Here is in initiative India can take in its capacity as president of the U.N. Security Council. We can certainly ask our partners in IBSA to join.

The situation in Somalia is catastrophic. Tens of thousands have died and hundreds of thousands more will die of starvation and many diseases in the next few weeks. Things are particularly disastrous in south Somalia, but only slightly less bad in other regions. The much vaunted international community cannot remain inactive. All those clamouring for ‘the responsibility to protect' have not said a word about Somalia's plight; they are only interested when a government in a third world country is the potential target of action to ‘protect'; they ought not to prove Boutros Ghali's observation, for which he was much maligned, that Somalia does not attract undivided attention from powerful countries since it is not a rich nation's war or civil war. The alacrity with which the developed world acted in Libya is in stark contrast to the total lack of action in poor, oil-less Somalia.

As president, India should convene urgent ‘informal' consultations on what to do about Somalia. We ought not to be satisfied with mere rhetoric, but have a plan of action. In December 1992, President Bush obtained a mandate from the Security Council, under Chapter VII of the Charter, to send troops to Somalia to enable relief agencies to distribute essential supplies to the population. Much of the immediate objective was achieved, though the operation degenerated into a political ‘tamasha' in a few months.

The only way to deal with the thugs of Al Shabab is through the use of force. An international U.N.-sanctioned operation offers the only solution. The force should ideally be drawn primarily from African states. India could also render significant assistance in the form of logistics, etc. The mandate of the operation should be clear: to go into the country, disarm Al Shabab and enable the relief agencies to do their work.

It is possible that during the course of consultations, other ideas might emerge. At any rate, India must stand up for its humanitarian principles. At the least, we can always offer financial help when the situation improves. If we can contribute $2 billion to bail out European economies, we can certainly afford to give $50 million to save a couple of million lives. Questions about ‘what next' after such an operation must not delay action.

C.R. Gharekhan, New Delhi

Keywords: UNSCIBSASomalia famine

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