Text of a presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
at the ‘Afkar-e-Taza: Rescuing the Past, Shaping the Future’ Seminar
Lahore, April 3rd 2016
The world seems to be at boiling point at present given the increasing impact of terrorist activity. Civilian populations are subject to ruthless attacks in Africa, the Middle East and now both Europe and Asia. Typically, there is much less attention to what happens in our part of the world, which I believe may explain why there seems no adequate response to deal with the menace. Western powers engage in long distance operations that result in more civilian deaths, in the less developed world, and the occasional claim that an identified terrorist has been killed. But the reach of the terrorist organizations seems only to grow in the face of such operations.
There has indeed in recent years been only one unquestionable success in dealing with terrorism. In 2009 Sri Lanka defeated a terrorist movement that had pioneered suicide killings, with responsibility for several incidents where the victims had been numbered in hundreds. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had also killed two heads of government and destroyed several leading moderates of the ethnic group which it claimed to be liberating, namely the Tamils of Sri Lanka (Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India, President Ranasinghe Premadasa of Sri Lanka, Messers Amirthalingam, Yoheswaran, Sam Tambimuttu, Neelan Tiruchelvam, Lakshman Kadrigamar, Mrs Sarojini Yoheswaran, Ketheswaran Loganathan, Alfred Duraiyappa, etc)
And yet, far from this achievement being recognized, and efforts made to replicate it, Sri Lanka became the object of relentless persecution by the Western bloc at the United Nations. While the Sri Lankan government certainly blundered in not dealing firmly with allegations against it, and also in failing to address comprehensively the problems that had created the terrorist movement, the manner in which it has been hounded deserves careful analysis. Not least, one needs to examine the role of the Obama administration, in playing to a public gallery of bleeding hearts whilst continuing a far more ruthless war on those it feared than had been engaged in by previous American Presidents.
These victims of American terrorism, concealed as human rights promotion, included serving heads of state as well as terrorists, while ironically sometimes the latter were deployed to destroy the former when they seemed more dangerous to American interests. But, as Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a particular object of hate to leading lights in the Obama administration, put it to a State Department official who preached at him, he could not help the fact that his terrorists were not Muslims.
The Obama administration took over the leadership of the movement to sink Sri Lanka (or rather absorb it in the Western system of alliances, the modern equivalent of NATO and CENTO and SEATO) whereas the Bush administration had been less hypocritical. That government had indeed provided some assistance to the Sri Lankan government to deal with its terrorists. Indeed, even after Obama took over, the Defence Attache at the US Embassy spoke up in favour of the Sri Lankan government at a seminar, but added that he had better shut up before he got into trouble.
The persecution of Sri Lanka had begun long before that, with the British leading the charge. As far back as 2006 they had put forward a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council which was designed to stop the successful military offensive that the recently elected Rajapaksa government had commenced against the Tigers. It should be noted that Rajapaksa, elected late in 2005, had continued to observe the CeaseFire Agreement signed by an earlier government and indeed managed to get the Tigers to resume talks, which they had walked out of a couple of years earlier. But after over eight months of continuous attacks by the Tigers the government went on the offensive in August 2006 and proved more effective than had been thought possible. Even while those who had profited out of the negotiations proclaimed that a military victory was impossible, and predicted the imminent downfall of the Rajapaksa government, the Sri Lankan forces liberated the entire Eastern province and began to move to the North.
My own understanding of what was going on developed when I was asked, in June 2007, to head the government Peace Secretariat. With the support of the Norwegian led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, I tried to make contact with my counterparts amongst the Tigers, but they resolutely refused to respond. Meanwhile I gathered that funds they had been inundated with during the time of negotiations were being used for military purposes. Though the new heads of UNDP and UNICEF told me they could not explain what had been going on, neither instituted inquiries into how so much funding had gone towards for instance glorification of suicide bombers including a million dollars supposedly for rehabilitation, though conscription and training continued. The unusually stupid earlier head of UNICEF told me complacently in the middle of 2007 that the Tigers had at last agreed to release all those under 17 – she seemed inclined to overlook the fact that they were going to keep those under 18, explaining that the Tiger laws allowed this. When I complained to the head of UNDP about her indulgence she sent me an apologetic letter declaring that UNICEF did stand by national and international laws, but obviously the Tigers had found her a pushover. Where the Americans found such fuddy-duddies to run UN agencies I have no idea, but I suppose he who pays the piper calls the tune, cacophonous though it might be.
I should note though that the Norwegian Ambassador did tell me he would write to protest the abuse of Norwegian funds, and I appreciated his recognition of how loosely his government had dispensed funds, But it was a useless gesture given how much the Tigers had got away with.
I have recorded elsewhere the manner in which funds were poured upon both Tigers and Sri Lankan elements opposed to the Rajapaksa government in theory to promote peace. The impact of such largesse was not studied, understandably so for it seems to have gone, on the one hand into weapons of mass destruction, on the other into efforts to limit the Sri Lankan government’s ability to deal with such weaponry.
Such a study is necessary, for it may explain why the West seems to be losing what it claims is its War on Terror. The Australian expert David Kilcullen, another independent academic who appreciated what Sri Lanka had achieved, has noted that the West cannot win unless it is serious. But unfortunately the West is torn by different motives, and in the end subordinates all principles to what it sees as its own self interest. Sadly that self interest is combined with stunning ignorance of the world at large, and a touching faith in financial largesse, whereas the last few years have taught us that faith is not something money can buy.
What can be bought is the media, and hirelings in what has now become the Human Rights industry. I hasten to add that many of those who persecute Sri Lanka while sedulously avoiding similar criticism of the massive human suffering caused by American adventurism are not consciously hypocritical. They convince themselves that they are doing good, and see President Rajapaksa as a dictator even though Sri Lanka rescued over 300,000 Tamils held hostage by the Tigers in what their leader Prabhakaran hoped would be a Bobby Jones type mass self immolation. The decimation of Iraq and Libya however through lies that the media bought and propagated is ignored, and brave men like David Kelly are forgotten, sacrificed to a culture of sanctimonious mass destruction, through weapons that maim and kill with no risk to those using them.
What underlies such collective wickedness? I fear that behind all this lies what the Indian philosopher Nirmal Verma described as the relentless ‘othering’ the West engages in, seeing what it fears as ‘an inalienable entity external to oneself, which was both a source of terror and an object of desire’ (India and Europe: Some Reflections on the Self and the Other’, Nirmal Verma, 1993)
Ironically, terrorists themselves do not fall into this category for they are not seen as necessarily other, necessarily a threat. Because they do not present a challenge in conventional terms, they can always be absorbed into one’s own programme, as the Taleban were in Afghanistan, as Thaci was in Kosovo (with the well meaning dummy Finn Matti Ahtisaari rewarding him with a separate state, contrary to solemn obligations given to the country of which it was a part when they agreed to such arbitration), as the Libyans and Syrians willing to sodomize their countries were in pursuit of the Western determination to get rid of Gaddafi and Assad. In the end such terrorists, because the West continues to believe they can be managed (as is the case with Kosovo, with the continuation of drug dealing comparatively less of a threat than fundamentalist excesses), are less worrying to Western hegemony than the Russians or the Chinese.
In Sri Lanka, as David Milliband confessed, domestic political considerations led him to support the Tigers, notwithstanding their terrorist activity. Of course he paid lip service to denouncing terrorism, but he did nothing to stop funds going to promote terrorism. There was no question of him trying to save Sri Lankan lives by deploying the draconian measures in place to stop funding for Islamic terrorism.
And then, when President Rajapaksa, having conquered the Tigers, found the West recalcitrant and turned to China to fund his development programme, all hell broke lose. The Western press went to town about how we had become a part of the Chinese string of pearls strategy, with no mention for instance of the fact that we had initially asked the Indians to develop the Hambantota port, and turned to the Chinese when the Indians declined.
Later an Indian diplomat told me that perhaps they had made a mistake, but the fact is that India necessarily works slowly, whereas China can take quick decisions. But all this was grist to the Western mill, which for instance claimed that we had won a vote in Geneva – when our brilliant Representative to the UN, Dayan Jayatilleka, crafted a strategy which routed the European attempt to put us in the dock after we had overcome the Tigers – because of support from China and Russia and Iran and other hate figures to the west. They ignored the fact that we received solid support from India and Pakistan and Brazil and South Africa and indeed almost all countries not in Western pockets.
Ironically, though we now have a government that seems to think subservience to the West is the road to salvation, its leading lights have had to forget the insults they engaged in with regard to China, and have declared that they will continue to need Chinese money for development projects. The West, which also has to rely on Chinese money given its incapacity to control spending (or rather unwillingness, since it is defence budgets that fund weapons of mass destruction that contribute most to mass deficits) sees nothing wrong in economic dependence on China provided political decisions are subject to Western supervision.
Now I do not for a moment believe that Chinese support is altruistic, and I have no doubt that funds we or anyone else gets from China have to be returned with interest. But the same is true of Western aid, and that aid is generally much less productive. As a British friend told me in Cambodia, as an Ethiopian driver told me in that country, the development projects the Chinese fund have concrete outcomes, whereas the capacity building the West funds often leads nowhere, with much of the funding often going back to Western experts.
Rajapaksa did use Chinese aid productively, and the development of infrastructure in Sri Lanka after the war ended was phenomenal. But he did not do enough about human resources development and he failed to move on a political settlement, which was an urgency. It would also have been relatively easy, given that he could have worked with Tamil moderates who had been for so long under the thumb of the LTTE.
But in making the fatal mistake of calling early Presidential elections soon after the conclusion of the war, he allowed for polarization that in the long run prevented progress. The Americans, and the British (to the surprise of the more balanced Europeans, who told me they could not understand what the lead Westerners were up to) supported the former army commander as a Presidential candidate against Rajapaksa. Given that General Fonseka had a reputation as a racist, and had been the toughest in terms of military strategy, it was obvious that there was no commitment to human rights or reconciliation on the part of the Anglo-Saxon opportunists. Worse, they persuaded the leading Tamil political party to support him too, which made it difficult for Rajapaksa to trust them.
I still recall telling him that a few concessions would ease his way, but he told me sadly that, whatever he did, the West would continue to hate him. I think he was wrong not to make an effort, and to work together with more positive forces, including two successive UNDP representatives, and other diplomats, including the Indians and the Australians, but his diffidence is understandable. And because he felt threatened, he moved closer to those racist elements in his government who stood by him against Fonseka, and no longer took seriously the moderate elements in his party and his coalition who would have been happy to promote a fair political settlement.
Rajapaksa then lost the second election he called prematurely, early in 2015. He was defeated by his Minister of Health, one of the moderates in his party whom Rajapaksa had sidelined. But since few others supported President Sirisena, as he now is, he was beholden to the main opposition party which had fought tooth and nail against the Rajapaksa campaign against the terrorists. Several leading lights in the government then believe that Rajapaksa and the armed forces did terrible things during the war and deserve punishment, though the Foreign Minister was gracious enough to say that the terrible things the army had done were under orders and it was the politicians who should be punished, not the soldiery. Clearly he had no idea what had happened at Nuremberg, or perhaps he did not care.
Conversely the President of course has to stand by his solid adherence to the Rajapaksa government during the war period, and is opposed to the witch hunt the West wants. He seems to be supported in this by Sarath Fonseka who is now a Minister, having been brought into Parliament through a procedure that has been challenged in the courts, after he and his party received almost no votes at the last General Election.
How the hunt for Sri Lanka will conclude then is anyone’s guess. But it is tragic that, as the impact of terrorism increases all over the world, the West continues to play games with no understanding either of principles or the practicalities of the world as it has developed since the emergence of what Clinton and Bush and Obama all saw and continue to see as a unipolar world. As a former Secretary General of the UN put it, when you think you are the only elephant in the room, you behave very strangely. And of course you lose sight of the woods as you concentrate on each tree that provides the most tasty morsels for the moment.