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qrcode.30291555Many who supported Maithripala Sirisena during the last presidential campaign felt that handling of foreign relations by the previous government had been inept. In particular, it seemed that relations with India had deteriorated, sadly so given how solidly India had supported us during our war against terror. Though the then president seemed positive about India, those around him seemed to sidestep any commitments he made, while there was clear evidence of an active effort to destabilize relations.

This happened when he was almost persuaded to cancel a meeting with the leader of an Indian parliamentary delegation, Sushma Swaraj, now India’s foreign minister. That disaster was averted but the anti-indian lobby in the foreign ministry managed in the media to blame India for the debacle that had occurred in Geneva. A resolution critical of Sri Lanka, introduced by the West, had passed, with India voting in favour. But we were told that we should now go back to our traditional foreign policy of friendship with the West, since others were unreliable.

This policy was not at all traditional and only dates back to the aberrations of the eighties, when then president J.R. Jayewardene became an enthusiastic Cold Warrior and thought his alliance with the West was secure enough to withstand Indian displeasure. He even tried to invoke the 1947 Defence Treaty with Britain – and I am told Mrs Thatcher, whom he supported over the Falklands, was inclined to agree – but the British Foreign Office refused.
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The relationship between the two themes I have been looking at in this series came home to me vividly when I read an article by my old friend Tissa Jayatilaka about the current situation. He too was once a leading member of the Liberal Party, though he left the Party even earlier than Dr Saravanamuttu, when he thought the party was being led, as he memorably put it, by its ‘Light Brigade’. He was referring I believe to the decision to work with President Premadasa, though in fact that was principally the decision of our Founder Chanaka Amaratunga.

Before that Tissa had been fully on board with the general ideas of the Party, so it was surprising to find him now praising the diplomatic failures of the Jayewardene government, which led up to the Indian intervention of 1987. He seems to have forgotten the manner in which the Indians ensured that the then Human Rights Committee in Geneva expressed itself forcefully against Sri Lanka. They were helped in this by Jayewardene’s support of Margaret Thatcher during the Falklands War, which he assumed would set the seal on his position in the Western Alliance, the then equivalent of the Coalition of the Willing that has decimated Iraq.

The Americans, sensibly enough, did not however back us to the hilt. I am told that, when Jayewardene asked whether that they would stand with us against India, the then special envoy – I have the name Richard Boucher in my head, but I am not sure that he was prominent then – sidestepped the question and said that he advised us to maintain good relations with India.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2019
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