or is it, diplomutts
Has Sri Lanka lost the art of diplomacy? Are
today's exponents of foreign policy quite
happy to live from moment to moment hoping that any faux pas might
go unnoticed and any gaffe quickly forgotten.
did this government get into the mess over the radio equipment gifted
to the LTTE by an over zealous and unusually benevolent Norwegian
government that seems quite content to test the elasticity of diplomatic
The Voice of
the Tiger, even upgraded and modernised with Norwegian equipment
will not be heard in Oslo- not by the average Norwegian but it will
certainly find receptive ears in the corridors of the Norwegian
But with the
help of Oslo, the Voice of the Tiger will be raised a few decibels
and will surely be heard in southern India where the Tiger's cousins
in Tamil Nadu have been known to make common cause on a Greater
arise from the Norwegian gift that, as far as I know, still remain
unanswered. If the goods were imported duty free by a diplomatic
mission and cleared as diplomatic goods, how was it gifted to an
organisation that has been at war with the Sri Lankan state and
has not yet publicly, unequivocally and without recourse to linguistic
gobbledegook, said it has indeed abandoned separatism and will not
pursue by word or deed the establishment of a separate state.
If we believe
the Minister of Mass Communication Imtiaz Bakeer Markar, the LTTE
made a request in writing from his Ministry for the import of radio
equipment. Clearance was given and the equipment that arrived was
examined by Sri Lankan officials to make certain that Tiger broadcasts
will not interfere with our military communications.
nice. But did the Tigers say in their letter to Bakeer Markar that
the equipment is a gift from the Norwegians who seem very amenable
to the LTTE? If the LTTE did not say so, did the Tigers indicate
what the source of the equipment would be. If not, did the ministry
inquire from the Tigers about the source, how they would pay the
duty and if indeed such equipment can be legally imported?
Once the Tigers
got the clearance letter, did they inform the foreign ministry that
the equipment was a gift from Norway or was that left for Norway
to do? Did any of them in fact inform the foreign ministry or was
the ministry kept in the dark by the Norwegians as well? If the
foreign ministry knew about it, how long before the goods arrived
was the foreign ministry informed?
question is whether the Norwegian authorities who are playing honest
broker- well, broker at any rate- ask the Sri Lanka government whether
it would be appropriate to make such a gift?
There was a
time when foreign diplomatic missions were forbidden from making
any gifts to local organisations without clearance from the foreign
ministry. In fact there was a time when the foreign diplomatic mission
could not even offer a scholarship or a trip to an individual and
such an offer should be made to a particular organisation.
There is no
need to go back to those times when the right of an individual to
travel outside his/her country was violated by ministers with bloated
egos and their pompous pandankarayas. But today the tide has turned
so much. Every ambassador and high commissioner is treated with
veneration as though he was Zeus descended from Olympus. So that
the friendly but protocol-conscious relationships that some countries
have with foreign missions based on their soil, has in more recent
years become a relationship that approaches servility with low-level
visitors received by our political elite.
This is mainly
because the principal party in the governing coalition does not
take foreign policy seriously. The UNP, accustomed from the immediate
post-independence years to follow Britain blindly, has generally
adopted a pro-western stance even when it publicly announced undying
commitment to non-alignment.
Jayewardene, long before he became president of the country, was
known to opposition and critics alike as Yankee Dicky. Later, as
president he showed a certain condescension towards foreign policy
issues and was quite happy to leave these in the hands of his trusted
Foreign Minister Shaul Hameed.
a personal interest in foreign affairs and loved his portfolio,
especially the opportunity of travel that led some wag to say that
Hameed's initials A C S stood for All Countries Seen. Today, it
appears, that for a party that traditionally placed foreign policy
in the backburner, there are several 'foreign' ministers and they
don't all sing from the same hymn sheet.
There is the
prime minister who told parliament that Sri Lanka was wedded to
a policy of non-alignment. There is Economic Reforms minister Milinda
Moragoda who wants to reform the globe and re-order it with Washington
running the world- hopefully not like Enron.
There is Foreign
Minister Tyronne Fernando whose innovative style of foreign policy-making
in its formative years has been to chop and change personnel in
our diplomatic missions abroad so much so that some call the ministry
the butchery while others consider it a foreign employment bureau.
If our information
is correct our High Commission in Canberra will soon have two deputy
high commissioners where it used to have one. One of the deputies
is said to be over 75 years old, though I wont vouch for that.
why Australia should be honoured with two deputy heads of mission-
in addition to a consulate-general in Sydney- when far more important
capitals hardly boast of one- Beijing, for example.
The story that
one deputy's sole task will be to 'survey' the Australian cricket
scene and nail down umpires and others who call Muralitharan a 'chucker'.
But it seems like a joke emanating from the Moratuwa Stadium. But
the real tragedy in this whole fiasco is that all these experts
running round promoting Pax Americana and standing foreign policy
on its head, have forgotten basic lessons in geopolitics and good
To judge by
the front-page story in this newspaper last Sunday, New Delhi was
caught by surprise by the news of the expanding Tiger radio station.
It says that
Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal had expressed India's serious
"concern" to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
policy moves shortly after coming to power in 1977 which India perceived
as pro-United States and a threat to Indian security, led to an
alarming deterioration in Indo-Sri Lanka relations. In the event
New Delhi armed and trained Tamil militants, violated Sri Lankan
air space halting military moves to throw the Tigers out of the
Jaffna peninsula and imposed on us an accord that brought Indian
troops to Sri Lanka.
It led to the
then prime minister Indira Gandhi spelling out the "Indira
Doctrine" that outlined the limits to which regional countries
could act on their own without being a threat to Indian security.
present concern might well be that the Voice of the Tigers could
be used to whip up Tamil nationalism in Tamil Nadu and become a
security concern for India.
But I suspect
that behind this concern there is a longer term worry- that is whether
this radio station could some day become a US listening post for
Indian military communications.
From an Indian
perspective, President Bush's current policy would be to have as
many US outposts in the world as possible and particularly close
to nuclear powers that face a potential threat to US power, such
as China and India.
It would not
be surprising if New Delhi sees the US banning of the LTTE as part
of a deep-seated ploy to win over the Tigers-who have no love for
India right now-for a deal that has much to do with India-watching.
One does not have to be a John Le Carre to conceive of such a plot
when real-life political conspiracies by the US and Britain like
building up Saddam Hussein and creating the Taliban, have been more
devious. Not keeping India informed of these developments is yet
another foreign policy blunder. How many more of these can we afford?