International diplomacy can be a very tricky affair

The President of the Republic, Mrs Ameena Gurib-Fakim, was lately on a visit to Pakistan. As part of her discussions with the authorities in Pakistan, she allegedly agreed to hold a Pakistan Week in Mauritius.

We do not know whether this agreement was reached with the prior consent of the executive arm of the government, notably the Ministry of External Affairs. If so, the Ministry of External Affairs will know why the decision was apt in the current situation involving the two countries. If that is not so, the decision might amount to what we may term mildly as a serious diplomatic impair.

As far as Mauritius is concerned, both India and Pakistan are on friendly terms with us. However, recent events between Pakistan and India should have dictated that we need for the moment to manage our dealings with both of them with utmost care and consideration so as not to fray the feelings of either country.

Some weeks back, terrorists from Pakistan reportedly crossed the line of control separating the two sides of Kashmir into India in the dead of night. They killed 18 Indian soldiers encamped at a post in Uri, wounding others (two of whom died later) and escaped back to the Pakistan side of the frontier.

This outrage was one too many for India which has seen successive waves of terrorists infiltrating its territory from Pakistan. The deadly attack on Mumbai in November 2008 when one of our compatriots, a senior bank executive, was murdered in his hotel room, similarly had its origins in Pakistan. Sometimes, villagers living near the frontier have been killed; at other times, police posts have been attacked in the same provocative manner. The infiltration by terrorists from Pakistan has been confirmed by other powers watching their movement from space and satellites.

In retaliation for the horrible Pakistani terrorist action in Uri, India carried out strikes into Pakistan controlled territory on the other side of Kashmir targeting terrorist camps. Seven such camps were reportedly destroyed near the border and, for once, all of India, irrespective of political affiliations, congratulated the government for its decisive retaliatory action.

Beyond this, India has undertaken a diplomatic initiative to isolate Pakistan internationally as a terrorist state. The SAARC meeting due to take place in Pakistan shortly after the terrorist infiltration in Uri, which was severely condemned by the Government of Mauritius, was called off as other SAARC members sympathising with India decided that it was unwise to caution Pakistan (after what happened in Uri) by attending the meeting alongside Pakistan. The Indian diplomatic initiative is still afoot.

The question one is entitled to ask is whether it was advisable to host a Pakistan Week in Mauritius in the circumstances, as if to tell India that we have no sympathy with a) its drive against all forms of terrorism infiltrating into India from across its borders, and b) the diplomatic initiative it has undertaken to exorcise itself from the suffering inflicted on the families of the Indian soldiers killed by the terrorists in Uri while they were proceeding to have their meals.

We hope we are not wrong to assume that it was simply inexperience and not a deliberate attempt to say to India, currently facing the treachery of terrorism, that we actually don’t care what it suffers in the process.

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The Abuse of ‘Provisional Charges’

There is a tendency in under-developed as well as authoritarian countries for the police to arrest individuals on flimsy and sometimes even on inexistent charges. Mauritius was spared this regime for long, until certain high profile persons appear to have been arbitrarily arrested on the basis of evidence which does not pass the test for prosecution against them.

Lately, we saw an early-morning attempt by the police to proceed in this direction even against the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). It was foiled and the politicians who appeared to be eager to see this happen did not succeed. Similarly, an attorney returning from abroad after consultations with his client was arrested on arrival from the flight and his professional documents were seized. It did not occur to the concerned authorities as a misdirected action flouting all norms of appropriate public conduct in such matters that they were effectively alienating the defender from her legitimate rights to an unimpeachable right of defence. In a rule-of-law country!

As a result of disorderly conduct of public affairs in this domain, a number of otherwise respectable citizens have been arrested on what are now famously known as lightly stitched-up “provisional charges”. Was it the objective to display someone to make him/her publicly culpable when in fact he/she might not be so? In any case it does not appear to have been a lawful approach to establish the guilt of those taken in; rather, it looked more like a show-off of power intended to cast humiliation upon the arrested individual.

Some 20 “provisional charges” have so far been dropped in court for not being supported by concrete evidence of wrong-doing by the impugned persons. More than vindicating publicly the individuals discharged by the courts for lack of evidence, it is the credibility of the police that is being staked for work shoddily undertaken by the investigating teams.

There may be wrong-doing in some of the cases, possibly not by the individuals having been politically targeted but by others in charge of the dossiers. What is the consequence of the clumsy targeting of the wrong persons? Those who may actually have done the mischief get away. Those who have been unjustly charged are freed and get a right to claim for damages against the state, even if the police plead that they’ve done what they’ve done in the ordinary course of their duties and not personally or maliciously or out of wilful misconduct.

It is time to reckon with the cases that are dropped after inflicting serious physical, moral and reputational damage against persons taken in without justification. A system of internal disciplinary action to sanction those who are destroying the good standing of our police force is imperative now.

In order to reassure law-abiding citizens and the country at large, it would be helpful if the Commissioner of Police informed us whether he is setting up a deterrent system against what could be perceived to be abusive employment of office by officers, at the behest of outsiders to the police system, to deal with the matter. If that happens, there is a chance the credentials of the police might get restored after the series of its latest failures in court.

Murli Dhar

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