I will return to the continuing failures of our foreign policy over the last five years, but first I should address the more serious issue, of how our military victory in 2009 has also been so thoroughly undermined. Five years ago it seemed impossible that the LTTE could be rebuilt, certainly not within a few years. But we are now told that there is a serious danger of an LTTE revival, and the more overt expressions of the security paraphernalia, removed to the joy of the populace after the war, have now been restored. Three individuals were killed recently in Vavuniya North, and we have been told of the seriousness of their efforts to revive terrorism, and this has led to checkpoints being reintroduced even in the East.
The story is treated with a pinch of salt in several quarters, with questions as to the failure of government to identify the policeman who was supposedly shot at, the absurdity of a terrorist hiding under a bed breaking through a cordon of police, the failure of the army which was in attendance in Dharmapuram at the time to deal with the problem, the ridiculousness of the suspects retreating to an area where the army was engaged in exercises. But there is no reason to assume the military have concocted the story, and indeed I was convinced of the sincerity of its representative who came to me with details of what was going on – though I should note that sincerity in those who believe a story is not proof of its actuality.
I do realise that there are now a range of elements in the military, and the enormously decent professionals who fought the war have less influence than those who follow the more occult practices of the West in countering terror. But even they must surely realize that what happened recently is an admission of incompetence greater even than that which created the Taliban and Al Qaeda as forces of immense power. My interlocutor told me that the vast majority of the people in the North were sick and tired of terrorism, and – as perhaps the only parliamentarian from the South who visits regularly for free interactions with the populace – I certainly believe him. But in that case, how on earth can there be a serious threat of an LTTE revival?
The fact that this is deemed possible suggests the total failure of government policies over the last five years. My interlocutor granted this, under somewhat Socratic questioning, and placed the blame predominantly on the Ministry of External Affairs. I agree with him to a great extent, and as mentioned will return to our failures in that area which have given the more intransigent elements in the diaspora renewed influence. But I also pointed out that domestically too we had failed signally.
It is fashionable to blame the Secretary of Defence for all this, but I do not think that is fair. I continue to have a soft spot for him, in part because I still recall his very categorical statement at a Christmas event at the Central Bank in 2008 that, while he was now confident of winning the war, peace required a political settlement, which would have to be brought about by others. Of course he may have changed, though I have also been told that his problem is that he has two personalities, and the second is now in the ascendant. Though I now have some experience of this, since he was irritated by my signing a petition with regard to the incidents at Weliveriya, even then I found him prepared to listen, and grant that what happened was wrong and merited an inquiry. Unfortunately the line was bad, but subsequently I have found him as willing to talk as previously, and also willing to listen, a trait he shares with the President. Even when they disagree, they will give their reasons and, albeit not often, they are prepared to change their minds.
The trouble now is that hardly anyone will raise counter arguments with the Secretary of Defence. In that regard the Western manoeuvers with regard to Sarath Fonseka had an unexpected result – though perhaps all is grist to the Western mill. In the first place, they removed someone whom the Secretary had seen as his equal, if not his superior in military terms. The result is that he now reigns supreme, and hardly anyone will challenge him. Second, what happened made it much easier for the term traitor to be bandied about. What Sarath did was bad enough, in spilling the beans in the United States, including his own ones, craftily attributed to others as with his December White Flag statement. But there were also the efforts of the egregious Paul Carter to buy over the former military spokesman, which meant that no one could be sure who had been approached, who had succumbed. As a result, everyone was frightened to say anything that might cause contention, given the allegations that could be made against them – as indeed happened to me, when Wimal Weerawansa went on the rampage and suggested that I too was working for foreign interests. Ironically this was around the same time as I was told, by someone who had been warned against me but later became a very good friend, that new arrivals to Sri Lanka were being told that I was very prejudiced against the West. But I suppose the few intransigent elements in the West knew who the strongest and most effective opponents of submission were, and were wary of me (and in Dayan’s case actively campaigned for his removal, though I was never I think seen as dangerous enough to warrant overt interference).
Weerawansa’s critique (which I am told also contributed to my not being given a Ministry, to what I now realize is the continuing perdition of our Education system) was with regard to my pointing out that Sarath Fonseka had withdrawn his allegation with regard to the White Flag incident. The way in which government mishandled that is perhaps symptomatic of the willingness to sacrifice long term interests for immediate gains, and it should therefore be looked at more closely here. In particular the failure to respond swiftly to American queries about the incident, at the one moment in the years after the war concluded when the Americans were positive (and in the person of John Kerry), shows how incompetent our current decision makers are.
The fact is that Sarath Fonseka made a speech in Ambalangoda in August 2009 in effect claiming credit for the murders of the surrendees, and this was questioned in a list of concerns drawn up by the State Department on the basis of a report from an American congressional committee headed by John Kerry. The list was sent to the government around October 2009, but it was in effect ignored. I kept telling Lalith Weeratunge that the questions could easily be answered, and I brought up the matter frequently with Mohan Pieris and suggested we could answer them ourselves, with the material I had accumulated at the Peace Secretariat. But though both agreed, characteristically they did nothing about it.
Dayan mentioned the matter to the President when they were in Vietnam together that year, and had been assured the matter was under control and a committee had been appointed to report. But the committee never met. Its only active member, Nihal Jayamaha, told me this when I met him at the President’s Christmas Party and asked why I had had no response to my letter suggesting they go through my material. But nothing happened for a further six months, and then, shortly after they did get in touch, I was told that their work had been subsumed in that of the LLRC, so they now had no reason to meet. But of course the LLRC could not address the Kerry concerns direct, and so they went unanswered.
By then government had decided to take electoral advantage of Sarath Fonseka’s second statement about the White Flag case. So, instead of rebutting that on the grounds that he was a liar, and had claimed the opposite earlier (that he had done it contrary to what the Secretary of Defence wanted, whereas the later claim was that the Secretary was responsible), they called him a traitor. So I became a traitor too, when I tried to rebut the claim rationally. Unfortunately what all those who thought only of electoral advantage forgot was that, in criticizing Sarath only for being a traitor, they were implying that what he had said was true. And that also made it difficult for government later to investigate the case, which obviously prima facie raised legitimate questions, since that would allow Sarath to turn round and call those conducting any investigation traitorous.
This underlies the failure of government to fulfil the commitments the President made to Ban ki Moon in May 2009. It underlies the fatal delay in appointing the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which thus seemed only a belated response to the appointment of the Darusman Committee. It underlies the failure to implement swiftly the interim recommendations of the LLRC since, though it dealt with a range of Issues, government put Mohan Pieris in charge and he was worried about the reactions of the Secretary of Defence to any action. Therefore he did not convene the Inter-Ministerial Committee he had been appointed to head, and which could have done much with regard to land issues amongst other matters of immediate concern to the population.
And, fatally, it underlies the failure now to implement fully the recommendations of the LLRC, which were welcomed so positively by most people, and the entire international community except the Americans. Even now the President has assured the visiting Japanese Minister that everything in the last Geneva resolution will be complied with save the international investigation, which is a position I quite understand and endorse. But rejecting an international investigation can only be done acceptably if there is a credible domestic mechanism. In a context in which even Cabinet Ministers point out that we make promises in Geneva that are not fulfilled, we must do better. But I fear the President is not advised properly, and is given reassurances by those who are not concerned about facts, but simply say what they think he wants to hear.