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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?

M.G.G. Pillai

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, no less.

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, still rankles.

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 action.

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

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.

M.G.G. Pillai