Monday, July 28, 2014

Najib Razak: Negotiator Extraordinaire

Unlike the stinging barrage of stabbing criticisms that Najib Razak (left) found himself to be at the receiving end as a result of the fallout from MH370 this time insofar as MH17 is concerned, he is standing tall.
I am ready to give credit to Najib when credit is due. And I’m sure many Malaysians are ostensibly proud that our Prime Minister’s hush-hush phone diplomacy had been successful. On two occasions.
First instance, the 3-point agreement allowed us to get back MH17’s black boxes (one containing the flight data recorder and the other the cockpit voice recorder) – and which was surrendered to Malaysian investigators in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk on Monday; to retrieve victims’ bodies; and to let independent international investigators gain access to the disaster site.
(So far, the last item has not been fulfilled. The investigators have not been able to collect evidence due to on-going security concerns)

Pro-Moscow rebels displayed the flight recorders from the downed MH17 at a news conference with a Malaysian government delegation sent by Najib. Image credit: Robert Ghement/European Pressphoto Agency
As for the recovery of bodies, confusion still surrounds how many have been reclaimed. Pro-Moscow separatists mentioned handing over 282 bodies and more than 80 body parts, but Dutch officials estimate the tally to be far lower (The Telegraph, UK, July 23, 2014). The Malaysian Insider had mentioned 227 coffins and it gave credit to the Malaysian investigation team for the successful recovery of the remains of MH17 victims (July 28, 2014).
Second instance, permission for a multinational police force to enter the crash site of MH17 has been granted.
But fighting in and around the area between rebels and Ukrainian government forces is preventing it from happening. At the moment. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has ruled out a military mission describing it as “unrealistic”. He knows that he would need Ukrainian government support – the hitch is Najib only talked to the enemy!
I am sure our Malaysian Prime Minister feels otherwise. He know best. After all, Najib is smart. He didn’t negotiate with the Ukrainian government because he believed the rebels are the ones who are in control there, even if it is Ukrainian territory. Kiev is not in Najib's equation.
Besides, there’s no urgency anyway. Sixty-eight Malaysian police personnel will leave Kuala Lumpur for the crash site only on Wednesday as part of the international deployment. This is in spite of the fact that Dutch soldiers are ready and Australia says it already has 90 police in Europe ready to deploy.
In the meantime, there is fighting. The Ukrainian government said its forces are advancing towards the crash site to try to free it from the rebels, who have impeded the work of international monitors and whom Kiev accuses of tampering with evidence pointing to who shot it down.
At home, I am sure Najib is proud of himself. And he has been abundantly praised too. But are we missing the point here? He had cleverly reached out to Ukrainian separatists!
And Najib negotiated directly with rebel leader Alexander Borodai, the self-proclaimed prime minister of the Donetsk People's Republic.
This has prompted disquiet about whether the prime minister had lent unwarranted legitimacy to a man the Ukrainian government has condemned as a terrorist.
According to The New York Times, the Malaysian delegation in Ukraine has incurred the anger of many Ukrainians by using the honorific “his excellency” in referring to Borodai, who styles himself the leader of a breakaway republic. But, at least in public, Najib has not used the term, referring to the rebel leader only as “Mr. Borodai” (July 23, 2014).
And in case, there are sceptics amongst us who do not have the decency to acknowledge Najib’s contribution, it must be said that he did not make any concessions. Najib’s arrangements with Borodai did not contain any promise of formal diplomatic recognition or payment to the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Or so we have been told.
All hail Najib Razak, negotiator extraordinaire!

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