Israel has done it again. And the governments of Southasia cannot even bring themselves to remonstrate with some volume.
In a display of brute force, Tel Aviv launched simultaneous offensives against innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. Under the pretext of rescuing three of its soldiers – one allegedly kidnapped by Hamas militants and two by the Hezbollah – the Israeli defence forces attacked the airport and nearby residential areas in Beirut, besides bombing bridges, power plants and government infrastructure in Gaza. At the time of writing, the attacks had resulted in the death of more than 250 civilians.
West Asia is an immensely complex region, with the conflict involving multiple actors, and analysts differ about the possible reasons for the present phase of confrontation. Some attribute it to the assertiveness of the Israeli defence forces, while others point to the role of Iran and Syria in encouraging Hezbolla’s provocations. Irrespective of the precise roots of the crisis, certain facts remain indisputable. Israel’s response is vulgar and disproportionate to the kidnapping of its soldiers. Furthermore, the manner in which it attacked homes, meted out collective punishment and tried to cripple life in Gaza and Lebanon is in violation of even the generally accepted tenets of war.
As West Asia ignites, all the governments of Southasia can do is look away in embarrassment. Despite the immense moral authority the present government in Kathmandu commands, it has seen fit to ignore the Israeli excesses in their entirety. Meanwhile, what of New Delhi? The state that prides itself on being the next Great Power is too concerned about defence cooperation with Israel to worry about the fate of civilian Palestinians and Lebanese. In the past few years, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has slowly awoken to the immense strategic utility of a partnership with Israel. Official contacts have been established, and Pervez Musharraf has mooted the idea of entering into a partnership with Tel Aviv.
As with New Delhi and Islamabad, Dhaka too has contented itself with one-off press releases criticising Israel. There has been no sustained criticism of Tel Aviv’s actions in any of these capitals; the response of the political class in these countries has been muted; and the idea of Southasia taking the lead in mobilising international opinion against Israel is dismissed as loony idealism.
The countries of Southasia might think that they shouted enough for Palestinian self-determination in the 1970s and 1980s, and that they have done their share. But Palestinians remain a people deprived by a coming together of global geopolitics in favour of Israel. With so many millions of disenfranchised people within its own borders, Southasia neglects the Palestinians and supports Israel at its own peril. What goes around comes around.