There is a very strange game being played out in Geneva, the implications of which decision makers in Colombo have not understood – or else, having understood, they simply do not care.
Though the motivations of those attacking us vary, their aim is clear, namely to undermine national sovereignty. The mandarins, or perhaps I should say the rickshaw pullers, in our Ministry of External Affairs were sanguine earlier about what they saw as a bland US resolution. The fact that it requires monitoring of our activities, in particular with regard to accountability, should worry them, but I suspect they no longer understand the basic principles on which the UN should operate.
I say this because of the behavior recently of one of our delegates in Geneva – not the ambassador, I should note, for he is one of the few sharp and independent minds amongst the English speaking elite that now runs the Ministry, and keeps down bright youngsters who are more intellectually astute. There was an attempt, spearheaded it seemed by Sri Lanka, to the astonishment of our old allies from the Non Aligned Movement, to undermine the very foundations of the Right to Development by introducing conditions to national ownership of natural resources. I cannot imagine that the President would have approved such a move, but I can understand him not being consulted on the matter. What is frightening is that probably the Minister too was not consulted, but he has I assume learnt now that no one takes him seriously, except his publicity unit. If he was consulted, and concurred, I can only imagine that he is getting ready for the regime change that his behavior has done much to precipitate.
How should we be dealing with the threat to the country and its government? Firstly, we should look at the motivations of those now acting against us, and try to assuage those worries that are reasonable. After all, many of those supportive of the resolution genuinely think that we have behaved badly. If we believe they are wrong, as I do with regard to the matters on which they seek to condemn us, we must convince them otherwise. This should not be difficult, now that at last we are beginning to get our act together with regard to the LLRC Action Plan, but there too I was informed that the Foreign Ministry thinks the President’s Secretary is not able to deliver, and wants to take over the responsibility.
Given the hash they made of the President’s directive in December 2011 to prepare an Action Plan, which only emerged because the President’s Secretary set up a sensible team of bureaucrats, it is ironic that the Foreign Ministry wants to take over now, when those bureaucrats are in charge and have begun to move in a manner that was unthinkable when they had been sidelined.
In addition to moving on Reconciliation, and showing that we are doing so, we should also do more about the empowerment that will help the Indian government to alleviate the pressures to which they are now being subjected. However our key decision makers seem to believe that attacks on India will help us. Unfortunately this is not due to stupidity alone. Last year, when India had pledged to support us, we violated their trust by publicizing this when we had specifically been requested not to do so. This gave politicians in Tamil Nadu a handle with which to pressurize Delhi, and we added fuel to this fire when we accused them of being LTTE supporters. Unfortunately our policy makers then convinced the President that India had planned all along to let us down, but no one asked why, even if that was the case, our official representatives made this easier for them. My suspicion that deliberate sabotage was involved was strengthened when the President was fed falsehoods about India – and also about members of his own Cabinet – but though the President’s Secretary managed to sort that matter out, no one inquired into the motivations behind the lie.
Given then that we also have to contend with hostility at home, it will be even more difficult to defeat what I would describe as the nasty motivations in Geneva. These include efforts to control up politically, as well as efforts to win electoral success by playing to the former LTTE gallery.
With regard to the first, the cheering squads that danced last March on the graves of Dayan Jayatilleka and Tamara Kunanayagam, and claimed that their influence was now over and we would once more become the lapdogs of the West, need to be reined in. While we must obviously convince the West that we are not going to be drawn into hostility towards them in the oppositional games that the West specializes in, we do not need to enter into opposition with other countries for this purpose.
Conversely, claiming that we can rely on China if the West opposes us is also absurd, and unfair too on China, which can well do without such intensification of perceptions. And in this game of poodle snap, with conflicting interests that do not care about Sri Lankan sovereignty deciding that we must plump for one side or the other, we totally ignore India, which as our closest neighbor will clearly exercise the greatest influence on the perceptions others have about us and our strategic importance. Most alarmingly, we ignore the advice the Americans gave us in the days when J R Jayewardene thought the West would back us willy-nilly against India, and we ignore the advice the Chinese ambassador gave us in Geneva when they were supporting us against the Miliband led efforts in 2009 to do us down. Both said that we must maintain good relations with India, and the latter pointed out how important it was to receive Indian advice.
We need then to overcome the threats against us based on international politicking, but to do this we need to command credibility in Delhi as well as Beijing and Washington and also Brussels. And as Delhi and Beijing both advised us in 2009, we need critical mass, which is why we need to work closely with the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of Islamic Countries and also the rest of the BRICS group.
Unfortunately we are rapidly engaged in losing NAM, through initiatives such as the destructive effort to downgrade national sovereignty, and we are losing the OIC through the failure to curb the excesses of the Anti-Islamic movement. We lost our chance of developing productive relations with Brazil because the Ministry of External Affairs destroyed the President’s attempts to fast forward these through making Tamara Kunanayagam our envoy to South America in general, and we have failed to take advantage of the support the South Africans offered us by refusing to engage intellectually and creatively in the process they tried to open up through study visits last year. Only with Russia are relations good, but the type of creative thinking that say Dayan Jayatilleka was able to engage in with the Russian ambassador in Geneva and Foreign Minister Lavrov is very much in the past.
Meanwhile we have completely ignored the clear and simple and easily actionable recommendation in the LLRC Report that we should build good relations with the diaspora. The fact that we had to wait for the LLRC report to think about this is yet another stunning indictment of the Ministry of External Affairs. Able individuals, such as our Acting High Commissioner in London, our Deputy High Commissioner in Chennai, our Consul General in New Zealand together with the Acting High Commissioner in Canberra, used my services to open up discussions with those Tamil expatriates who had genuine concerns but were in no way LTTE supporters, but my visits seemed a novelty. Though there have been good efforts since by others, no coherent programme is in place to convey to them the positive achievements of the government, and how they could help, for instance with education and training needs.
To my astonishment, I found that an initiative we started last week, to plan vocational training for the north on a practical and needs based approach, seemed a novelty, three years after we should have been thinking of such matters. And in COPE that afternoon I found that, though the President had long stressed the importance of milk production, no one had thought previously of fast forwarding this in the north through processing units. Though we were told that now there were plans, these did not find mention in the Corporate or Action Plans of MILCO.
So we have little to report that will catch the imagination of those concerned about the areas affected by the conflict. We will bumble on, hoping to get away with the minimum, some perhaps hoping we will fail, so their own vision of Sri Lanka’s place in the world, a demeaning one, will be fulfilled.