Non-alignment could only be a feat of rhetoric in today’s world. The 13th summit of the non-aligned movement in Kuala Lumpur confronts its 116 participating nations with this sobering fact. Formed in the deep chill of the Cold War, and led by countries (like India) picking up the pieces after colonial rule, NAM sought to navigate between the American and the Soviet blocs towards some sort of an ideal of peace and autonomy. The Cold War is over now, but peace and autonomy are even more difficult to cling on to in the age of global terror. Quite naturally then, NAM will often be left wondering now why it exists at all. But this will not deter its members from reminding one another that they do exist — and exist to form axes, coalitions and alignments which are beyond the scope of this vintage forum and its well-intentioned principles. With NAM poised on the brink of irrelevance, there is, therefore, a great deal of talk at its summit about “revitalization”.
At the heart of this summit is, of course, the problem with one of its participants — Iraq. NAM seems to agree that Iraq’s disarmament has to be peaceful, along the lines laid down by the United Nations. And this, without making any overtly adversarial reference to the United States of America. But such a resolution cannot avoid two issues, both of which are too divisive for NAM to handle. First, how to arrive at a working definition of terrorism. Second, what sort of stakes do the most important members have in this definition, and what does this say about the polarities structuring the meet' Both India and Pakistan are rehearsing the usual deadlock over what each is doing to the other. But this can never remain a distinct issue in such a forum, pushed by either country to advance its own interests. It will inevitably get taken up into the web of relationships and alignments that include such disparate entities as North Korea, Israel and Palestine, together with the rest of the Arab world. As the Malayasian prime minister’s bravura performance sought to drive home, the new blocs now could well be the “West” and the “Muslims”. What happens then to the concept of non-alignment in the face of this opposition' The Malayasian stance undermines the “depoliticized” agenda of economic cooperation outlined by the Indian prime minister. Nation states, according to the Malayasian premier, cannot do business with one another in a paranoid world that is “afraid of Muslims, of Arabs, of bearded people”. It is unfortunate that this rhetoric somehow sounds less unreal today than Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s saving vision of a NAM rising above political conflict.