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MGG: The UN is racist, so what else is new?
By M.G.G. Pillai
12/1/2002 4:07 am Sat
11 January 2002
The UN is racist, so what else is new?
Malaysia is famous for its instant crises. The newspapers are
full of it. And fanned for no reason than to divert attention
from the real issues the government would rather the public not
know. So a crisis is played out in the media for two or three
days and as suddenly disappear.
When the Malaysian chief of staff of the United Transitional
Administration in East Timor (Untaet), N. Parameswaran, resigned
a month before his two-year-term expired, accusing the United
Nations of racism and worse, it provided a diversion. No more,
The East Timor appointment was an afterthought. Malaysia's role
in the bedraggled East Timor affair is less than savoury. Its
support of the Indonesian action there, at Washington's behest,
Worse, Malaysia is not known for its role in UN affairs as, for
instance, India and Jordan are.
But allegations of racism, especially from the West, is
grist for the Malaysian political mill. The Prime Minister,
Dr Mahathir Mohamed, weighed in with his comment. No one
knows what the specific allegations are, and if as serious as
Param alleges, if he had brought it to the notice of UN
secretary-general, Mr Kofi Annan, earlier in his assignment.
For a well-regarded diplomat who spent much of his service in
international affairs and organisations to make such allegations
suggests he does not understand the makeup of these bodies,
especially the UN.
Dominated by Caucasians
UN is racist. Look at how the UN quietly stepped aside and
raised no voice when the US bombing of Afghanistan began, and
then rush in after all was over with high minded policies and
There is much that is wrong with the UN. It is a fact of life
that Caucasians dominate.
When Lieut. General Satish Nambiar was appointed the political
and military head of the UN presence in the early 1990s in
Yugoslavia when the troubles there broke out, he wielded so much
power that UN officers tried to cut him down to size.
He resigned. And the problems he predicted when the military and
political power is divided came to pass. He came out of it with
his head high.
Syed Hamid sidestepped reporters' questions on
what Param would do now that he has returned. It is the
norm that many diplomats of high rank are given up to three years
extension on retirement.
It is not of right, and is extended to those the mandarins
favour. Many get the extension and many do not. Dato' Param is
one of the lucky ones. It is therefore unlikely he would get a
new post. If he does, it would, if the past is any guide, be no
more than for a year.
Foreign affairs should be conducted with the broad aim of
Malaysia's self-interest but of individual agendas and demands.
It is the Prime Minister's world view that Malaysian diplomats
are sent out to promote. That has failed, and the confusion in
how the Dato' Param complaint is handled reflects it, amongst its
practitioners as much as its raison d'etre.
Malaysia should return to define its national interests and
priorities and conduct its diplomacy with that firmly in check.
Wisma Putra oftens acts as if it does not. It is what happens
when foreign policy is hijacked. When events like the Param
caper surface, it reflects badly on Malaysia as much as the
diplomat in question.
Foreign policy should not be conducted either through the press
or by publicly humiliating the other side. It can take years to
right a misapprehension, and Dato' Param's letter could well have
ensured it when he made it public.
The cynical manipulation of a real problem, as racism is, into a
public relations extravagance would backfire, especially when the
consequences of the action is not thought through. It is a black
mark, not a victory, for Wisma Putra and, indeed, N. Parameswaran.