In the first article of this series, this writer highlighted how the frontline male leadership has been complicit in allowing major national security lapses, letting an unprecedent tragedy happen under their watch. The first article also dwelled upon Gotabaya Rajapaksa, due to his position as a presidential hopeful, his 2010-2015 role as the holder of full oversight over national security, and his public proclamations in the aftermath of the devastating Easter Sunday tragedy. As people were mourning their loved ones, as little children who dressed up to go to mass on Easter Sunday lay dead and brutally dismembered in three churches, as the lives of many innocent citizens who had done nothing wrong were shattered, Gotabaya was quick to talk to Reuters and reiterate his preparedness to enter the forthcoming presidential race. Hence the importance of devoting attention to his claims and aspects of his work in the first article. What follows below is very much an essential ‘prelude’ to a queer feminist reading of the foreign policy and national security intersections of the current crisis.
Understanding the problem
First and foremost, what happened in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday 2019 cannot be understood as a domestic problem. When something of this nature happens in a strategically vital place in the global South, the initial, if not most popular tendency among many is to frame this as a ‘local’ problem. This is what Western media did from the 21st April 2019 onwards. This ‘local framing’ is also the preferred mantra of many in Colombo’s NGO lobby. The current situation is highly beneficial to them, as they now have the prospect of obtaining increased funding for their ‘projects’ and careerist agendas. The same goes for the so-called ‘Sri Lanka experts’ in the West – white people clueless about Sinhala and/or Tamil, who, having spent short periods ‘researching’ in Sri Lanka, getting their ‘field’ research translated with the help of someone, and subsequently getting published in English. They often assume that they are absolute experts on all things Sri Lankan. The worst reality is that the work produced by these individuals is widely considered in Western and supranational lobbies as credible knowledge. These ‘experts’ are highly reluctant to acknowledge the limits of their work, and the tremendous racial, socio-political and financial privileges they have. They perceive Sri Lankan scholars and academics only as their auxiliaries. Given these exploitative racial politics and power dynamics, a necessary national security mechanism is to enforce strict monitoring on the work of these self-serving ‘Sri Lanka experts’ in the West, as well as their local counterparts, mostly in the NGO sector and to a lesser yet non-negligible extent in the academy.
In sum, if we are to make sense of what happened on Easter Sunday 2019 and what is currently going on in Sri Lanka, we need to look beyond the desperate efforts by many people to frame these attacks as a result of a ‘local’ problem – of ethnonationalism, ethno-religious nationalism/antagonism or ethno-religious outbidding.
The key to the truth lies outside our shores.
This is a matter of Sri Lanka becoming a highly strategic pawn in an international, if not global power struggle between the united states of america, a white-settler colony on the unceded sovereign Indigenous territories of Turtle Island, and the rise of China as a key player in world affairs. Some call this the rise of ‘Eastphalia’ with special reference to the rise of India and China as world powers.
In what follows, I will focus on some aspects of the intersections of national security and foreign policy.
Why President Rajapaksa Lost
A robust national security strategy cannot be put in place without an equally robust foreign policy focus. Lapses in foreign policy were a key reason behind the international challenges faced by the Rajapaksa administration. Or, to correct that sentence along a queer feminist-political perspective, the absence of a national security strategy that clearly identified foreign policy priorities and deployed the best resources and talent to manage foreign policy, happened to be a key reason behind the majority of the problems the Rajapaksa administration [especially in the second mandate] confronted on the world stage. During the war effort, strategically useful decisions, such as the rapprochement with China, reinforcement of relations with Iran, engaging in a balancing act with Congress-led Delhi, and arms-length collaborations with US defence structures in the war effort, were all in motion.
However, the post-war scenario required a higher plane of expertise and innovation. A war that the West assumed to be unwinnable was won, something that the West considered [and still considers] to be an undue if not un-endorsed aggression by a South Asian government. Hence the continued USA-led emphasis on pushing Sri Lanka against the wall, not to mention their strong resolve to orchestrate the regime change operation of 2015.
Sino-Lanka Dynamics: a [very] brief recap
What happened in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday has a great deal to do with Sri Lanka’s position and role in China’s “One Belt-One Road” strategy. To us in Sri Lanka, this kind of global cooperation is nothing new. Sri Lanka has long-standing diplomatic, trade and cultural ties with China, and ties of kinship run very deep. Suffice to look, for instance, at the legacy of Chinese engagements in the Kingdom of Kotte. The fact that China was a key partner to us on the world stage centuries prior to that is proven by documented evidence that dates back at least to around AD 410, when Faxian [法顯] visited Lanka.
Today’s Lanka has to be, is, and must be a player in the ‘One Belt One Road’ strategy and there must be no question of that. These are ties that run deep. That exploitative practices come into play in big power-small power relations is a given. However, what is commendable about Chinese policy is that China does not have the reputation of committing brutal mass murder and national tragedies to orchestrate regime changes in order to sustain their corporate, strategic and diplomatic interests. The exception could perhaps be what came to be known as the Ming-Kotte War, in which the Chinese forces were steered by Admiral Zheng He [鄭和]. However, the scars of that confrontation were soon healed, with HM Parakramabahu the VIth, – a close ally of the Ming dynasty – strengthening economic and diplomatic ties with China. His close ties with China were such that one of his sons who went to China on a diplomatic mission married a Chinese princess and settled down there. Direct descendants of the Kotte royal lineage still live in China.
Debunking a myth
Many people tend to buy into the fiction that under the joint government, foreign policy witnessed an improvement. This argument is mostly justified on the grounds that Sri Lanka earned ‘the respect of the world’ under the Joint Government. This statement is often followed by the point that under the Samaraweera/ Karunanayake/ Marapana/ Wickremesinghe purview, Colombo ‘mended’ her relations with the ‘West’ [not to mention a President rejoicing that the Queen of England shook hands with him with her අතේ මේස් ගලවලා!].
All of the above positions are deeply flawed. Under the joint government, Sri Lankan foreign policy became a sheepish agenda with zero regard for Sri Lankan interests and the national sovereignty of the state. Here again, the failure was that of men in power, on the frontline as well as behind the scenes. Every high-level delegation to the UN HRC was highly representative of the of phallocentric politics of fragile, insecure and geriatric masculinities this writer mentioned in the first article of this series. In full and unconditional deference to the big powers that put them in office, the joint government and its delegations to Geneva carried themselves in the most despicable manner, agreeing to resolutions and covert strategies to push the Sri Lankan state against the wall. Colombo should NEVER have agreed to Resolution 31/1, and its highly coercive nature and excessive focus on sensitive matters pertaining to national security.We can therefore conclude that foreign policy under the joint government has been, unfortunately, a lot worse than under the Rajapaksa administration. When the Hambantota port was leased to China on a 99-year lease, the self-serving and incompetent bigots in power in Colombo did not work well enough to contain, if not constructively address, the concerns of Delhi and Washington DC. What happened on Easter Sunday 2019 was the ultimate result of such policy nightmares.
The Keyword: USA
Today, USS John C. Stennis is docked off Sri Lankan waters, in close proximity to one of our most strategic sea ports, the port of Trincomalee. Many observers, including MPs, have highlighted that supplies to USS John C. Stennis go via Katunayake, with zero checks of the merchandise being flown in on a U.S. Navy C-40A Clipper logistics aircraft and then re-loaded on to a C-2A Greyhound aircraft to be flown on board USS John C. Stennis.All of this has been facilitated by the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement [ACSA]. Originally signed in 2007, it expired in 2017, and when a question was raised in Parliament in June 2017, Ranil, aka ‘Yankee Dickie’s nephew’ Wickremesinghe answered “extending the agreement with the U.S. will be utmost importance given the global situation today.” To date, the draft text extension agreement has not been tabled in Parliament, or been the object of a proper parliamentary debate. Sri Lankan citizens have the right to know if it was the 2007 agreement that was extended, or if the post-2017 ACSA differs in any way from its earlier version, favouring the USA. It would also be of interest to know who signed it off on behalf of the joint government, and if the Defence Secretary did so, there is no denial that not only Wickremesinghe, but also Sirisena knew all about it.
That provisioning for USS John C. Stennis takes place under ACSA provisions is a fair explanation. However, how come our Air Force and security services have no access to thoroughly check the contents being passed through Katunayake? The US authorities have publicly stated that “No cargo, military equipment, or personnel associated with this initiative will remain in Sri Lanka after completion of the cargo transfers”. However, given the undeniable US underhand in causing an unprecedented WSD terror attack, Sri Lanka allowing unchecked US merchandise to pass through her territory can only be read as a threat to national security.
Herein lies a key cue to understanding the current ‘goings-on’ in Sri Lanka. And let’s not forget, the hotbed of Wahhabi/Salafi/Deobandi [WSD] activity on the east coast is Kattankudy, a strip of land with shores on left and right [and not too far from USS Stennis and increased US naval activity on Lankan territorial waters]. The arrival of the USA to a highly strategic global South location such as Sri Lanka in this manner can only spell disaster, manipulations of internal politics, political manoeuvring, destabilisation of governments, conspiracies to create chaos and situations of unrest. Our political class needs to be very cautious when dealing with US interests in the Indian Ocean region.
When the USA wants to make a grande entrée into a country, an initial step is creating chaos, murder and a climate of desperateness, often using a WSD terror threat narrative. This is precisely what happened on Easter Sunday 2019. The only way to avoid such destruction in future is to have far-sighted and strategically-minded leaders who can productively ‘contain’ US interests, in a way in which Sri Lankan interests are least affected, while ensuring that cordial relations prevail between Colombo and Washington DC.
Without a US underhand [which was actively endorsed by the power-wielding menfolk in Colombo based on calculations pertaining to their political interests], attacks of this magnitude would never have been possible. The USA is currently engaged – with the collusion of Sri Lankan leaders – in a mission to making the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka correspond well and truly to Donald Trump’s very uncreative image of ‘s**thole countries’. The collusion of local men in power is the most plausible explanation of their lack of empathy, surprise, shock or any feeling of grief in the face of this national tragedy [pace occasional gimmicks to score political points].
A US aggression in the making over a long time?
Over the last couple of years, several Sri Lankan [pseudo]journos have been working with their counterparts in US broadsheets such as the New York Times, to publish one article after another spewing negativity about Chinese-run development projects in Sri Lanka. This was part of a broader fearmongering effort to discredit ‘One Belt One Road’ strategy, focusing especially on many sovereign states of the African continent. In relation to Sri Lanka, these [pseudo]journos were hell-bent on highlighting the ‘futility’ of Chinese investments, negatively portraying Chinese economic activity, coming up with terms such as ‘debt diplomacy’. These ideas propagated in the media were in fact meant at echoing the Trump administration’s formal stance on its aggressive “Indo-Pacific” policy. The tragedy of Easter Sunday 2019 was caused by this “Indo-Pacific” policy of claiming ownership to other people’s land and waters (nothing to be surprised, as the USA, in truth, is a settler-colonialist state built on other people’s land, where the rightful owners of that land, especially women, continue to be subjected to high levels of violence, murder and suppression).
That the same [pseudo]journos were going around covering the Easter Sunday bloodbath and expressing great shock and sadness on social media was an extremely nauseating reality.
Writing on Colombo Telegraph on 21st October 2018, Rajeewa Jayaweera referred to a speech made by Mick Pence, accusing China of debt diplomacy. Pence, as Jayaweera rightly noted, is privy to the highest levels of decision-making on defence and strategic priorities in the US federal government. Pence, who a commentator once described as “a man who has built his career on homophobia and misogyny”, has been trying to frame China’s international development and cooperation work as a set of “unfair trade practices to enhance its [China’s] influence” at every possible opportunity he comes before a microphone and an audience. In relation to Sri Lanka, the highly strategic nature of Sri Lanka has been highlighted in State Department circles over many years. Today, their Sri Lanka policy is garnished in an anti-China sauce. This is where the root cause of the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks lie.
This anti-China discourse is central to the way in which the mediocre white males in the Trump administration perceive their place in the world. At a global US chiefs of mission conference held at the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department on 16 January 2019, Pence noted:
“The truth is, too often in recent years China has chosen a path of disregard of the laws and norms that have kept the world safe and prosperous for more than half a century and the days of the United States looking the other way are over. Perhaps most importantly, we’ve put China on notice,”
It is no surprise if this sheer arrogance, coercive and downright undiplomatic nature of the Trump administration would make one ask if the white blokes who run it are also adherents of a hue of Wahhabism! In fact they are, as the kind of Christian fundamentalist cis-heteronormative and white supremacist world they believe in is a [non]discourse that is very much a twin sister to Wahhabi inanities. This does not, however, mean that Democratic administrations, with their emphasis on LGBT+ rights and concern for minorities around the world, are better. They are at the very top of the hypocrisy spectrum.
The script so far
When people document the developments leading to the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, the general tendency is to focus exclusively on the development of local ethnonational and especially ethnoreligious tensions. While this may be useful in understanding the local dynamics, the real ‘bottom line’ of what happened on Easter Sunday 2019 is best understood in how things took shape on the foreign affairs and geostrategic fronts. The list below is incomplete, but would help put things in perspective:
1. 2014-15: Regime change drive, succeeds with the help of many stakeholders including a former Sri Lankan president, public figures and very possibly, powerful figures within the Rajapaksa administration and the Rajapaksa family who happened to be US citizens and had vested interests on US soil as well as power-political projects on Sri Lankan soil.
2. Jan 2015-present: a debilitated joint government in power – with a president who is not versed in foreign languages, foreign affairs and international diplomacy [and a bunch of advisors of the same ilk], and a Prime Minister who is extremely pro-US, un-strategic, weak and unpatriotic.
3. 2017: ACSA is extended in the form of a shady deal, with the revised clauses not being tabled in Parliament.
4. Mid-2017: Sri Lanka signs lease of Hambantota Port, to China Merchant Port Holdings, on a 99-year debt-for-equity swap. A great deal of Western media obsession over this decision, followed by displeasure in Washington DC.
5. 2017-present: Increased US presence on Sri Lankan territorial waters, especially on the East Coast, in close proximity to the highly strategic Trinco port.
2018: some Sri Lankan analysts continue to uphold the view that a US Republican administration would be more favourable to Sri Lanka than a Democratic administration. Here’s a fine example. The developments over the last two years have shown that this is a major miscalculation. The US prioritises its interests irrespective of what administration is in power, and the only way for Sri Lanka to work around that is to have leaders who understand complex geopolitics and prioritise Sri Lankan interests.
6. Early 2019-present: Supplies to USS John C. Stennis passing via Katunayake with zero checks by Lankan authorities.
7. [In tandem with all of the above] Proliferation of large quantities of arms and ammunition to the hands of WSD extremist terrorists on Sri Lankan soil.
8. 2018: US-led media campaign negatively portraying Chinese development and economic cooperation initiatives in Sri Lanka [with the active participation of Sri Lankan pseudo-journalists]
9. 2019 Easter Sunday Attacks + plot to make it look like an ISIS-led attack. From attacks on churches and luxury hotels to the unusual expressions of solidarity in Tel-Aviv, these attacks clearly carry the standard footprint of aggressive US-led state destabilisation efforts.
10. [post Easter Sunday attacks] – Terrain created to justify increased FBI and CIA presence in Sri Lanka
11. The US Ambassador in Colombo tells Reuters that “We certainly have reason to believe that the active attack group has not been fully rendered inactive. We do believe that there is active planning underway.” [How can the top diplomat of a third country make such comments? The one and only way to make sense of these words is that Teplitz – calling her an ambassador is an insult to the noble profession of diplomacy – is acutely aware of, and is on top of, what’s currently going on in Sri Lanka [her awareness seems to be a lot better than that of the two primary school boys MS and RW].
12. Retired US diplomat Robert O Blake lands in Colombo, and delivers a speech supportive of fellow US Citizen and Sri Lankan presidential hopeful Gotabaya Rajapaksa, noting that Sri Lanka needs “strong and unified political leadership”. The majority of Gotabaya the Yank’s supporters sheepishly assume that he is the only leader who can face up to coercive US involvement in Sri Lanka’s internal politics! Blake’s speech carries evidence that the Easter Sunday bombings were, first and foremost, a US-led strategy to enhance its influence over Sri Lanka, if not to make sure that Sri Lanka is kept under its control. Blake repeatedly dwells upon what he terms ‘increased military cooperation’, also referring to how difficult it was when he was ambassador in Colombo to develop such initiatives [poor Blake!]. He then calls for an increased World Bank stake in economic management. He categorically pins the Easter Sunday bombings on isis [yet another US-creation], thereby creating an initial basis for increased US military activity at all levels. Sri Lanka needs to be very wary of Blake’s advice about increased US investments in the country, which can only benefit US corporate capital interests. The US, for the record, is the primary perpetrator of global terrorism. It is crucial for all of Colombo’s NGO darlings desperate for US “aid” to be conscious of this reality. If Colombo is truly committed to national security, a first step to take is reduce US-aided NGO work to a strict minimum, while simultaneously imposing a blanket ban on Islamic banking and Saudi funding to WSD individuals and groups.
This script has been tried elsewhere
Sri Lanka is faced with the worst and most challenging national security crisis that our ancient land has ever faced in over twenty centuries of her documented history. Our island risks being completely lost to us if a firm and genuinely patriotic leadership does not take over, and steer Sri Lanka in the right direction. What happened on Easter Sunday follows a pattern. In late 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines ordered US troops to leave his country, in an effort to break a 65-year-old US military stronghold. Duterte was blunt in affirming that he will not tolerate Washington treating his country “like a doormat” and himself a “dog on a leash”. By May 2017, Wahhabi ISIS terrorists appeared in the Philippines, and destroyed the city of Marawi. This gave the USA a reason to affirm the necessity of the presence of its forces in the Philippines. US forces soon started ‘assisting’ their Filipino counterparts!Similar US-backed, Wahhabi threat has been imposed on Myanmar’s Rakhine state, a key strategic point in China’s One Belt-One Road strategy. Identical efforts to spew ethno-religious and ethnonational tensions have been in motion in Thailand, another ally of China and an important partner for One Belt-One Road. The USA is directly behind the ethnoreligious antagonisms currently brewing in Thailand. In China, the USA has been trying to accuse the Chinese authorities of islamophobia, by mushrooming a WSD-focused ISIS threat in Xinjiang. Easter Sunday 2019 saw this same approach being applied to Sri Lanka. The narrative now is very similar to what is happening in the Philippines, with the USA pledging all forms of ‘support’. As one commentator notes:
Destabilizing Sri Lanka – a critical South Asian partner of Beijing and its OBOR initiative – with terrorism and ethnoreligious conflict, serves only the interests of China’s overt global opponent – Washington – as well as elements within India’s ruling elite and intelligence agencies.
The US is both arsonist and self-appointed fireman. And until this racket is fully and repeatedly exposed – until after each terrorist attack the US is put forth as the primary suspect and made to pay a high political price for its use of global terrorism – this game of arson-firefighting will continue at the cost of innocent lives, national development, and global peace and stability. [emphasis mine]
Reversing this situation would mean Sri Lanka standing on a firm footing of prizing her national sovereignty and a foreign policy that focuses on containing big power interests and prioritising Sri Lankan interests. We need a foreign policy approach that simultaneously ‘contains’ US aggression while maintaining and strengthening our links with China and Russia, while striving to further strengthen our friendships and partnerships with Delhi. Countering US aggression and strengthening ties with Iran would be a strategy in containing WSD extremism locally. As far as China is concerned, the white settlers of the US of A need to come to terms with the fact that Sri Lanka and China ‘existed’ and had diplomatic ties long before their settler-colony came to being. Sri Lanka cannot and should not in any way hinder or downgrade our relations with China because of US pressure, US aggression and US-incited terror.
Our Tragedy: Lack of Leadership
At the present time, Sri Lanka has absolutely no credible political leadership. This enhances the risk, as some analysts have thoughtfully highlighted, of a NATO base in Trinco. Delhi’s concerns on this prospect are clear in the repeated notifications made to Sri Lankan authorities about the Easter Sunday attacks, with the most likely objective of avoiding and/or subverting them. In order to face these unprecedented and extremely dangerous challenges, we need a powerful, highly patriotic, knowledgeable and diligent political leadership. Ideally, they must be complemented by an equally patriotic new political class aged below 55 with full gender parity. The word ‘patriotism’, in this context, needs to be reclaimed from all hues of bigotry. This patriotism has to be genuine [thereby totally different from the hardline, misogynist, homophobic, self-serving, biopolitics-centric and egoist pseudo-patriotism à la Gotabaya, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe et al]. This patriotism and unconditional love for one’s country and one’s people need to be complemented with high levels of expertise in politics and international affairs, economics, governance, foreign languages, management and more. However, such expertise simply cannot afford to be verging on the uprooted, failed and shameless politics of Lankan neoliberalism, dominated by cliques of ‘manchildren’ visibly going through varying forms of what has come to be known as the ‘boarding school syndrome’ [BSS], or, to go with a more local analogy, the posh schoolboy syndrome. To our collective misfortune, this is where there is a deeply disheartening void.