The relationship between the two themes I have been looking at in this series came home to me vividly when I read an article by my old friend Tissa Jayatilaka about the current situation. He too was once a leading member of the Liberal Party, though he left the Party even earlier than Dr Saravanamuttu, when he thought the party was being led, as he memorably put it, by its ‘Light Brigade’. He was referring I believe to the decision to work with President Premadasa, though in fact that was principally the decision of our Founder Chanaka Amaratunga.
Before that Tissa had been fully on board with the general ideas of the Party, so it was surprising to find him now praising the diplomatic failures of the Jayewardene government, which led up to the Indian intervention of 1987. He seems to have forgotten the manner in which the Indians ensured that the then Human Rights Committee in Geneva expressed itself forcefully against Sri Lanka. They were helped in this by Jayewardene’s support of Margaret Thatcher during the Falklands War, which he assumed would set the seal on his position in the Western Alliance, the then equivalent of the Coalition of the Willing that has decimated Iraq.
The Americans, sensibly enough, did not however back us to the hilt. I am told that, when Jayewardene asked whether that they would stand with us against India, the then special envoy – I have the name Richard Boucher in my head, but I am not sure that he was prominent then – sidestepped the question and said that he advised us to maintain good relations with India.
Margaret Thatcher was made of sterner stuff, and a friend of mine who worked in her private office during the Falklands War said that she had actually been positive when Jayewardene sent his Foreign Minister to check on whether Britain would stand by us against Indian threats in terms of the 1947 Defence Treaty. Her more circumspect officials however persuaded her to decline politely.
As a result of Jayewardene’s solid support for Britain, Argentina was bitterly opposed to us, and was used by India to bring forward a resolution against us. Tissa now seems to think that brilliant diplomacy converted a hostile resolution into a benign one, but that is plain nonsense, as Dayan Jayatilleka has conclusively shown. It was on the basis of those resolutions that India was able to insist that humanitarian assistance be made available to the Tamils in the North, which allowed first for the flotilla carrying food aid and then, when that was turned back, the air drop which made Jayewardene finally give in and sign the Accord with India.
That rocky period in Geneva has had its repercussions in what one very bright Indian commentator has described as the 1987 mindset that dominated in later years the Foreign Ministry officials who had been involved in that Geneva debacle. In the nineties I used to think that the one weak spot in Lakshman Kadirgamar’s brilliant conduct of our foreign relations was his refusal to support Jayantha Dhanapala for promotion within the UN system. But I gathered later that this was because he felt that Dhanapala was hostile to India, and giving him prominence would affect the excellent relationship with India that he had developed. What seemed proof of this emerged when India nominated Shashi Tharoor for the post of Secretary General after we had put forward Dhanapala. I don’t think they expected Tharoor to win – though he would certainly have made a splendid and dynamic Secretary General – but they wanted to make it clear that they were not in favour of Dhanapala.
It was ironic then to find Tissa praising what he terms the brilliant diplomacy of the eighties in his castigation of what is going on now. He very rightly makes the point that we are not doing enough to ensure Indian support, but he completely ignores the excellent relationship with India we had in 2009, and roundly condemns our diplomacy at the time. Instead he privileges the period in which we had the worst relations ever with India.
What explains this lack of rationality in someone of comparative intelligence? The answer lies in the deliberate conflation now of the West and India by those who seem bent on bringing Sri Lanka low – and I refer to extreme nationalists in this country as well as those members of the international community who are pursuing their own political interests. Tissa of course is by no means an extreme nationalist, but naturally, having spent most of his adult life working for the Americans – even though he may insist that the Fulbright Commission does not depend on American finance and the goodwill of the American Head of Mission in Sri Lanka – his perspectives tend to be American.
So his naked assertion that the diplomatic victory of 2009 was a blunder, even though we achieved that through close cooperation with India and other countries opposed to the unipolar view of the world that the West has been trying to entrench. Ironically, he also seems critical of the fact that the resolution that was passed included a ‘promise to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution’. In his determination to denigrate the architects of that diplomatic victory, he asserts that ‘is largely the content of this victory resolution of 2009 that has come back to haunt us in the resolutions against us adopted by the UNHRC in 2012 and 2013’.
Surely Tissa, were he genuinely committed to the values he enunciates, would approve of that resolution and register that the problem is the failure to implement what we ourselves pledged. But in his zeal to drive our foreign policy, not back to non-alignment, but rather into servility to his own masters, he also has to denigrate those who prevailed in Geneva in 2009 by standing by the Non-Aligned principles that Lakshman Kadirgamar had restored to us.