been given agency to participate in decision making. Their input is usually sought after by the establishment in almost all significant internal and external decision making. Besides, they also defend, in numerous cases, even unjustifiable decisions by the state in international forums in an overt or covert manner.
On the other hand, the leadership from Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa and Siraiki Southern Punjab has been contributing intellectually to the social and political movements for rights. The journalists, human rights activists, scholars, intellectuals, academicians and literati from these provinces are not only discriminated within Pakistan but also during professional and thematic forums held regionally and internationally.
Similarly, when Baloch or Sindhi journalists, activists and thinkers are persecuted or killed by the state forces, the regional and international media and civil society seldom give them attention. However, when people of Punjabi and Urdu origin from the same professions—which are usually attached to certain layers of the establishment—are victimised, it becomes a matter of concern in regional and international forums.
If the Sindhi or Baloch leadership sympathises with the political movement of their people and victims of persecution, the world outside criminalises them. None would even think for the moment that the civil society and media associates and advisors of dominant ethnic groups in Pakistan have also an intellectual share in the crimes against humanity committed by the state. They are generally treated as credible entities. This inability to differentiate between social and civil leadership of the oppressed and the oppressor even by the leadership of other countries is also a kind of bias. Their unwillingness to see perceive both the parties as equals is also a kind of discrimination. It is an exhibition of the people-to-people or civil non-neutrality. This attitude is not only found among individuals but also those in highly reputable rights bodies, media houses, think tanks and intellectuals.
A similar problem persists on a lower scale and in different forms when the leadership from the smaller countries, mostly with a single majority ethnic-construct like Nepal, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Bhutan engage and interact with their counterparts from the rest of the developing world. The non-existence of a neutral human interaction and people-to-people contact are more dangerous than that the foreign policies of the establishments of developing countries.
The critical mass of human rights, civil, political and economic justice and peace has grown in the last two decades. This larger tribe of activists, experts, journalists, writers, intellectuals, academicians and other professionals usually identifies itself with the various aspects and levels of social justice. Paradoxically, it lacks justice within its own tribe when it comes to supporting and sympathising with victims or being neutral when it’s a case of the oppressed versus the dominant. This not only applies to broader civil society but also international bodies. A new ethos need to replace old biases, discrimination and non-neutrality, primarily in people’s diplomacy.
Shah is a Sindhi refugee journalist, activist and analyst (www.zulfiqarshah.com )