Diplomats, 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.

Otherwise how 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 norms.

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 political establishment.

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 Eelam.

Several questions 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.

That's very 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?

The important 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.

Junius Richard 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.

Hameed had 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.

One wonders 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 neighbourly relations.

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.

President Jayewardene's 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.

New Delhi's 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?

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