I was away during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister and, with internet limited in Turkmenistan, could not follow what happened nor what was said. But enough came through to remind me of what happened 30 years ago, at the time of the Indo-Lankan Accord.

The recently founded Liberal Party found itself in a unique position on that occasion, since we welcomed the Accord but regretted three elements in it. One was the proposed merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, which we predicted would prove divisive. That regret is not my subject here, but it may be worth noting that, in addition to the practical problems we saw, we bewailed the fact that the whole concept of devolution was being perverted.

We had long promoted devolution on the grounds that government should be closer to the people. That is why we would have preferred District Councils, and why even recently we extolled the virtues of Divisional Secretariats for practical support to the people, given that Provincial Councils cannot now be abolished. In passing, I should note that the failure of the President to push through the commitment in his manifesto about Divisional Secretariats is another example of the sidelining of the structural changes this country so badly needs.

In 1987, President Jayewardene squandered the opportunity to streamline administration and, by proposing a merger, promoted the idea that devolution was about ethnic enclaves. That was a sure recipe for further dissension. Indeed what happened in the world afterwards has proved that. In the early eighties one could think of Federalism as a mechanism to bind different parts of a country closer together while allowing independent initiatives based on local needs (as with for instance the United States or Germany), But now it is seen as a precursor to separation, as has happened in the former Soviet Union or Yugoslavia – and which is why India needs to be careful, not least with regard to one of the largest of its component states to still remain undivided.

But all that is another story. More relevant here is another of our caveats about the 1987 Accord, namely the elements in the Annexures which placed Sri Lanka firmly under Indian suzerainty. We had previously argued that the adventurism of the Jayewardene government with regard to India was potentially disastrous, and the manner in which India responded – which included strong condemnation using Argentina at the then equivalent in Geneva of the Human Rights Council – ensured our subjugation.

The Liberal Party had no quarrel at all with the actual restraints put upon Sri Lanka, for Jayewardene’s games with Trincomalee (including leasing the oil tanks to a Singapore based company, having cancelled the tender which an Indian company had won on good grounds), and the setting up of a Voice of America station at Iranawila, were unnecessary provocations. Given the then unremitting hostility of America to India, seen as a Soviet ally – and hence fair game for the terrorists being trained in Pakistan to attack not just the Soviets in Afghanistan – our getting involved in this latest version of the Great Game was idiotic.

But though we accepted that Jayewardene had to be reined in, we regretted in our statement that we should have accepted in writing a subservient position. That was unnecessarily demeaning for a sovereign nation, and tragic given the manner in which Sri Lanka, largely because of the principled foreign policy initiatives of the Bandaranaikes, had previously punched above its weight internationally.

Fortunately for us, India behaved graciously after the humiliation Jayewardene had asked for, and defended us manfully against the Tigers. They put up too with the pitiful dealings with the Tigers of the last Wickremesinghe government, though I think they were relieved when Chandrika took over again – though their then ambassador Nirupan Sen told me that he had advised Ranil to compromise with Chandrika, advice that Ranil typically resisted, resulting in 12 years in the wilderness (following his 7 previous years when he allowed Wijetunge to run riot, being more concerned then with the threat presented to his own position by Gamini Dissanayake).

India also helped the Rajapaksa government to deal with the Tigers, though assistance in those years had to be more circumspect, given internal problems. It was tragic then that the Rajapaksa government squandered Indian goodwill in the aftermath of the war. How this happened needs careful investigation, and I am sorry that my efforts to explore the matter way back in 2012 were stymied, because of the insidious manner in which the President was pushed in those days into getting rid of his best diplomats. And saddest of all, as the Joint Secretary for this region told me, was our failure to respond to the letter sent by the Indian Prime Minister before India took the momentous decision to vote against us that March.

But after that, and the hostility that culminated in regime change in Sri Lanka, to the joy ironically of both the United States and India, this government has now managed to reduce the country to subservience to everyone. It began by engaging in gratuitous insults to China, thus in effect happily bending its head under the yoke. Then it realized that China was vital since no one else had any money to help us. It therefore made amends for its treatment of China by handing over Hambantota on a platter.

Then panic set in, and it thought to compensate by doing the same with regard to India and Trincomalee. I was reminded then of Jayewardene’s desperate attempts to flog Trincomalee to the Americans, blithely oblivious of the fact that they wanted something much more reliable, for which purpose they drove its inhabitants from Diego Garcia and set up base there. True, in those last heady days in which radio transmissions from nearby lands were a necessity for propaganda work, they had asked for Iranawila, but I suspect the Trincomalee deal was more Jayewardene trying to prove his loyalty rather than a strategic need.

So too now one has the impression that Ranil is desperately trying to get rid of all the family silver to keep his potential allies happy whereas, since they do not need him as much as he needs them, they will give us nothing substantial in return. And though there are brave efforts by some elements in the Cabinet to get at least some return of value for what we are giving up, I suspect that those in charge who care nothing for the Sri Lankan people will in the end succeed in ensuring that the Sri Lankan people have no future.

I suspect nothing can be done to arrest this particular March of Folly, given that we are following the same path though with different pipers – the irony being that we are actually paying the pipers and suggesting the tunes that they might call. But if at some stage we recover, we should think of guidelines for Sri Lankan foreign policy in the future. These need not be new, since the practices followed by the Bandaranaikes, and in particular Mrs Bandaranaike, are sensible enough. Maithripala Sirisena seemed to understand this when he prepared his manifesto way back in 2014. But as my annotations from extracts of the ‘International Relations’ show, his chosen instruments have perverted both his principles and the nation’s future –

  1. International relations that defend the country

All political appointments and appointment of relatives attached to the Foreign Service will be annulledRanil’s cousin Amari Wijewardnena being sent as High Commissioner to London is the most obvious example of the frivolity with which this declaration was treated, while the less said about the geriatrics sent to Paris and Rome the better

  • The country’s foreign policy will be formulated to reflect the government’s national perspectives – far from there being any formulation of policy, we are blundering on with contrary pronouncements from different elements in government.
  • Cordial relations will be strengthened with India, China, Pakistan and Japan, the principal countries of Asia, while improving friendly relations with emerging Asian nations such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Korea without differences – China and Pakistan are insulted at will, and then we grovel
  • Our Indian policy will take into due consideration the diversity of India. I would act to have closer relations with an attitude that would be neither anti-Indian nor dependent – Prof Sudharshan Seneviratne was summarily dismissed and his initiatives to develop good relationships with different states were ignored. In fact his paper on the subject was suppressed in the Foreign Ministry and no effort was made to discuss how to move forward in this regard.
  • I will allow no international power to ill-treat or touch a single citizen of this country on account of the campaign to defeat terrorism – but Mangala is busily trying to hand them over to judgment, and indeed has sent to Geneva Gihan Indragupta and his wife Dharisha Bastians who were determined to hang Sri Lanka from the start. Indragupta indeed wrote a scathing attack of our war efforts in November 2006, and I suspect he was already in the Foreign Ministry at this time but the panjandrums there did not seem to have taken any action about this
  • I will take steps to investigate and take legal action over contracts, advisory services and other facilities given to various private institutions and persons by the Foreign Ministry and the Central Bank – Mangala defended Kshenuka over the contract given to a company with Tiger connections, and is buying time with regard to his vicious allegations against Tamara Kunanayakam who stood firm against the Tigers at all times

 

I should note that at present we do have a couple of capable professionals in Delhi, and also the excellent Mr Krishnamoorthy in Chennai – the latter it should be noted was doing a great job there, but his advice was ignored and he was summarily transferred, a reminder of how foolishly the last government dealt with India. But there are no clear policy guidelines, and there has been no effort to build on the foundations Prof Seneviratne laid – while his excellent contacts with the BJP hierarchy were not pursued.

It is clear the President is desperate for a change. But if he does not gather up thecourage to act soon, his legacy will be worse than that of either of his predecessors. And while Mahinda Rajapaksa at least won the war and rid the country of the terrorism it had suffered for decades, present policies seem designed to promote further divisiveness.

Ceylon Today 23 May 2017  – http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=21585

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