By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
According to media reports, President Sirisena, addressing the UPFA Matale District Rally in Dambulla, has reportedly stated; “There was a shortage of fertilizer due to private sector’s delay in importing fertilizer. Though Government was not responsible for this problem, I apologize for the inconvenience caused. I contacted Pakistan President on the phone and requested 40,000 tons of fertilizer and the following day he phoned me and said 65,000 tons of fertilizer was allocated to our country. This goes to show that we have won the international relationship crisis.” Moving on, he has further stated, “When I was about to return from my recent visit to Qatar, a minister from that country and a delegation of officials was preparing to come to Sri Lanka to make arrangements for their investments in Sri Lanka. They expressed their willingness to develop any town in Sri Lanka we suggest with all facilities of a modern city in the world.” Continuing on the same subject, he has reportedly stated; “Recently, I visited South Korea, the President of which is opposed to corruption like me. When I was returning from the two-day stay there, he came close to my car and whispered to me to call him in the event of an emergency and assured that he was ready to help.”
President Sirisena has concluded stating; “Could anybody else maintain such close relationships internationally – my predecessors only quarreled with them.”
Politicians habitually make absurd assertions, especially during the run-up to elections, particularly to less informed audiences. In this instance, he has been less than candid.
The shortfall in fertilizer was due to the fault of importers and the Yahapalana government. Pakistan bans the export of fertilizer during October, November, and December each year. Even if import of fertilizer is in the hands of the private sector, does not government agencies monitor and ensure the availability of a continuous supply of critical items such as fertilizer?
Pakistan has, and will always come to the aid of Sri Lanka, regardless of the name of the leader in Colombo. In the mid-1970s, Prime Minister Bhutto, responding to a personal appeal from Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike facing a severe shortage of rice diverted several shiploads, already sold to a Latin American country from the high seas to Colombo, thus saving her government.
Addressing a one-day confab in Colombo on Feb. 23, 2005, on Pakistan-Sri Lanka relations, one-time Sri Lankan Army chief and High Commissioner in Islamabad, Gen. Gerry H. de Silva recalled how Pakistan had airlifted urgently needed weapons and ammunition during Operation Riviresa, thus enabling the capture of Jaffna in 1995. Gen. Silva appreciated Pakistan pulling out arms and ammunition from operational areas to meet Sri Lanka’s requirement. Five years later, Pakistan airlifted Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs) for deployment in the Jaffna peninsula, in the immediate aftermath of the LTTE capturing the strategic Elephant Pass base in April 2000. Gen. Silva emphasized that the military was able to thwart LTTE efforts primarily due to what he called prompt and ready military assistance provided by China and Pakistan. A grateful Silva said: “Assistance received from these two friendly nations was always prompt, well within the budget and well suited to our servicemen.” This was during the CBK presidency and at a time when some politicians in fair weather friend India were saying, “if Jaffna falls, it will not be the end of the world.”
President Sirisena expressed his gratitude and friendship to these nations by permitting the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo to pay an official courtesy call on his first day in office, the Chinese Ambassador on his third day and the Pakistan High Commissioner over three weeks after assuming office.
The state visit by President Sirisena to Qatar, to say the least was ill timed. It was in the immediate aftermath of the blockade of Qatar by the quartet Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt. Seven MoUs in non-critical subjects signed during the visit were on visa exceptions for diplomatic and official passport holders, cooperation on diplomatic training and research, emergency drought relief, the field of energy, wastewater management, health and medical science and financial investigations. Despite the inclusion of Minister for Industry & Commerce in the delegation, Trade and Investments did not feature in the list of concluded MoUs. The wisdom of undertaking a state visit to a country embroiled in a conflict with a group of nations equally crucial to Sri Lanka’s interests is questionable. A more balanced approach would have been the postponement of the visit to a later date thus avoiding the possibility of displeasing any of the five nations. Sri Lanka is fortunate, nations of the embargoing quartet did not decide to show their displeasure through diplomatic and other channels. Over a million Sri Lankans currently work in Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain besides more than 200,000 in Qatar.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi played host to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natenyahu last week during a much publicized six-day state visit. Modi is due to pay a visit to Palestine next week. An excellent balancing act if any, the likes of which is unfortunately beyond the comprehension of those directing foreign affairs in Sri Lanka.
There is no known personal relationship between Presidents of South Korea and Sri Lanka. South Korea repeatedly voted against Sri Lanka during the UNHRC Resolutions in Geneva. The recent interest in Sri Lanka possibly has more to do with the US-sponsored ‘Indo-Pacific’ security initiatives being promoted by the USA through their proxies India, Japan, and South Korea to counter China’s growing assertiveness and its OBOR initiative.
President Sirisena’s immediate predecessor brought the conflict with LTTE to a successful conclusion not by “quarreling internationally” as claimed by the President. When Sri Lanka’s ‘traditional friends’ declined to help Sri Lanka fight terrorism, the former President sought and received assistance from fair-weather friends China and Pakistan besides other nontraditional friends. However, that was not to the liking of our ‘traditional friends’ since their agenda did not include the eradication of LTTE. Hence the last-minute effort to evacuate Velupillai Prabhakaran and the LTTE high command.
The former President received assistance from USA and original LTTE sponsor and promoter India, during the last several years of the conflict.
His mistake was his failure to repair damaged relations after May 2009. He quite rightly rejected requests by the meddling British Foreign Secretary and French Foreign Minister to halt the final campaign. He then blundered by publicizing the act rather than remaining silent. Big and powerful nations do not take kindly to refusals by small countries to toe the line. Publicizing such instances does not help matters.
Does “maintaining close relations” mean total surrender by way of co-sponsoring a resolution against Sri Lanka as was the case at the UNHRC in Geneva in 2015?
If the previous government can be accused of failing to “maintain such close relationships internationally and quarreling”, this administration can be accused of extreme servility.