Like the missing MH370, Malaysia once again faced an extraordinary air tragedy. Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur carrying 298 passengers and crew was believed to have been shot down over a Ukraine territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
Right from the start Malaysia took full responsibility in retrieving the bodies of the victims and the cockpit voice and flight data recorders as the aircraft is a Malaysian flag carrier.
The immediate aftermath of the crash was bewildering. Malaysian and international officials found much to their dismay they have no access to the crash site as it was under the control of rebels.
The US, Australia and the Netherlands have been vociferous in asking Russia to ensure the rebels in Ukraine allow a save passage for the Malaysian and international investigation teams.
US President Barrack Obama had earlier blamed the rebels backed by Russia being the ones responsible for the crash while Russian President Vladimir Putin rebutted the accusation. Ukraine also piled the blame on the separatist but could not extend a helping hand as the crash site was under the control of separatist forces.
The Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose 193 countrymen were among the passengers, was outraged over how the crash site was handled with reports of looting and tampering of evidence.
Despite of the mounting international anger over the lackadaisical attitude of parties involved in Russia and Ukraine, and after four days of deadlock, Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak made a surprise announcement on late Monday (July 21).
Najib announced that he had brokered three important deals with Alexander Borodai, the rebel head in control of the eastern Ukraine region, to retrieve the bodies, to take possession of the black box and open an unfettered passage for the international crash investigators.
And due to Najib's successful hushed 'backdoor diplomacy', the Black Box was handed over the same day to the Malaysian authorities, and the 282 bodies were expected to be ferried today from Kharkiv in Ukraine to the Netherlands.
NAJIB'S FINEST HOUR
It appears that many hitherto have underestimated Najib's leadership and Malaysia's diplomacy. So how did he achieve this?
Amidst the blame game and deadlock, Najib kept a low profile and worked behind the scene to strike a deal with the separatists and get things done fast.
Najib chose secret diplomacy and kept to his chest the negotiations that was taking place. He threaded cautiously without antagonizing any parties, kept to the Malaysia's non-partisan diplomacy and kept open the communication channels with Russia and Ukraine.
Without pointing fingers at any parties, the prime minister got down to work calling personally the key leaders involved. He also delegated his ministers to seek permission on the ground for international search and investigation teams to enter the location where the ill-fated plane went down.
Najib in fact had played his cards brilliantly by personally negotiating with Borodai, though many in the West did not favour with this move.
Russia even thanked and praised Malaysia's neutral stand over the MH17 incident.
The families of the victims too appreciated the earnest efforts of the Malaysian government to return the bodies of the victims to the families.
A CLEVER STRATEGY
The president of the International Movement For A Just World (JUST), Dr Chandra Muzaffar felt it was Najib's finest hour in face of adversity as he handled the situation brilliantly and strategically.
"I think, coming to an agreement with the leader of the region where the crash occurred was a very clever and strategic move, credit goes to prime minister (Najib), glad that we have achieved this agreement not only on behalf of the Malaysian victims but also victims from other countries too," he said.
He also pointed out the probable two reasons why Borodai chose to deal with Malaysia instead of other parties.
Firstly the Western world viewed Borodai as an enemy and criminal, thus he saw Malaysia being non partisan and fair.
Also, we (Malaysia) recognise the importance of going direct to them rather than the Kiev government. Kiev itself is a party of the conflict. We did the right thing by going direct to the rebel than the Kiev government," he explained.
"I think the position adopted by Malaysia is a sensible one. We don't want to be embroiled in the politics among Ukraine, Russia, European Union and the United States.
"Our immediate concern in the wake of this terrible tragedy is just to ensure that we can bring back the remains for the innocent victims. That is our concern and I think we should just focus on that," he said.
RELATIONS NOT AFFECTED
Meanwhile, a geopolitical strategy expert from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) Dr Azmi Hassan noted that the approach taken by the prime minister in handling the MH17 tragedy not only helped in finding a solution for the initial impasse but also helped to maintain Malaysia's existing good relations with Ukraine and Russia.
Najib's brilliant maneuvers should be emulated by the big powers in handling many of the international crisis. They should cast aside their own political agenda and stop pointing fingers.
"The prime minister's backdoor diplomacy helped to pave way towards a solution rather than making matters worst.
"Najib certainly showed his strong political will and avoided joining the international chorus of blame on separatist and Russia.
"This is what made Alexander Borodai to place his trust on Malaysia," he said.
COOPERATION FROM OTHER NATIONS
Meanwhile Chandra said in a statement issued by JUST; "Collectively we should put pressure on Washington, Moscow, and Kiev to come out with the truth. And we have to do it together with others because there are other countries involved as well."
In spearheading this effort, he opined that Malaysia and Dutch were the two nations that could lead this effort.
JUST also proposed that the raw data from the military radars of Ukraine, Russia and the United States should be de-classified and released to facilitate investigations.
"For the families of the victims of the MH17 crash and for the world at large, it is the military data that may provide the closure that they yearn for," said the statement.
-- BERNAMA By Ali Imran Mohd Noordin and Sakini Mohd Said