By Rajiva Wijesinha –
My attention has been drawn to a news item in your columns today under the heading ‘Al Jazeera program: With friends like Wijesinha, President didn’t need enemies’.
The writer, whilst obviously upset that I am not supporting the President in the forthcoming election, asserts that ‘What Wijesinha means of course is that our foreign policy should be more agreeable to the Tamil Tiger terrorist sympathizers such as Surendiran’. He also insinuates that I want the President to lose ‘so he can be taken before war crimes tribunals’.
This is absolute nonsense and ignores completely the altercations I had with Mr Surendiran during the programme. The writer also evidently missed my defence of the manner in which our forces fought the war, which led to the interviewer challenging me.
It is well known that I was one of the most effective defenders in international fora of our forces, and it is tragic that the writer should ignore the fact that the forces have lost the services of people like me – most recently Chris Nonis who drew particular ire from those who run our foreign policy after he ably defended us in an interview with CNN.
It is also shocking that the Daily News, whilst charging me with wanting policies more agreeable to ‘Tamil Tiger terrorist sympathizers’, has completely ignored the audit query prepared by senior Treasury officials who drew attention to transactions with suspected LTTE sympathizers.
Unfortunately the writer, and many of those who are leading the President astray, hope to win this election too by talking about the past. That may be desirable if winning elections were the sole purpose of having a President. On the contrary, the purpose of having elections is to elect a President who can govern the country and defend us against our enemies, a task at which the current regime has been singularly unsuccessful in recent years.
Typically, assuming the main opposition candidate would be Ranil Wickremesinghe, those with influence on the President have spent vast amounts of public funds on material to attack him, and they now want to move the election arguments back to the past so as to use the material they have prepared. They have still not understood that this election is about the present and the future, and once again the country has a candidate from the traditional Sri Lanka Freedom Party who will be able to bring about social revolution.
Mr Surendiran, like those surrounding the President, lives in the past, which is why I chided him. He is unable to get over the defeat of the Tigers, just like those who now make government policy, and do not understand that they should work towards reconciliation and a united country, rather than stressing divisions.
I am happy to say that I know that intelligent members of the forces agree with me. Recently, when I was critical of the decision to ban so many Tamil groups, the head of Military Intelligence sought me out to explain the reasons, because he said he was disappointed at my criticism, given that I had been such a staunch defender of the forces. I should note that Prof Rohan Guneratne, in proposing a meeting, said that ‘He regards you as an invaluable leader respected internationally.’ When the young man told me that there were still people abroad pursuing the Tiger agenda but added that it was just about 7% of the diaspora, I told him he had proved my point, since my despair was because nothing was being done about the more than 90% who were opposed to terrorism and believed in peace and reconciliation.
After some Socratic questioning, he granted that the reason for failure to move forward was the Foreign Ministry. He admitted that the LLRC, the action plan regarding which has been approved by Cabinet, noted the need for a policy to win over the diaspora, but that nothing had been done about this.
I told him that he could best serve his master, the Defence Secretary, by telling him that his brave forces would suffer unless something were done about the incompetence or inaction of the Ministry of External Affairs. I should note that, when the three Rajapaksa brothers were trying to persuade Vasantha Senanayake not to support anyone else, and Basil Rajapaksa complained that he had been critical of the Minister of External Affairs, the President had agreed with Vasantha’s categorical assertion that the Ministry was a mess.
But I fear the head of intelligence was not in a position to advise the Secretary of Defence, and things have gone from bad to worse. As I noted in writing to him a couple of weeks later –‘I agree that you need to be tough with terrorists, but history teaches us that this only succeeds if you have a conciliatory policy towards society as a whole. In particular I think your work will be unsuccessful unless, as suggested by the LLRC, there is a sensible strategy to win over the moderate elements in the diaspora. The response of the Australian government to the ban is indicative of the problems we will face unless we act with intelligent discrimination.’
Unlike the Ministry of External Affairs, which crawls and shouts in turn, my position has not changed. In 2009, when the British Foreign Office urged us to talk to the Tamils, I said that was of course a priority. But when they told me we should talk to the TGTE I was very firm in telling them that that was quite unacceptable. Our obligations are to our Tamil citizens, not to theirs, who had no excuse at all for their subservience to terrorists.
It is sad that the Daily News too should follow the mould of Mr Surendiran and try to polarize. But I have no doubt that you are doing this sincerely, and do not have a terrorist agenda. The forces however know who their staunchest and most consistent defenders are, and I have no doubt they regret the manner in which you have fallen into the trap of those who wish to alienate the President from those who were effective in defending the country in the past. Hysterical denunciations are no substitute for intelligent argument, and the Sri Lankan people know that, as do the Generals who fought the war so bravely and who are now in danger of being hounded because of the incompetence of those who should have defended them sensibly.