I got an opportunity to watch an interview of Dr. Rohan Gunaratne, an expert on international terrorism, telecast over Sri Lanka Rupavahini on 8th September 2013. I have seen him before when he disseminated his experiences and views. Strategical studies on conflict resolutions, especially on war ridden countries as well as regions have triggered this subject to be important subject in the world. This is now being taught as a subject in certain universities too. After a one and half score prolonged brutal terrorism, our nation expected a speedy healing process to soothen, not only the physical human bodies but also the minds of our people. Although our constitution does not give a definition for a nation, we are civilized enough to understand it as all the people living in the country without any difference based on race, creed, language, religion, sex etc.
Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka have a long history of habitation on this soil. Muslims migrated here as professional traders and live for generations. Our history is absolutely clear about harmonized lifestyle of Sri Lankans with an ameliorated cultural values and norms. The fact that the colonial rulers adopted various ruses to disintegrate the ethnic unity among our people was not a matter of surprise as that type of conduct was an integral part of imperialism in every part of the world. But the sad part of it is the fact that even after passing a substantial period and after snatching the link between British Emperor and us, still we are in the same pit-fall as was during the period of colony.
Even after independence, those who were on the saddle of political power could not drive the nation towards unity within diversity, which is the idealistic goal to achieve in any democracy, if it is expected to prosper as a nation.
No doubt that we shudder to think about the ordeal of horrendous and gruesome war that prevailed over here. There are enough post-mortems that have been held including United Nations’ Expert Panel Report (Darusman’s One) in the international level and Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee Report (LLRC) in the local level. There are certain strategic plans proposed by the government as well as recommendations and requests by international agencies. We also know that Tamil Diaspora also playing a vibrant role in between.
The government is also making an attempt to develop the Northern and the Eastern Provinces with priority basis and introduced “Nagenahira Navodaya” and “Uthuru Wasanthaya” which are not legally or statutorily made up arms. Certain activities were carried on with the whims and fancies of Basil Rajapaksa in ad hoc basis as there was no strategic mechanism created for such development. Basil was neither a representative of North and East nor a representative of Tamils. His only qualification was his brotherhood with the President. Will it be acceptable as a good tradition or a precedent to Tamils in North and East?
Amidst all those ongoing things which are mixed with pros and cons the rulers need advice of experts and people also need to know the basis for decisions and activities of the government. Dr. Gunaratne’s interview initially pretended that he was going to talk about indentified failings and frailties of the government in the peace building process and taking meaningful actions to prevent any re-emergence or resurrection of extremism in the North and East which will finally end up in a bloody terrorists war in its normal course of activities. But those spectators with intuition including myself certainly knew that it cannot happen. The great enthusiasm of Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation to telecast it with such prominence, itself was sufficient to come to that conclusion. I am not prejudiced at all on such matters in expressing my view. I also can humbly state that I am not influenced by ethnic hatred or party based political ideologies, when it comes to national issues such as these. Similarly I also believe that any intellect with patriotic feeling also should brook no nonsense on matters of national interests.
Dr. Gunaratne expressed some factually important matters in his interview while there appeared to be very notable and serious lacunas as well as self contradictory matters which are seriously contentious.
Although he insisted the importance of combating terrorism, he did not address on the cause for the emergence of terrorism. Terrorism is not a cause, it is only a symptom. Defeating terrorism through military forces is a removal of symptoms through pain killers. If one wants to eliminate the illness he has to give antibiotics to permanently remove the cause for illness. Similarly, any country which defeated terrorism has resorted to political solutions to remove communal distrust and to re-build the nation. This government also in principle accepted that procedure as it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with United Nations on 23.05.2009, made representations to United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva and by the President’s address in the Parliament in May, 2009 etc;.
Dr. Gunaratne spoke about the importance of diplomatic relations, but failed to explain that we are having the weakest diplomatic corps nowadays. Vast majority in the diplomatic corps are not either from Foreign Service nor trained in that service. The majority of them are retired military officers, politicians rejected by people in elections, relatives and those who live in respective countries while supporting Sri Lankan political leaders in power. Most of the people in the last category are citizens in overseas countries. Some of the Sri Lankan ambassadors are not even citizens of this country. How could one expect that those people have interests in Sri Lanka over the countries of which they are either citizens or hold permanent resident visas. One time even our permanent representative to the United Nations was not a full citizen of Sri Lanka. Why did you omit talking on such an important matter which could easily call historical historical blunders.
Dr. Gunaratne also said that it is important for us to establish a strong relations with Tamil Nadu than New Delhi including the people those who support for a separate Ealam state in the North and the East. He mentioned the names of Vaiko and Nedumaran too. While the government opposed the idea of Tamil National Alliance having direct foreign relations to develop their region, how can he argue Sri Lanka must maintain either stronger or by passing relations with Tamil Nadu?. It is within the knowledge of any mediocre that India has a strong foreign policy and a foreign service. Further, their intelligence service is second to none. Even his mere expression, itself may have caused India to have more vigilance on Sri Lanka. If anyone thinks that Indian Central Government would permit Sri Lanka to have such relations with Tamil Nadu, it is more mythical than realistic.
Dr. Gunaratne said that he is highly impressed about the speedy development in the one-time war ridden zone, and it was amazing. He expressed that, as if the development had been the most concerned issue by the people in the North and the East. If the theory that he believes is correct, there will be a landslide victory for the government in the forthcoming provincial council elections in North. All of us will abide the answer to this question by the people on 21st September. But I dare say his idea is again mythical. We must be able to separate facts from fallacies, fictions from realities. Ethnic issues are too sensitive to be left in the hand of politicians alone as political leaders are tempted to act towards political expediencies and personal gains. If intellects do not contribute to it either directly or indirectly, confusion may be worsely confounded.
When the commentator asked whether it is fair to have one military person present per every eleven residents in the Northern Province, Dr. Gunaratne was pathetically evasive and said their presence is needed for development. He said an en example that saw a soldier constructing a le votary for an ex-LTTE terrorist. That answer could lead to make us a laughing stock in the international sphere. Development is not a task of military people.
With all that, it is incumbent to ask from Dr. Gunaratne the following questions;
Is it his position that the only problem faced by Tamils in the North and the East is lack of development? Isn’t there a more serious problem about their dignity above the issues of development?
If those regions are developed, can you assure that there won’t be a threat of terrorism or separatism?
Is it his position that a threat of separatism and or terrorism could be resolved only through military suppression and not otherwise?
Does he say that there is no any issue involved regarding their dignity in the root cause for their struggle?
As I understood that there was no in-depth matter or wisdom in the substance of his argument. I also felt sorry for the fact that he had been hired to talk to create a public opinion in the above stated lines, especially at an eve of provincial council elections scheduled to be held in few days time, in which the decisive point of view is the view of Tamils in the North.
It is hard to believe that Dr. Gunaratne had forgotten the core issue in relation to bungling of foreign Policies. As we are aware now Sri Lankan Foreign debt has exceeded Rupees Seven Billion in an unprecedented manner. The major portion of it are the loans from China including the commercial rate interest loans. The Government has already surrendered too much of authority to China as far as commercial hubs are concerned.E.g. Hambanthota Port, Airport, Colombo South Jetty etc;. It is a significant reason for India to be distanced from us. That diplomatic void reached to it’s peak in Geneva in last March and India voted against us in the resolution moved by USA. Sri Lanka getting closer to China and Pakistan, more specifically on military pacts and involvement, we have paved way for India and USA to get closer. Even though Dr . Gunaratne pretended that he knows nothing of it, we know for certain that if we exceed our limits, India will make sure to affect the necessary changes here internally as was done in the past. Any decision of the Government to tie up with any power in the world will be defeated by India either by hook or crook. It is a bounden duty cast upon all of us to call humbug politicians, not to expose the nation to potential danger by trying to hoodwink the innocent people of the country for the sake of their political victory or survivals.
The tragedy descended upon our nation is unfortunately the leaders in both Sinhala and Tamil communities have failed to understand precious commonalties and inter-religious respect for Buddhism and Hinduism. Instead they spread hatred, malice and anger among communities on lingual and religious basis, for sheer political expediency. As a result whenever we march forward ten feet, we have been dragged back eight feet. The existing political culture is a bane for this country. People must unite under one umbrella as Sri Lankans, not as Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burgers or Malay. Not as Buddhist, Hindus, Christians or Islamists. If there is a proper leadership in the country, who has feelings for each and every citizen and that the government is the protector for all, in an equal standard, no community will make attempts to separate, instead will plead to be in one flock and in unity. Mere claims by leaders on political platforms that they are protectors of all communities are discarded and despicable slogans of our wily and unruly political leaders. Anybody can become a leader like nobody is becoming somebody. What our people have failed to understand is that although anybody can become a leader (as popularity is the only criterion) every leader cannot be a statesman.
Let the wiser counsel prevail!
*Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe,President’s Counsel, Member of Parliament