By Dharisha Bastians –
The Tamil National Alliance is in crisis. Not only are internal fissures threatening to tear the coalition of Tamil parties asunder, the question of what the TNA stands for in the post-conflict stage, with regard to questions of statehood and separatism are now back in the fore.
The alliance’s main constituent the Illangai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) held its 14th Convention in Batticaloa last week, at which sentiments were expressed which have hindered rather than helped the cause of the Tamil community that is still struggling to have its grievances addressed three years after the conclusion of the military conflict.
Speaking at the convention TNA Leader R. Sampanthan expressed sentiments that have ruffled feathers nearly everywhere. There were expressions about statehood and sovereignty and homeland – and Sinhala hardliners have latched on to Sampanthan’s constant emphasis on the concept of an ‘united’ Sri Lanka while others have taken objection to his claims of ‘exposing’ the Sri Lankan government before the international community, and his articulated belief in the fact that the Tamil people have found allies in India and the US. Sampanthan has further stoked the flame by claiming that the US authored resolution against Sri Lanka was a “victory” for the Tamils because it signalled international condemnation of the Sri Lankan government and recognition of the fact that the international community realizes that the Sri Lankan government “has committed the crime of extermination against our people, and that it continues to deny them their political rights.”
While Sampanthan’s audience at the convention was a political and predominantly Tamil one, he could not have had many doubts as to how his statements would play both nationally and internationally. The government is under pressure from the international community, especially India and the US to restart discussions with the TNA on reconciliation and power sharing. Last week engaging in a live Facebook chat Q&A Session, US Assistant Secretary of State, Mike Posner said that his government was keen to see the demilitarization of the north and reengagement with the Tamil parties on finding a permanent political solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. Needless to say, reengagement with the TNA remains a top priority for the Indian government which fosters the TNA’s cause, recognizing the party as the single largest representative of the Sri Lankan Tamils.
For its part, the ruling UPFA government is struggling with internecine conflicts with regard to reengagement with the TNA and also the scope and nature of the final political power sharing agreement that the international community is now pushing hard for. The ruling coalition is also a potpourri of political parties, that include the hardline Sinhala nationalists, the single largest Muslim party, at least two Tamil parties that continue to wield a small but significant share of influence in the island’s north and east, estate parties and several parties of the old Left that have long since lost a voice. Naturally, in this regime that has adopted a hardline against the LTTE and the Tamil cause, both together and separate from each other; the Sinhala nationalists make the loudest noise and make demands upon the government that it finds difficult to ignore. The TNA Leader’s recent statements will only cement these difficulties, making reengagement more difficult even as President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government must balance the fears and propaganda of the Sinhala hardliners against the crying need to provide a solution to the Tamil national question.
But a third and somewhat removed player in this complex situation finds itself in a stickier position than ever. Undoubtedly, Sri Lanka is becoming one of New Delhi’s biggest headaches in the South Asian region. An increasingly belligerent government in Colombo, intent upon hoodwinking its friends with false promises is a difficult enough case. Yet it has continuously interceded on behalf of the Tamil community with the Sri Lankan government, pushing endlessly for discussion, reengagement and a permanent political solution to the problem that did not end when the guns fell silent in 2009. Statements like the TNA Leader’s – expressed publicly and extensively circulated online – hurt New Delhi’s credentials and perpetuate perceptions about connivance between Sri Lanka’s Tamils, New Delhi and Washington DC, that finally do nothing to further the cause of national reconciliation and bridging the divide between the Sinhala and Tamil Communities.
Whichever way it is analysed, New Delhi is finding itself in an unenviable position with regard to the Sri Lankan situation. It was recently appointed a member of the Troika of states that will review Sri Lanka’s case at the Universal Periodic Review that is forthcoming in October/November at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. As the country with the most influence, it will not only have to balance its historically good relationship with Sri Lanka but also ensure that the international community does not think New Delhi is letting Colombo off the hook too easy, especially after India’s eleventh hour diplomatic manoeuvre in Geneva in March to have the US resolution against Sri Lanka watered down. It is fast losing popularity with the Rajapaksa administration in Colombo that is now seeing India as part of the larger international nexus of powers that want to see some changes in this tiny Indian Ocean island.
Even as Sri Lanka gears up for its next big battle in Geneva, current Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Tamara Kunanayakam who was given transfer orders to Cuba effective 1 July has decided to quit diplomacy and reject the offer. Kunanayakam who was a proponent of offensive diplomacy against the west and believed that Sri Lanka did not adopt a hard enough stance in Geneva this year, was replaced with career diplomat Ravinatha Ariyasinha who is currently serving as Ambassador to Brussels. Kunanayakam’s departure is a big blow to several big-name political appointees in diplomatic missions, who believe she was checkmated by career officers at the Ministry of External Affairs, who have allegedly declared war against politically appointed diplomats to Sri Lankan missions overseas. Kunanayakam in a scathing letter to External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris a few weeks ago, flatly refused to take up transfers in Brasilia or Havana, saying the governments of those countries would not look kindly upon their stations being used as punishment transfers for Sri Lankan diplomats who have fallen out of favour. The letter was leaked in the local press, leaving Kunanayakam with little choice other than to decline the President’s offer of another diplomatic posting to Havana.
Minister Peiris was in the limelight again this week, when he summoned British envoy John Rankin over remarks contradicting President Rajapaksa’s Victory Day speech. In his video, ‘Ask the High Commissioner’, Rankin challenged President Rajapaksa’s statement pertaining to troop deployment in the North, in his address to the nation on 19 May.
It is clear that ahead of the UPR in Geneva, the Western diplomatic corps are moving to gauge for themselves the events unfolding in Sri Lanka, particularly with regard to reconciliation, demilitarization and of course accountability, which remains a key focus area for the international community. During the Australian High Commissioner’s recent visit to the North, she is reported to have met with Jaffna Bishop Thomas Soundaranayagam, who bears strong opinions about the treatment of the Tamil people and the way in which the Sri Lankan government has approached the problems of the North in the post-war phase. This information gathering will likely be communicated to capitals across the world ahead of the Geneva session in October/November.
For the Sri Lankan government, as it races to reengage the world and prepare for scrutiny of its human rights record for the second time in seven months, the clock is ticking on concrete action.
Courtesy Ceylon Today