Colombo Telegraph

Avurudu Thoughts: An Unprecedented Situation

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

In a splendidly timed gift for Sinhala and Tamil New Year, Ed Miliband, the head of the British Labour Party, the Leader of the Opposition and a possible Prime Minister of the UK after the general election this year, pledged to “push’ for an international inquiry into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. He did so in what he chose to call a “Tamil New Year” message.

“I want to wish everyone in the Tamil community a Happy New Year…The Labour Party has always been a friend of the Tamil community and will continue to be so. And we will continue to push for the full and independent, international investigation into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. It is something I raised with President Sirisena when I met him. We will continue to push this forward and continue to advocate for your cause.

We, in the Labour Party, know our responsibility to the Tamil community. So let me reiterate my wishes for a Happy New Year and I look forward to working with the Tamil community, in the months and years ahead.” (We Will Continue To Push For Full & Independent Inquiry On Sri Lanka’s War Crimes: Ed Miliband, Tamil New Year video message 2015, Colombo Telegraph April 14, 2015)

Ed Miliband claims that he raised the issue with President Sirisena. Thanks for letting us in on that Ed; we didn’t know until now. We do not know what President Sirisena said in response. We do know what President Rajapaksa told Ed Miliband’s brother David, when the Foreign Secretary visited Sri Lanka in April 2009 together with his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner and demanded an end to the military offensive: “Mr. Miliband, we are no longer a British colony and we haven’t been one since 1948.” That was another leader, another time—almost another age– and Sri Lanka was another country.

So, despite Mahinda Rajapaksa’s electoral defeat and Maithripala Sirisena’s (and Ranil Wickremesinghe’s) incumbency, Ed Miliband and the Labour Party think it necessary to state that they “will continue to push for the full and independent, international investigation into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka”, and reiterate in the same text that they will “…continue to push forward”. This clearly proves that the primary problem isn’t and wasn’t Mahinda Rajapaksa and the solution isn’t Maithripala Sirisena. The problem is the Sri Lankan victory over the Tigers, the bitter hatred that the Tamil Diaspora bears about the defeat of separatist fascism, and the weight of Tamil Diaspora votes in crucial Western societies/states.

This problem will not go away with a foreign policy of appeasement such as that practiced by Ranil-Mangala-CBK, but by a Realist strategy which twins multipolar balancing and countervailing coalition-building. This ‘Kadirgamar paradigm’ was successfully applied by us in Geneva 2007-2009, grotesquely messed up by the Rajapaksa administration in its second term, and the new government has abandoned it entirely in favor of the supine posture of a doormat.

A few weeks ago, the Bharathiya Janatha Party held its annual sessions in Bangalore, and in its resolution on foreign policy, commended Prime Minister Modi for being the first Indian PM to visit Jaffna, for his statement that Sri Lanka should go beyond the 13th amendment and for his commendation of federalism. Such publicly prescriptive behavior is hardly evidence of even-handedness or good neighborly conduct.

‘India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in a resolution passed on India’s foreign policy, at its ongoing two-day national executive meeting in Bengaluru… said …Modi became “the first Prime Minister of Bharat to visit Jaffna…He invoked his idea of cooperative federalism and stressed upon the 13th Amendment and beyond.” (IANS news agency)

Meanwhile US Asst. Secretary for Labour and Human Rights Tom Malinowski squatted on his haunches on the Mullaitivu beach and laid a wreath as a token of the US’ mourning for victims of all communities who died in the war. Since only a few of us were born yesterday, the symbolism was not lost—and certainly not on the Tamil diaspora nationalist websites.

In the face of such blatant external tilting by the US-UK and our gargantuan neighbor, to one community on this island, who is there to speak for the majority community? Certainly not our new government which didn’t prevent, advise against or gently but clearly respond to such behavior. If one thing is more certain than any other, it is that Sri Lanka would have not been treated this way, like a doormat, if Mahinda Rajapaksa were at the helm of affairs. While our elite is happy at being the poodle of those who talk down to us, what we seem to have lost is our collective self-respect; our erect spine.

Meanwhile former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has just tossed her hat into the US Presidential ring. A ‘Wikileaked’ cable from her as US Secretary of State, dated May 4th 2009, proves that she was “leading from behind” when the UK-led EU moved a resolution against Sri Lanka in Geneva. She instructed the US Mission in Geneva actively support and assist a resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN HRC Special Sessions in 2009.

“Mission Geneva is requested to convey to the Czech Republic and other like-minded members of the HRC that the USG supports a special session on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and related aspects of the humanitarian situation. Mission is further requested to provide assistance, as needed, to the Czech Republic in obtaining others, signatures to support holding this session…Mission is also instructed to engage with HRC members to negotiate a resolution as an outcome of this special session, if held. Department believes a special session that does not result in a resolution would be hailed as a victory by the Government of Sri Lanka. Instructions for line edits to the resolution will be provided by Department upon review of a draft.” [Cable dated 4th May 2009 from Secretary of State (United States)]

It was this resolution, endorsed, assisted and urged by Hillary Clinton as US Secretary of State which we pre-emptively defeated with one of our own, which obtained almost a two thirds vote in May 2009 at the UNHRC in Geneva.

If Hillary Clinton wins next year, we can well imagine what her position on Sri Lanka will be, and just how delighted the US based Tamil Eelam lobbyists would be.

How could it conceivably accord with our national interest, that our new government has taken its distance from our staunchest and strongest friend, China, while we are being talked down to by the West and our neighbor, who are openly tilting to the Tamil minority?

While the West and India are indicating their preferential option for the Tamil minority, the new Government in Sri Lanka has entrusted the complex, sensitive task of ethnic reconciliation precisely to a personality who is known to be close to the West and India, and who didn’t say a word in support of our armed forces or against the Tigers during the decisive last war and chose instead to sit it out in the UK and France (with an occasional conversation with the Clintons in between). I refer of course to Madame Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

“We now have an unprecedented situation, following the 2015 January Presidential Election, in which the elected Tamil Leadership has been invited to participate in drafting constitutional reforms to be coordinated by Jayampathi Wickramaratne and in promoting national reconciliation and resolution of the ethnic problem under the guidance of Chandrika Kumaranatunga.” (Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, The Island, April 8th, 2015)

Dr. Devanesan Nesiah is right of course: we now have an unprecedented situation. But that isn’t good news for a majority of the country’s citizens.

The West, certain top UN officials and some cosmopolitan civil society voices in Sri Lanka say that there can be no reconciliation without accountability. That flies in the face of the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland which had no accountability aspect. These elements also ignore the weight of international evidence, namely that there can be no reconciliation without realism.

Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Council is NOT a State or a proto-state. Accustomed to Prabhakaran’s Tiger Raj, the Northern Provincial Council is behaving as if it is the successor; flirting with discourse that is on a continuum, filling the same political head-space and entitled to fulfill the same function. It is being unwittingly encouraged in these dangerous delusions by the imprudent signals of our foreign friends.

At least in part, the voting volcano in the North which toppled President Rajapaksa was precisely because he was NOT neglecting the area; because he was bringing road and rail links to the North; bringing capitalist modernization in; integrating the North with the rest of the country; creating a truly national market –thereby puncturing the ghetto mentality of the North.

Given the exceedingly sensitive strategic location of the Northern Provincial Council, the Tamil political elite has to be made to prove that it can be trusted to run the province with a sense of truly national (by which I mean Sri Lankan) responsibility; mindful at all times of Sri Lanka’s security needs and strategic requirements. There must be no movement “beyond the 13th amendment”, towards federalism, “cooperative” or otherwise. To even broach the possibility of ‘building upon’ the 13th amendment—not ‘going beyond’ it–the Tamil political elite must first prove—for at least a decade–that it can be trusted with the 13th amendment.

It is clear that the Ranil-Chandrika project of a so-called National Government is meant to provide the two-thirds majority to move beyond the 13th amendment and to screen the pro-Western ‘poodle elite’ from the social consequences of macro-policy framework of Diasporization, de-nationalization and re-colonization. The UNP-SLFP ‘National Government’ is meant to be a mask for an anti-national policy direction.

Post-war ethnic reconciliation requires a moderate, responsible Tamil (sub) nationalist partner who will not be high on the delusion of being a nation entitled to political space and power equal to the majority, but will fight against all forms of discrimination and for full and equal integration, on the basis of the rights—political, social and individual–that any national minority enjoys anywhere in the world. An abiding or recurrent problem in finding counterparts for peace-building, is that while Sinhala moderates, liberals and progressives are moderates, liberals and progressives first and Sinhalese later, most Tamil moderates, liberals and progressives are Tamils first, and moderates, liberals and progressives later.

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