The government decided last week, when faced with the announcement by Navi Pillay of her team to investigate Sri Lanka, to propose a motion in Parliament against such an investigation. This was a shrewd move, since it puts the main opposition on the spot with regard to whether it supports such an investigation. I can understand the TNA opposing such a motion given that it sees this as one way of achieving its goals, even though I think it would have achieved more had it, like the Indian government, stood foursquare against international interference whilst also urging the Sri Lankan government to pursue reconciliation and a better deal for the Tamil people more comprehensively.
What would be unacceptable is for the national opposition to oppose such a motion, and I think the UNP will find it difficult to decide how to respond. It would seem a sad betrayal of our sovereignty to oppose such a motion, and I think sensible people in the UNP would not want to commit a political blunder of such magnitude.
And the decision to support the motion should be the easier for any forward looking Sri Lankan, given that the motion is so limited in scope.Government has not gone down the disastrous route advocated by Wimal Weerawansa of opposing not only an international investigation, but of also opposing any effective domestic mechanism. Indeed government has scored a major triumph in having the motion proposed in the name of Achala Jagodage, who came to Parliament through Weerawansa’s National Freedom Front. And though most of the other signatories cannot be described as political heavyweights, also included as a signatory is perhaps the most intelligent amongst the new SLFP entrants into Parliament, the Hon Janaka Bandara. He chaired the only Committee in Parliament, apart from COPE, that proved effective in the last four years, and he also had the courage of his convictions and resigned when he found that the report of that Committee, on public petitions, was ignored.
Whilst I am impressed by the strategy the government has followed, which I would describe as the classic Middle Path of the SLFP, eschewing the extremes of both Weerawansa and the more strident UNP critics of government, I should note that this will only be effective if government in fact follows that middle path through practical action too. For this purpose it must move more effectively on implementation of the LLRC recommendations, which won the approval of almost all sensible observers of the international scene. It was only the Americans who issued a negative comment, and that too not through Patricia Butenis but in Washington itself. This approach was sadly echoed by the TNA and also the Centre for Policy Alternatives.
That promptly led to Weerawansa and his ilk attacking the LLRC report from the other side. I told Patricia as much when she claimed that the government was ambiguous on the report. First I noted that the President had promptly tabled the report in Parliament, and instructed that an action plan be prepared. Secondly, the accredited spokesmen of government had made it clear that government subscribed to this position, and indeed when the action plan was finally produced, it sailed through cabinet.
But thirdly, I told her, it was precisely the grudging response of the Americans that had prompted the opposing Weerawansa tirade. And this was quite understandable since the American assertion seemed to confirm what the President once told me when I noted that engaging in some reforms would relieve the pressure. Whatever I do, he said, they will not be satisfied. So it was natural that, when the Americans wanted their pound of flesh, Weerawansa should offer much less, and that government should not have reined him back, perhaps hoping that a compromise, the LLRC as a whole, would prove acceptable to all.
Unfortunately, though, other players took a more active role at this stage and destroyed the strategy the President had decided on. Given the corner into which he had boxed himself by abolishing the Ministry of Human Rights, he had only Mohan Pieris on hand, and naturally Mohan did nothing about the plan assigned to him to prepare. He was aided and abetted in this by G L Pieris who, though the Ministry of External Affairs was supposed to have institutional responsibility, did nothing. He however was more honest about this, and said there was no plan, whereas Mohan had claimed that it was in preparation, and even taken in the President who suggested that the plan be taken to Geneva in March 2012 and publicized.
Mohan was true to form in this, for he had done the same to the President with regard to the Committee to implement the Interim Recommendations of the LLRC. The President assured me, when I first realized that government was trying to dodge issues and confronted him with the lack of action (in April 2011), that the Committee was meeting, but Mohan rejected the President’s order that I be put on the Committee. Though he did acquiesce in what the President tried next, which was include monitoring of the work of the Committee in my list of duties as Adviser on Reconciliation, he never held any meetings, claiming that he was waiting for a date from the Secretary of Defence. It was only much later in the year that he confessed that the Secretary did not want the Committee to meet.
But though I think both Peirises avoided action out of fear of the Secretary, this approach was unfair to the Secretary, who is someone one can talk to seriously. Though he gets upset when he feels unfairly threatened (and I continue to believe that, having fought the war with greater commitment to principles than many of those who condemn him now, he is right to feel anguish at what is being thrust upon him), he does listen. Mohan should have convinced him that some actions had to be taken, and even if the Secretary did not want to attend meetings of several government officials, Mohan could have conducted the meetings in two segments, one to deal with land and other bread and butter issues, the other to work on disappearances and other accountability ones.
But by simply acquiescing in what they thought was the Secretary’s intransigence, the terrible twins have done both him and the Sri Lankan forces a great disservice. They should have realized that the Americans meant business, and worked out a strategy as to how to overcome this, building on the agreements the President had reached with India soon after the war concluded, and with the UN Secretary General, which enabled us to stave off the Western attack in 2009. But instead they ignored the President’s commitments, and played to the gallery, which was forcefully orchestrated by Wimal Weerawansa.
Sadly the President, who had been pushed into holding the Presidential election prematurely (he told me once that Gota and I were the only ones who had argued against this, but this was I think intended to suggest that we were political amateurs compared with the brilliant psephelogical analysts who think winning elections is the solution to all problems), also fell into the Weerawansa trap of sacrificing everything for political gain. This was perhaps understandable in the worry he felt about the Americans and the TNA (and CPA of course) supporting Sarath Fonseka so heavily. But he must realize now that the takeover of the sane and sensible SLFP by extremists who use terms such as traitor of everyone they fear, from Sarath Fonseka to P B Jayasundera has led to disaster after disaster, internationally as well as nationally, when they have stood in the way of the educational reforms this country so sorely needs.
I have no idea how the crisis in government will now play itself out, but I can think of no better committee to go into Wimal Weerawansa’s supposed grievances than one that includes senior SLFP leaders such as Nimal Siripala de Silva and Maithripala Sirisena and Susil Premjayanth. I hope the trust the President has now reposed in them – despite the efforts of the monsters who tried hard in 2012 to sow doubts about the first named of these as well as India – will lead to serious reforms, including the appointment of one of them as Prime Minister.
These indications, along with the text of the proposed resolution, suggest that at long last the moderates in government have awakened from their long sleep, and will try to ensure sensible reforms rather than those promoting a fortress mentality. India and South Africa and Japan stand ready to support us in moderation, and given that Weerawansa combined his attack on the government’s economic policies with an attack on South Africa, I hope the President will realize where his true friends are. I trust therefore that the motion will be carried by an overwhelming majority, but that it will be accompanied by the national mechanisms that can alone preserve us from the traps that are being set.