I was delighted to read Lalith Weeratunga’s revelatory article ‘The Troika’ (Counterpoint, Daily FT). I regard him as a friend and I respect him as one of the finest public servants we have had. President Rajapaksa could not have had a better Secretary to the President at a crucially testing time in our contemporary history. I have long encouraged Lalith to write his memoirs and I hope what I see in the newspaper is but a ‘teaser’, which will eventuate in a full volume.
Lalith Weeratunga’s account of the Troika is the truth. However, while it is the truth, it is not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There are important pieces that requires inclusion to establish a clearer account of the times and issues. These are of crucial importance because unless we insert them back in and complete the diplomatic history of that time, we shall be unable to understand what happened in President Rajapaksa’s second term, how we got mired in the war crimes quagmire in Geneva, and the problems we shall have in extricating them even if the Troika returns, even with some in significantly and qualitatively elevated roles.
Lalith’s account is of a golden moment in Sri Lanka’s foreign relations, where we avoided the fate that the Jayewardene administration suffered when it rightly attempted to defeat the LTTE in 1987. That attempt triggered intervention. Under President Rajapaksa, the Troika helped avoid it and secure the space necessary to win the war.
However, Lalith’s account omits the two crucial and inextricably interrelated factors that enabled this success.
Let me back up a bit. The Indians had been negotiating a political settlement with President Jayewardene since 1984. In late 1985, HW Jayewardene signed off on an agreement on Provincial level devolution. Further talks took place in December 1986 and early 1987. LTTE provocations and national Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali’s faith in his Israeli military connection delayed the agreement. The Vadamaarachchi offensive therefore took place without the cover of a political agreement with Delhi, which only be devolution-centered. When the electorally powerful MGR lobbied Rajiv Gandhi, he caved in to pressure for intervention because he had nothing with which to neutralize Tamil Nadu. Later, after the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed, the Indian stance pivoted so drastically that the IPKF was in combat with the Tigers by October that very year, 1987.
What this goes to show is that if we had this political solution in place (which had been in the pipeline for years) before launching the Vadamaarachchi operation, the Indians would not have intervened to stop us, because Delhi would have had something to balance off Tamil Nadu.
Which brings me to my main point. What Lalith Weeratunga’s account omits is the heart of the matter; the meat in the sandwich. The policy and politics of it.
The Troika was brilliantly managing the relationship with Delhi, but they were representing and operating on the pragmatic policy decided on by President Rajapaksa, namely the promise to his Indian counterpart, to proceed with the implementation of the 13th amendment. The Troika’s managerial excellence was building on the policy equation and axis with Delhi decided upon by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Any account of its success without specific mention of that understanding is like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.
It is this promise that kept India on side and gave us the space to finish the war even in the face of US-UK pressure. President Rajapaksa was able to play the Delhi card to ward off the Hillary-Miliband-Norway driven ‘evacuation attempt’ by the US, the goalposts of which kept shifting.
That this policy was at the very heart of the Indo-Lanka equation during the war years, was amply and irrefutably proven by the content of the Joint Statement between the Government of Sri Lanka and the visiting Indian Troika (the Delhi counterparts of the Sri Lankan Troika that Lalith, a member, writes of).
The text of the Press Statement issued on May 21, 2009 after the top-level meeting with the Indian team and posted on the GoSL website read:
“Mr. M.K. Narayanan, National Security Advisor and Mr. S. Menon, Foreign Secretary of India visited Sri Lanka on May 20 and 21. They called on His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka and met with senior officials, including Hon. Basil Rajapaksa, MP, Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President and Defence Secretary, Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
They also interacted with a number of political parties in Sri Lanka…Both sides also emphasized the urgent necessity of arriving at a lasting political settlement in Sri Lanka. To this, the Government of Sri Lanka indicated that it will proceed with implementation of the 13th Amendment. Further, the Government of Sri Lanka also intends to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties, in the new circumstances, for further enhancement of political arrangements to bring about lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.” (May 21, 2009)
Note that Colombo’s commitment to ‘proceed with implementation of the 13th Amendment’ was not contingent upon the statement that GoSL ‘…also intends to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including Tamil parties…’ and was therefore not contingent on the obstreperous behavior of the TNA in 2011 (when the GoSL-TNA dialogue began) but was seen as preceding that ‘broader dialogue’.
I wrote earlier that Lalith’s testimony about the Troika omits two, not just one, crucial and interrelated points. The second point is what went wrong, postwar, despite this wonderful arrangement.
Three years after the war ended, in 2012 India voted against us in Geneva. It did not return to our side in 2013 and 2014, though it did abstain. Now, what is of greatest salience is the fact of continuity in leading personalities and managerial personnel! The Troika was still in place in Colombo. The President was the same as during years of successful management of Indo-Lanka relations. The government in New Delhi was that of the Congress, with the same Prime Minister in place. If so, what had gone so wrong? What could have?
If one sticks simply to Lalith’s account, one would not find the answer to the question. One would not even know there is a question. Let me reiterate: same Troika, same leaders in both capitals, no change in government in either capital, but a complete turnaround in Indian behavior. Why so? Because our policy had changed or was not being implemented. We were perceived to have reneged on our promises– public, official promises which Lalith’s article makes no mention of! The Troika worked not only because they were good chums with their Indian counterparts but because they represented a policy pledge which was not being honored, perhaps being blocked, and therefore made the Indians increasingly vulnerable to pressure from Jeyalalitha, Hillary Clinton and civil society opinion. We did nothing to help them help us, though even our best friends the Chinese kept signaling us to do so.
By the time we held the Provincial Council election in the North (with Japan’s nudging) it was 2013. India had already voted against us in Geneva. The warning signals from Delhi were coming in by 2011, but were ignored by Colombo. However, the Indians were still not on board with the West and were still running interference for us in 2011, which is why the US pulled back and did not back the Canadian attempt against us, which folded. But months later, when the West knew we no longer had India with us, it moved against us in 2012. When the Non Aligned knew that India was no longer with us, our traditional support from the BRICS and the global South began to flake off. Rising Islamophobic discourse and unprosecuted violent activism in Sri Lanka even neutralized Malaysia’s vote.
We could have kept India with us but we didn’t. What happened to the Troika? The Troika had nothing to sell. It was either internally divided or had shifted collectively from its wartime stand.
None of this is merely history. It is serial defeats in Geneva in 2012, 2013 and 2014 (with the Troika still intact in Colombo) that paved the way for the surrender in Geneva under the new government in 2015. I have been and remain a harsh critic of the 2015 and 2017 resolutions and fervently hope to see us roll them back. But that cannot and will not happen by returning to the failed post war policy of the second Rajapaksa term, which resulted in the serial defeats of 2012, 2013 and 2014. That failure was due to a deviation from or at the least the non-implementation of or the imprudently delayed implementation of President Rajapaksa’s correct wartime policy agreement with India.
I have no doubt that there could be a 1977 or rather a “reverse 1977” (the UNP at the receiving end) result at the next election. That is not my main concern. We all lived through the aftermath of that spectacular electoral victory and the rapid growth (a phenomenal 8% at one moment) of the economy. All that came to naught with the mishandling of the Tamil question and the concomitant mishandling of the equation with India, notwithstanding excellent relations with the US Republican administration (President Reagan) and strong security cooperation with Israel.
So, winning an election by a landslide, experiencing a rapid spike in economic growth, and an embrace of or by Washington and Tel Aviv, is only half of the story. Not plunging over the precipice is the more important half of that story. I do not think Sri Lanka can withstand a repeat performance after the experience of the 1980s. And that experience cannot be avoided by having a supposedly tougher, more patriotic leader than President Jayewardene. In fact, a leader without President Jayewardene’s pragmatic flexibility could result in a permanently divided island. After all, Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic was regarded as a more nationalist Serbian leader (who also spoke of ‘socialism”) than the enlightened multiethnic socialist President Tito! Milosevic abolished the autonomous status of Kosovo. The result was the end of Yugoslavia.
There can be no sustainable Sri Lankan foreign policy which does not deal with the “intermestic” issue (to use Kissinger’s category) of the State and the Tamil people as a community. Good relations with India cannot be restored except by acknowledging the Indo-Lanka accord and its concomitant political commitment the 13th amendment. Without the Indian umbrella or shield supplementing the Chinese, we shall be vulnerable to Western pressure. The Indo-Lanka Accord cannot be ignored or bypassed without consequence.
We shall be unable to rebuild the broad coalition, beginning with India that would enable Sri Lanka to neutralize the Geneva 2015 Resolution, and exit what outgoing US Ambassador Athul Keshap calls “the Geneva framework”.
Any delusion about an Israeli option of exit from the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva will only trigger a shift back to New York where the Darusman Report originated, and the activation of prosecutions under universal jurisdiction by a variety of countries, ending in unilateral sanctions by some.
Today in Sri Lanka there is a growing social sentiment that all it takes is a return to the competent management– as represented in this case by the Troika. While it is crucial, it is not enough.
What is necessary is the correct political policy and it is only then that a managerial and technocratic stratum can implement it because it will have something to implement.
The basic distinction posited by rightwing neoconservative American scholar Thomas Sowell, with its implicit appreciation of the “doers” over the “talkers”, if taken to a logical conclusion, would place Hitler over Heraclitus, Attila the Hun over the Buddha, Genghis Khan over Socrates, Pol Pot over Pope Francis, and Donald Trump over Dr. Martin Luther King.
This ‘doers/talkers’ hierarchy of practices and values is dangerous, because you can “do” right and you can “do” wrong. “Doing” and “doing the right thing” aren’t the same. Destruction, which is doing, is not the same as creation/construction. Thanos, in ‘The Avengers: Infinity War’, is the ultimate “doer”.
Wrong discourse cannot yield right deeds, only wrongdoing. That is why the Buddha preached (“talked”) right thinking, right mindfulness. That is why the Bible says “In the beginning was the Word”– rendered as Logos, a complex Greek term, principally meaning “Reason”.