by Dushy Ranetunge
Since 1983, the Sri Lankan state struggled to defeat the Tamil insurrection, because India and most of the Western democracies were sympathetic to the Tamil cause, and the Sinhalese were always perceived as the oppressors from the days of Sinhala only.
Sri Lankans gathered on Thursday to oppose a UN-proposed probe of abuses, saying it can be handled locally [pic by Reuters-courtesy: Al Jazeera]
India armed and extended training facilities to Tamil militant groups. Tamil rebels were also trained in Lebanon. The Europeans, the North Americans and India firmly had their sympathies with the Tamil cause and looked the other way as funds were raised to finance the Tamil cause.
Even during the deliberations leading up to the listing of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation in the United Kingdom, officials at the Foreign Office objected to listing the LTTE, as they perceived it as a liberation organisation. Interventions by India and Kadirgamer, ensured that the LTTE was on the list, when it was released under the Terrorism Act 2000.
It was Lakshman Kadirgamer, who positioned the Sri Lankan galleon, to take advantage of the changing winds blowing from the West. It was under his watch, that a deliberate and orchestrated strategy was pursued by the Sri Lankan state to “brand” the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. The LTTE projected itself as a liberation organisation. The Sri Lankan state won this contest as the international community listed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation.
But most of Sri Lanka’s senior diplomats were aware, that the moral high ground of the Tamil cause was unassailable, and the new concept of “terrorism” only provided Sri Lanka with a temporary respite. They knew that at some point Sri Lanka would have the address the issues of the Tamil cause.
Unfortunately, most of the Sinhalese population got carried away by the “terrorist” branding of our own propaganda, and failed to appreciate the underlying issues relating to the Tamil cause and its moral high ground. Tribal thought processes consumed both communities.
This month President Rajapakse told Sri Lankans that the war was won by Sri Lankans, without foreign assistance. This week at the UNHRC, during the debate of the US backed resolution against Sri Lanka, the Cuban delegate stated that 40% of the value of Sri Lankan arms purchases were from the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel.
Although the North Americans, the Europeans and India assisted and encouraged Sri Lanka in its war against terrorism, the bulk of the populations in these countries had their sympathies with the Tamil cause. This never changed. The change was only on the security aspect. The political aspect has always been consistent, in the need the address the core issues of the Tamil cause, which had let to millions of Tamil citizens fleeing Sri Lanka.
With the eradication of terrorism in Sri Lanka, it was only a matter of time, before the moral high ground of the Tamil cause would reassert itself.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of the Sinhalese population, who had swallowed our own “terrorism” propaganda, hook, line and sinker, without appreciating the underlying issue of the Tamil cause were catapulted on to a different stratosphere, intoxicated with the war victory.
The assistance, political and military extended to Sri Lanka by North America, the European Union and India was not unconditional. There was the unwritten understanding that after defeating the “terrorists” the underlying issues of the Tamil cause will be addressed, so that it’s a win-win outcome for the Sinhalese as well as the Tamils.
After the end of the war, the world waited for some form of balance to be introduced, but Colombo was drifting.
The Rajapakse administration in Colombo thought that by concentrating on the economy, the underlying issues of the ethnic causes will fade into the horizon. Interestingly, President J R Jayawardene also thought the same, and after 1983 we had a period of considerable economic expansion, with mega projects like the Mahaveli scheme and other high cost infrastructure development. But the problem did not go away.
With justice in the battlefield swept under the carpet, the quality of governance deteriorating, and Colombo wishing away the ethnic issue, Sri Lanka’s first encounter at the UNHRC was mishandled by “Rottweiler” diplomacy of Dayan Jayathillake. It was only a matter of time, before the “Empire Strikes Back”.
Most senior Sri Lankan diplomats knew that it was a matter of time.
Later, one of our most senior diplomats HMGS Palihakkara expressed his views.
“Sri Lankan governments, and the political parties, had shown a failure of leadership and that therefore “external prescriptions become inevitable” with the country facing intense international attention.”
“diplomacy was not a “zero sum game of cultivating one or one set of friends at the expense of another”. Instead, it was about seeking common ground.”
He spoke of a society, “where peaceful dissent is seen as an enriching experience and an exciting democratic challenge, and not an act of treachery or treason”.
Members the Rajapaksa government frequently label dissenting voices as “traitors”.
Mr Palihakkara also stated that Sri Lanka’s assertion of its sovereignty should be more than just “sloganeering”.
“Sovereignty must entail a government exercising its authority to uphold the rule of law.”
If that does not happen, he said, “certain crimes go unpunished, certain offenders enjoy impunity and certain investigations waver”.
Palihakkara had stated that human rights should be upheld in Sri Lanka and that the authorities should launch “humanely responsive policies” to address “the real concerns of the conflict victims’ communities, especially the minorities”.
In a recent NDTV interview in India, our High Commissioner Prasad Kariyawasam indicated that the 13th Amendment to the constitution, in respect of devolution of power to the provinces was going to be “re calibrated”.
These and other statements on the 13th Amendment are not interpreted as an attempt by the Sri Lankan state to strengthen democracy and devolution, but as a desire to water down the 13th amendment by “re calibrating” it, so as to satisfy the “Sinhala cause”, and not the “Sri Lankan cause”.
Last month the team from the United States, which visited Sri Lanka returned with the impression that Colombo was not enthusiastic in implementing the recommendations of the LLRC.
Blake stated that “Government has made many assurances”…., now is the time for the government to take real action…….came away with the sense that the government was still hesitating”
Former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has stated that the Rajapakse administration are “liars”.
Whether its Palahakkara stating that “sovereignty should be more than just “sloganeering””, Blake stating that “Government has made many assurances” or Miliband calling them outright “liars” they all point to one thing.
There is a huge credibility issue with the Rajapakse presidency.
No one believes them any more.
Thus, “external prescriptions become inevitable” with the country facing intense international attention.”
(The Writer who lives in London, UK was the Editor of the Quarterly “Lanka Outlook”)