Colombo Telegraph

Reward Enemy And Lose Friend

By Malinda Seneviratne 

Malinda Seneviratne

There are no permanent friends or enemies in politics. We could be talking about Ronnie De Mel’s athleticism, Karu Jayasuriya’s pragmatism laced or coated with ‘national interest’, the prudence of the Thondamans and Hakeems, the self-interest of the 60 plus UNPers who crossed over or corporates covering bases in parliament and in so-called professional associations.  Our concern here, however, is the applicability of the adage to global power politics.

The operative principle is simple enough: if you are not one of the big players, then you side with one of them or play them against each other.  It is true that groupings such as the Non-Aligned Movement can swing the occasional vote in one’s favor.  And yet, typically, what keeps antipathies under check this side of thinly disguised invasion is and always will depend on the ability and willingness of smaller or weaker states to take cognizance of the global power reality.

In the year 2013, there is one set of belligerent, trigger-happy states, i.e. the various coalitions led by the United States of America that rain death and destruction on entities that are not willing to toe the Washington line.  In none of the wars that the USA has launched against innocent peoples has democracy, peace and civilization featured outside of legitimating frill; it has always been about strategic and commercial interests, the extraction of resources, securing of markets and exploitation of people.  Things were easy in the 1990s when Russia was still emerging out of post-Soviet debris and China was not yet the economic giant it is now.  It is all different now.

The USA will scream and froth at the mouth, arm-twist weaker states to support resolutions seeking approval for unleashing bombs and bullets and launching drones and missiles, but as long as China and Russia stand firm, full-scale, no holds barred invasion gets trumped.  This is why, it is important to counter the global thug by making sure China and Russia remain friends.  Muammar Gaddafi of Libya thought he could keep the USA at bay by being nice to Washington.  He irked China and Russia to the point that when the rubber hit the tar, they looked the other way.  In these things, goodwill does not count; thugs pounce on the unprotected, they have no ears for courtesy or plea.  Gaddafi is dead now.  Libyans are poorer for the fact.

President Assad of Syria is not out of the woods, but he is still alive.  He did not do a Gaddafi.  He appears to know what and who would stop Washington.

There’s a lesson here for Sri Lanka.

While it is important to maintain cordial relations with all countries, including those such as the USA, some European nations, Canada and India that are clearly gunning for Sri Lanka, it has to be recognized that Sri Lanka does not have the wherewithal to purchase their friendship.  Nice words are good, but they cannot be banked; they have no currency in the commerce of strategic politics.

It is abundantly clear that India, under Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and the Congress Party are operating against Sri Lankan interests in global forums.  If everything was hunky-dory, then India would have been the first to accept the invitation to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Instead, Singh is stalling and clearly playing a brinkmanship game to extract whatever he can in a context of a growing Chinese footprint in Sri Lanka.  This is why the visit of External Affairs Minster Salman Khurshid has to be seen as part of a plot.

Khurshid will no doubt showcase punditry regarding the Northern Provincial Council elections and the 13th Amendment, but the key issue is not the grievances or aspirations of Tamils (Delhi never cared, this is known) but Sampur.  Sampur is not just another project envisaged in the framework of bi-lateral partnership. Quite apart from the economics of the matter (and here too questions remain unanswered) and the conspicuous silence on agreement details (a notable, suspicious and troubling absence of transparency), the implications for national security warrants extreme caution.  Manmohan Singh will not allow any foreign company within spitting distance of any Indian military facility, President Mahinda Rajapaksa would do well to note.

If ‘Sampur’ is the price to pay for Manmohan Singh’s participation-nod, it is not worth it, not for the country and not for the President.  Pampering the enemy will not persuade enemy to stay away, we saw this in Libya.

The rule of thumb is simple enough: stand with friends, don’t irk them.  India is not a friend, China and Russia are.  What will save Sri Lanka from being another Libya is not India’s friendship, but making sure that China and Russia are not turned into ‘neutrals’ due to poor friendship-choices.

There’s nothing wrong in entertaining Kurshed. Tea or coffee laced with good chit-chat and a smile makes an authentic Sri Lankan signature.  Indecent proposals, on the other hand, should be turned down with a polite, ‘thank you, but no’.

*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at

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