Military intelligence understands well that the diaspora is not a monolith. Indeed my interlocutor noted that only about 7% of the diaspora were supporters of the LTTE. But this made it all the more culpable that government has done nothing about working with the rest, the more than 90% who have wanted only for their kinsmen who remained in Sri Lanka to enjoy equal benefits with the rest of the population. The LLRC recommendation in this regard, about developing a policy to work together with the diaspora, has been completely ignored. Instead those who did well in this regard, such as Dayan when he was in Paris, were the subject of intelligence reports that drew attention critically to their work with Tamils. The fact that in theory this was government policy meant nothing, since very few others were doing anything about this, and there was no coordination of such efforts in Colombo.
Excessive zeal on the part of military intelligence seems to have caused other disasters. We had an excellent High Commissioner in Chennai, but he was summarily removed because, it was reported, the security establishment had criticized him. Similar reports were in circulation about the withdrawal of our High Commissioner in Malaysia, though he himself thought the Minister of External Affairs was the real villain of the piece.
In Chennai, no efforts had been made to engage in the dialogue that the High Commissioner, who was Tamil, tried to initiate. When I spent a few days there a couple of years ago, with my ticket paid for, not by government, but by an agency that had wanted me in Nepal but was willing to fund a journey through Chennai, I was told that I was the first senior representative of government who had gone there for such discussions. The academics and journalists who attended the meetings were willing to listen, but soon afterwards the High Commissioner was exchanged for a Sinhalese, and the initiative stopped. It was only a couple of years later that government finally got round to inviting the senior newspaperman Cho Ramaswamy to send some journalists to report on the situation, which High Commissioner Krishnaswamy had advocated much earlier. What they published made it clear that we had erred gravely in ignoring his advice for so long. The obvious benefits of having a Tamil in station in Chennai, which without him even doing anything made it clear that allegations of systemic discrimination against Tamils were misplaced, never occurred to a Ministry of External Affairs which seems more keen to assuage possible ruffled feelings within Sri Lanka than develop and implement a foreign policy that would take the country forward.
This anxiety to hold onto position seems to have dominated the thinking of the Minister of External Affairs. The contempt in which he is held by many foreign diplomats in Sri Lanka is startling, beginning with the American ambassador who, way back in 2012, when I told her she should credit what was said by official government spokesmen such as the Minister, rather than giving weight to the pronouncements of people like Wimal Weerawansa (this was in connection with the LLRC Report), told me firmly that the Minister had lost all credibility.
That was the year when the Minister destroyed any hope of Indian support for us at Geneva, when he failed to respond to the request for clarifications sent by the Indian Prime Minister. Or, rather, he replied, and then, unprecedentedly, withdrew the letter. I still recall Aruni Devaraja, one of our more able Foreign Ministry officials, who has now made her escape from there, telling me that withdrawing letters was simply not done. This was in connection with Dayan’s successor in Geneva withdrawing the letter I had sent to Philip Alston, who was understandably enough nervous of engaging in correspondence with me. The withdrawal of my letter was the end of my shelf life as far as interactions with the UN was concerned, but I suspect Aruni was wrong in simply putting the action down to a lack of professionalism. Rather, given other priorities, getting me out of the way was a matter of urgency. I felt after that that there was no purpose in my going to Geneva, and turned down the President twice, though the third time round I felt I could not refuse. However I stayed on the sidelines, and realized from the shambles that was going on that we had little hope of success – and that was before I knew of how foolishly the Minister had responded to the Indian Prime Minister.
Why the President continues to keep him on is a mystery, unless it be the well known Southern trait of gratitude, and the continuing affection Namal Rajapaksa has for his mentor. The latter has even gone to the extent of suggesting to a group of young MPs that they propose to the President that Prof Pieris be made Prime Minister, but that suggestion was thankfully resisted. Meanwhile the other possible reason the President has is what he proffers, that there is no one else. But that is an absurd idea, given the capability of people such as the Leader of the House, or D E W Gunasekara who was once appointed to act in the position.
That the President does understand something of the problem is apparent in that he had recently asked yet another person, of some intellectual capacity, to take up the position of Deputy. That individual told me he would not touch the position, but that I should. But having once as a great concession offered to take up the job when the President told me he had no one capable, and been insulted for my pains, I made it clear that this was not something I would ever let myself in for. Entertainingly, in regretting my refusal to vote for the impeachment of the Chief Justice, a Deputy Minister told me that, if not for that, I would have been made Deputy Minister of External Affairs. To avoid such a fate would alone have been a good reason for not voting as enjoined.
But, even if the President understands the position – and so obviously does the Minister of Economic Development, given the despair he has often expressed about the Ministry – the Minister will be secure given that he has so assiduously covered what he sees as the most important flank, namely the security establishment. Since he will never advise the President that the best way out of the international obloquy we have attracted in the last few years, in sharp contradiction to the support for our stance we commanded in Dayan’s time, is to have a credible national inquiry, he will remain in harness. And no one else would be acceptable to those he cultivates, since it is obvious that anyone sensible would insist that, at the very least, Sri Lanka must fulfil its international commitments, that promises once made cannot be forgotten.
It is doubtless because of the determination to follow an ultra-nationalist line that we have blundered so spectacularly with regard to the Darusman Report. The official government line is that we have had, and will have, nothing to do with it or what springs from it. But the fact is that government did send a representative to meet the Secretary General before the Report was issued – an activity which Wimal Weerawansa’s agents tried to attribute to me, though I believe it was Mohan Pieris alone who made the journey, and came back with a characteristically rosy report. True the Minister did not seem to approve of this bu,t given that fact, it was neither sensible nor convincing to officially ignore the report, while at the same time getting sympathetic journalists to give it maximum publicity.
Pottiest of all were the responses to the Report which pretended not to be responses. An account of what had happened should have been set out in 2009, but nothing was done about that until after the Darusman Report became public. Then, instead of responding immediately, the two books that were produced were fine-tuned for ages, and came out finally in a bulk that made them unreadable. The book that described the humanitarian assistance had several appendices, whereas the allegations were few and should have been addressed briefly and direct. Worse, the book that dealt with the military operation did nothing at all to rebut the various allegations which Darusman had recorded. When I pointed this out, I was told that this was not the place for dealing with those. I insisted that that had to be done, and was then told that that task had been entrusted to the Chief of Defence Staff, but of course nothing was produced in that regard.
So rebuttal has been left to a number of very capable Sri Lankans in their private capacities, but for them to get even basic information to build up their responses has been a trial. Most recently, when the Americans issued a misleading tweet, the individual who has produced a detailed refutation of most allegations asked for information as to the place the Americans had mentioned, but his explanation of how there were errors in the tweet was not taken up. Indeed, there was no formal calling in of the American ambassador, with a polite but firm request that the misleading tweet be withdrawn – but such tools are beyond the use of a Minister and a Ministry that prefer to walk sideways rather than do anything straightforwardly.
Thus we have managed to render useless the very elements in the UN that supported us steadily, and which are as much a victim of Darusman as the Sri Lankan state is. When the report came out I pointed out that we could use the positive correspondence we had with the UN to rebut several allegations, but this was not done. The suggestions I made as to clarifications that should be sought were ignored. So we have now allowed the Darusman Report to become canonical, whereas a few short and sharp questions, with an obvious identification of clear falsehoods, would have reduced its impact considerably. But this had to be done officially, since obviously there is no reason for the world at large to credit what individual Sri Lankans say in their private capacities. Similarly, while respecting the confidentiality considerations of the ICRC, we should have coordinated responses with them to allegations about which they had information. I tried to develop dialogue on these lines with the Head of the ICRC who had studied the papers and was clear that the collateral damage that had occurred was not to any great degree culpable. But such dialogue was not what the ostriches running policy in this regard could contemplate, let alone practice.
The myopia that may well destroy us more effectively than Prabhakaran and David Miliband together in 2009 is best exemplified by the response to the Kerry communique. Far from trying to meet the Americans half way, those in authority saw this as a sign that the Americans were beginning to accept that we had done the correct thing throughout, and would soon come round totally.