21 April, 2024


After Geneva: Avoiding The Trap

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

“If we do not learn how to understand, we shall never learn how to survive.”

– Fidel Castro, Reflections, March 21, 2012

After Geneva, do we Sri Lankans understand? Do we know how to understand? Do we understand that understanding does not come easily or automatically; that one has to ‘learn how to understand’, as Fidel clearly indicates in his latest article entitled ‘Roads to Disaster’? This means that one’s moods, habits, prejudices, emotions, rhetoric and knee-jerk reactions cannot be mistaken for understanding.  Understanding requires knowledge and reflection. Understanding requires, above all, thinking, and thinking through. Understanding is a prerequisite not for academic disquisition, but an imperative precisely for survival itself, says Fidel, and cautions that without learning how to understand, we shall never learn how to survive.

This is most relevant for Sri Lanka today, if we are to survive as an independent state whose borders are the island’s natural ones. It is nothing less than this which is at stake, because the driving forces and chief beneficiaries of the Geneva resolution and outcome, are those in the Diaspora and closer home, whose “unfulfilled dream is Tamil Eelam”. This is a dream they hope to fulfil, not so much through a reactivation of warfare by the LTTE residue currently in exile (though that might play a secondary or catalytic role), but through the leveraging of powerful external forces against Sri Lanka.

The Geneva outcome has spawned several schools of thought. Some in the Tamil Diaspora believe it is a blow against Sri Lanka and are pleased. Some hold that it is not and are unhappy. Both are sub-categories of those who support a Tamil Eelam through international intervention.  In the mainstream of Sri Lankan politics and society, there are other schools of opinion.  Some hold that the resolution is not against Sri Lanka but solely against the regime and should therefore be supported. Some believe it is neither against the state nor the regime and therefore should be welcomed. Others believe that it is against the regime which they equate with or hold above the state and therefore oppose. Still others believe that it is against the regime but also against the state and national sovereignty, and therefore stand opposed.

If one is to understand one mustn’t lie to oneself or others, and must grasp the reality. If the resolution were not against Sri Lanka and indeed the UN Human Rights Council, there could not have been 15 states voting against. Quite apart from Russia, China and Cuba, whose opposition to the resolution may be interpreted by some to be ideological or strategic /geopolitical or both, attention must be paid to the serious objections of Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Ecuador and Bangladesh, and the strong statement of Egypt as NAM chair, earlier in this session. If as the spokespersons of the dominant faction of the UNP say, the resolution is not against and is actually in favour of Sri Lanka, how on earth do they explain the carefully argued opposition from those democracies? Surely, it can hardly be because they are hard-core fans of the Rajapaksa regime. And if it is a resolution that is supportive of Sri Lanka, how to explain the relentless drive to support it on the part of pan-Tamil and pan-Dravidian nationalists – among them self-confessed supporters of Tamil Eelam- hardly known to be friends of this country and the vast majority of its people?

The grasp of reality also requires resisting the temptation to finesse the outcome. A defeat is a defeat, and a Realist reading must recall the acerbic aside of Lenin that “some wiseacres [among our comrades] regard minus three as greater than minus two”. The victory was obtained by those who set a cleverly camouflaged trap for Sri Lanka. If we do not recognise a defeat as a defeat, we shall never prepare to avert the next one and to turn the tide so as to win once more.

What is the trap that Sri Lanka’s enemies have set for it, which we have to extricate ourselves from or watch out for? The resolution is not an end in itself; it is a scene setter. It sets the scene in which the case for external inquiry and interference can be made beyond a reasonable doubt.  However, making that case depends upon proving another one, namely, that domestic remedies are not forthcoming; that there is either no will or no capacity – or, neither will nor capacity–to fulfil even the recommendations of the domestic mechanism, the LLRC, within the time frame indicated in a UN resolution. If this case can be proved, then the case for an international inquiry is already pretty much made. If Sri Lanka refuses to cooperate, then the process will move to the next level of the escalation – or intervention—ladder. In her excellent speech in opposition to the resolution, the Ambassador/Perm Rep of the Philippines stressed her country’s abiding opposition in the UN HRC to a “trigger mechanism”, and said that the resolution seems a reincarnation of such a trigger mechanism. This ‘trigger’ is what will almost automatically operate, if we do not show transparent and tangible, i.e. actual, progress domestically on political reconciliation and accountability within a year.

Those who argue that we must be resolute and not make any moves towards reform because any such movement would seem as if we are succumbing to external pressure, have not thought things through, have not ‘learned to understand’. They do not know that such fixity only proves the case made by our unfair critics behind who stand our enemies. These elements are counting precisely on our disinclination or incapacity to reform.

It is of course a risk to activate a Constitutional provision that would almost certainly place the TNA in control of a provincial council, but the possibility that this party will use it as a stepping stone for secession is a lesser threat than failing to implement our own Constitution in the North, thereby leaving a politico-institutional vacuum which can be filled by external interventionist enterprise with a UN mandate and coercive enforcement from nearby.

The difference between Geneva 2009 and 2012, the loss of the 17 vote majority we obtained (a vertical drop), is the erosion of that most vital strategic real estate, the moral high ground. If the high ground is lost vertically, so is space, horizontally. Sri Lanka has to regain the moral high ground, in the eyes of the world, not just in our own eyes: ‘mirror, mirror on the wall’ is not a helpful methodology in external relations and regaining of lost space. An infinitely superior solution would be to recall the Buddha’s words that ‘by oneself is one defiled’ and ‘turn the searchlight inwards’.

There is only one method of regaining the high ground and that is through rapid reform. Myanmar has shown the way. No other state in recent years was under the intense international pressure that Myanmar faced, but today there is only a token of that pressure. Its current Foreign Minister, a decorated military man, was my colleague and counterpart in Geneva in 2009, and I have some modest acquaintance with his thinking. He was among those who crafted a brilliant strategic surprise, through which Myanmar broke out of the hostile international encirclement. That move pivoted on sweeping reforms, opening up, liberalisation, democratisation and normalisation; the result of which is that Myanmar is assured of successfully chairing ASEAN next year. Sri Lanka too hosts an important event as chairman next year, that of the Commonwealth Heads of Government. If however we haven’t thoroughly cleaned up our act, that occasion and the run-up to it (commencing with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association visit this September) will be used as platform and pitchfork against us.

So, where do we begin? As the saying goes, the first thing to do when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging. A national reform process is the only way to out-run international encirclement.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Let the Srilankan leaders through wisdom be enlightened to “learn how to understand’

  • 0

    Good article

  • 0

    Often quoted quotes by Sun Tzu Paksha modified to suit the present day Sri Lanka

    “You must listen to the words of Sun-Tzu Paksha. If you will not listen to the words of Sun-Tzu Paksha, one third of your army will die, one third of your army will desert you and one third of your army will sell vegetables in the market.”

    “The high ground is easier to defend, and easier to attack from. The low ground, on the other hand, is often wet and full of dengue mosquitoes.

    “When your enemy has the high ground, it’s all over, so never wage a Humanitarian war in Nepal.”

    “There is no victory unless you scream ‘maathrooboomeyaa’ bang your chest and kiss the airport tarmac.”

    “The general who heeds the words of Sun-Tzu Paksha shall be victorious. The general who does not heed the words of Sun-Tzu Paksha shall be defeated. The general who has never even heard of Sun-Tzu Paksha and just spends his time writing to groundviews about paradigm shifts and semantics shall be made Ambassador of France.”

    “To win, you must know yourself, know your enemy, know your weapons, and know how to blow those people who don’t agree with your point of view from the face of this earth.”

    “Victory cannot be achieved by writing to groundviews about paradigm shifts and semantics, unless you are fighting an enemy that gives up or simply dies outright upon being exposed to paradigm shifts and semantics on groundviews.”

    “Know what your enemies are afraid of. They will retreat, and you will destroy them without fighting any lawsuits.”

    “Know your enemy, know yourself, know your girlfriend’s ex Pradeshiya Saba husband’s abusive temperament, know his work schedule, and most importantly know the fastest way to get the hell out of there if he decides to come home early.”

    “Make war, not kola kenda.”

    “When fighting an enemy that insists on taking constant toilet breaks, take advantage of the breaks to catch up on your favourite teledramas.”

    “For one to be successful in war, one must yell ‘JAYA WAY WAA’ every time one kills an enemy”.

    “All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but there’s no way I’m letting them see my wife naked.”

    “All warfare is based on deception. Hey David Black & Decker! What’s that behind you?”

    “Enemies are bad, we are good – therefore nobody will mind if we do horrible things to them except ‘International Conspirators’ and other such people.”

    “You shall not win a war by reading The Art of War alone. You must also assemble an army, do some fighting, kill a couple of thousand enemies, call it a ‘Humanitarian Operation’ with ‘Zero Casualties’ that sort of thing.”

    “A victory is only made official by a celebration involving kiribath, kavun and fire crackers.”

    “To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the greatest skill. The greatest skill is to win one thousand victories in one thousand battles with ‘zero casualties’ and call it the asschariya rai of asia.”

    “Winning the war and losing the peace is the acme of skill.”

    • 0

      Presidunce Bean:
      Thanks for that. Your comment certainly has more sense and integrity that DJs sycophantic piffle.

      • 0

        Obama warmly you welcomes to the white house.Toe licking job!You give money to Obamah!Lick his toes.Bloody idiots!

    • 0

      Mr Bean,
      How about consulting a shrink?

  • 0

    Trap the fellows who set the trap.

  • 0

    Dayan always highlight good points to scratch our head & think hard.

  • 0

    Where do we begin – by backing/reviving the proposal of the Commonwealth Secretariat ( vetoed by the majority,at the last session of CHOGM )to appoint a Commonwealth Human Rights Commissioner.

    p.s Castro will never understand.

  • 0

    There are good lessons for everyone in this article. It is clear, forthright and hard-hitting. In the absence of brains, however, all this advice would be like water off a duck’s back or playing the veena to a deaf elephant (or bear)…

  • 0

    Yes, Dayan!
    Had we use the time and space given at the UNHCR sessions in 2009 wisely, we would not have been in this hole today. Instead of ignorance and arrogance, we need foresight and intellectual insights to analyse situations with clarity and plan our own strategies to avoid enemy traps. This is far beyond the reach of gallery pleasing- ballot seeking politicos. Those who matter may have the wisdom at least to leave these matters to those who have the capacity to handle them.
    Home work first for sure, i.e. getting our record straight- genuine and true reconciliation and commitment for human rights. Reaching out to the world comes next. That too requires knowledge and skills- to know our first, second and third circles of friends and those who matter the most, whether or not we like them. We hear about rethinking about having more and wider diplomatic missions in African and Asia. I would include Americas as well. This is some that we should have done long time ago. But we need to carefully re-think many times before cutting off from the Europe. Self seclusion is a symptom of insecurity and lack of self confidence. Diplomacy is engagement even with enemies as oppose to isolation.
    Well thought as usual Dayan!

    • 0

      Can’t disagree.Worthy reply!

  • 0

    “It is of course a risk to activate a Constitutional provision that would almost certainly place the TNA in control of a provincial council, but the possibility that this party will use it as a stepping stone for secession is a lesser threat than failing to implement our own Constitution in the North,” Lofty words indeed but hardly practicable for the reasons I’m sure Dr Dayan is aware of ,more than any of us. Present regime wouldn’t cut the ground from under its feet . This is why they will implement only “some” of the recommondations without compromising the nationalist credentials.

    • 0

      Dear Lakshan,
      Is the constitution NOW being implemented in the north?
      In what way? The north is under a military dictatership.The army intrudes into every aspect of civilian life.
      Do you expect TNA to do the same?

    • 0

      How about getting rid of the Executive presidency?Followed by abolishing of the 13th amendment,re introducing the 17th,no duty free permits,a cabinet limited to 25 etc.Hows it for a start?

  • 0

    This is typical piffle from someone who has made a good living feeding off the hind teat of a corrupt and venal regime.
    Why don’t any of you apologists of this lot deal with the primary issue which is, WERE THERE HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES COMMITTED AND, IF SO, WHO DID SO AT NANTHIKADAL (Apart from the Tigers that is). I suppose as one of the primary defenders of this government when it INSISTED that there were no civilian casualties (remember what you thought was your bravura performance at Geneva not so long ago, Dayan?), it is hard to sing from the same sheet now that even the Sri Lankan government has admitted to 8000+ dead civilians at Nanthikadal.

    But then, the Jayatilleka Gymnastics will permit of all kinds of contortions (and distortions) in order to maintain job security!

    This is not only a sycophant in full, revisionist cry, this is an intellectually bankrupt one!

  • 0

    Dr. Dayan,
    Very insightful thoughts ! Thanks for that.
    Tamils did not understand before and could not ”survive”.
    Now ,They have fully understood how to survive and go beyond.

    Burman can come out from incirclement. They have minds and will.
    Sri Lanka political body can not implement it because it can not survive. It has formed to do what it does now.

    Road to diaster is on the process it can not revive itself . It has to go disaster and to be built up from zero.

    Geneva is not starting point. It started before it. it is just part of the process.

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