Enigma of the Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama has hardly been seen as an agitator on the side of peace

The writer is former Ambassador of Pakistan and ex-Assistant Secretary General of OIC

Latest news, courtesy AFP, has it that the US Ambassador to China has called on Beijing to open a ‘substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama’. He made these remarks during a visit to northwest China’s Qinghai province.

This bit of news gives rise to several questions. For one thing, it is something of a pity that, despite having won the Nobel Prize for Peace, the Dalai Lama has hardly been seen as an agitator on the side of peace. Instead, he has more often than not appeared as a tool in the hands of political forces that have an axe to grind against the Peoples’ Republic of China.

One has nothing against the Dalai Lama. He is undoubtedly a very revered personality. He may also be a ‘symbol of peace’ in the estimation of the US administration. But then he has also allowed himself to become a highly-controversial political personality and one who has no qualms about being manipulated by certain powers to further their own agendas on the chessboard of international intrigue.

The Dalai Lama went into exile in the 1950s when China asserted its sovereignty over Tibet. He has squandered away several valuable opportunities of coming to terms with the reality of Tibet that has been accepted legally as a part of China by most of the world. This is not the occasion to go into the political complexities of this question. What is important is that the Dalai Lama could perhaps have done greater service to his cause, and to that of peace, if he had adopted the path of reconciliation rather than allow his followers to be kept hostage in a game of high stakes on the international chessboard. It should be more in the character of a revered religious personality and Nobel Peace laureate to work for a denouement leading to a grand reconciliation rather than confrontation.

Be that as it may, it came as something of a disappointment to the well-wishers of the Dalai Lama and his followers to find that he had opted to become a pawn in the US campaign aimed at the ‘containment of China’. Years back, president Bush had presented Tibet’s ‘exiled’ spiritual leader with the US Congress’ highest civilian award and taken advantage of the occasion to offer some gratuitous advice to the Chinese leadership, which the latter understandably had taken exception to.

There was widespread feeling that the timing of the US Congress award to the Dalai Lama was somewhat inappropriate. The only context that this award fitted into was the US obsession with ‘containment’ of China. In this campaign, the Dalai Lama appeared to have allowed his image to be used as a (willing) pawn. Knowing and acknowledging his stature as a religious personality, this can be termed as something of a pity.

The one inference that can be drawn from the latest US statement is that the American administration under President Trump may have the intention to up the ante and revisit the erstwhile forward policy of former president Bush aimed at ‘containment of China’.

It must be recognised that due to its pragmatic and realistic policies, China has meanwhile earned for itself a respected place under the sun. Due to its conscious decision to eschew unnecessary confrontational policies in favour of concentration on a constructive drive veered towards economic development, China has become a major economic prime-mover.

It is a matter of some interest that India appears as an inevitable variable in all the regional equations that concern China. India is host to the Dalai Lama and also the co-signatory of the India-US nuclear deal of doubtful credentials. India, of course, is second to none in its ability to manipulate the twists and turns related to the moves on the international chessboard. In aligning itself with the sole superpower in a China-baiting exercise, it surely must have a very good idea which side its bread is buttered on. No one should have any uncalled-for illusions, though. It would hardly be advisable to underestimate China at this point in time.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2019.

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