By Rajiva Wijesinha –
Dayan’s point then was that Lalith too was part of the group around Gotabaya Rajapaksa, that had decided after the 2010 election that the President should not make too many concessions with regard to a political settlement. This did not mean Lalith would set himself up consciously against the President, as even Gotabaya was to do with regard to the issues noted above. When he was ordered to move, he did so, as when he produced swiftly an Action Plan for the LLRC Recommendations, which Mohan had held up, presumably again on Gotabaya’s instructions. But he did not see any need to embark on any initiatives on his own that would take forward the commitments the President had made with regard to devolution or accountability.
And on occasion he went even further than Gotabaya in putting forward a mindset that seemed at odds with the official position of the government. Thus, at the launch of a book called ‘Gota’s War’, which suggested the primary responsibility of the Secretary of Defence for the victory against the Tigers, Lalith launched into a vast attack on India for its part in strengthening the Tigers during the eighties. And just before the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva in 2014, having been sent to lobby in the West, Lalith attacked what he termed the excesses of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in the eighties, and claimed that, were investigations of abuse in Sri Lanka to proceed, the IPKF atrocities too should be gone into.
Our High Commissioner in Delhi, the normally placid career diplomat Prasad Kariyawasam, complained sadly about what seemed an unnecessary alienation of India at a crucial time. He did not tell me who was responsible, but Indian officials were more forthright. When they brought up the question of criticism of the IPKF which had come to Sri Lanka at the request of the Sri Lankan government, and fought against the Tigers, they met the excuse I made, that there were extremists in the government who did not represent the views of the President, with the information that the assertion had been made by the President’s own Secretary.
If Lalith thought that this was a way of pressurizing India to oppose any resolution that referred to War Crimes, he obviously had no idea of the way international relations worked. But I cannot believe that he had so crude a view of the world. Rather it would seem that, like those in the Ministry of External Affairs who still resented the Indian intervention of the eighties, he thought that old Cold War Games could still be played, and we should affirm our commitment to the West by indicating how different we were to the Indians.
The obvious counter to that position was the fact that the United States was now assiduously courting India, so criticizing what India had done in the eighties would cut no ice. But perhaps, though I find this difficult to believe of Lalith himself, those who convinced him to make his denunciation had a more subtle goal, which was to place Sri Lanka precisely where the Jayewardene government had wanted it, as the loyal ally of the West against an India that saw itself as leader of an alternative international alliance. After all, when the usefulness of India as an ally against an increasingly powerful China ceased, the West would not be happy with an economic giant that could become a rival. Encouraging fissiparous tendencies within India would be a simple solution to such a danger, and for that purpose a complaisant Sri Lanka would prove invaluable.
In that regard, Lalith’s world view was not in line with that of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, which had been internationalist in terms of its allegiance to the Non-Aligned Movement, and India’s leadership therein. Though Lalith had cut his teeth as a Civil Servant in Mrs Bandaranaike’s government, where indeed he had palled up with Palitha Kohona, he had come to maturity in working in Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Youth Ministry during the unrestrainedly West-leaning days of the Jayewardene government. Though the commitment he developed then to private sector primacy in economic activity was heartening when the extreme nationalists of the government were pressing for isolationism, he also developed commitments to colleagues which put him at odds with the SLFP and Rajapaksa commitment to national sovereignty.
I experienced this when, as Head of the Peace Secretariat, I had to deal with efforts by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies to make Sri Lanka a guinea pig for the newly emerging doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect. I had got involved in the problem initially because friends who worked for ICES found themselves at odds with its Director, Rama Mani, who had run the resources of the institution into the ground. I became particularly suspicious however when the Canadian High Commissioner practically blackmailed one of those questioning Rama Mani, which suggested a much greater involvement with the lady than seemed healthy.
ICES had been set up in the eighties by a group that was essentially positive about the Jayewardene government. The leading light was Jayewardene’s biographer, Prof Kingsley de Silva, but more important for international acceptance was Neelan Tiruchelvam, son of a former Federal Party Cabinet Minister who became a leading light of the Tamil United Liberation Front, in which the FP was the leading partner. Tiruchelvam however was always deeply critical of terrorism and the Tigers, but he too, like several of his senior colleagues, was killed by the Tigers. This was in 1999, and after that the leadership of the TULF had to be servile to the Tigers, to the extent even of ratifying their claim to be the sole representatives of the Tamil people.
Neelan’s protégé at the time of the establishment of ICES was Radhika Coomaraswamy, with whom, apart from being family friends, I had had some contact when she was in the legal division of the Marga Institute. This was the first think tank in Sri Lanka, headed by the respected former Civil Servant Godfrey Gunatilleke. Marga however had had to restrict its operations when Lalith Athulathmudali, who was to become Jayewardene’s Minister of National Security, and the leading hawk in government – also with a penchant for Israel – began to look into its articles of association.
Radhika left Marga around the time its wings were clipped, and helped Neelan to set up ICES. To my astonishment, however, ICES refrained from looking into problems in Sri Lanka. Radhika explained to me when I asked that it had been permitted to operate in Sri Lanka only if it accepted this restriction, which I felt was an imposition they should not have accepted. In 1983 however, after the July riots, Radhika realized herself that this was not a tenable position, and she allowed Dayan Jayatilleka to establish what was termed the Committee for Rational Development that used ICES resources to produce a useful analysis of what had happened.