like us to confound confusion
Immediately after the assassination of Lakshman Kadirgamar there
was a perceptible shift in a key element of our foreign policy-
or what there is of it.
day after his murder, Foreign Secretary H.S. Palihakkara called
the Colombo-based diplomats to a meeting at which he said quite
clearly what was expected of the international community.
talks with the diplomats left no doubt that the government believed-as
do most people without PhDs from Cambridge-that the LTTE killed
Kadirgamar. Those who like to discuss or debate the whys and wherefores
of that despicable killing have already engaged in plain speaking,
hair splitting or even aired their fantasies.
doubt such debates will go on in Colombo’s polite and not-so-polite
society where denizens of the deep (I mean those with deep pockets)
gather or the nocturnal progeny of politicians hang out and enjoy
those moments of Ecstasy.
now I am not concerned with the reasons for the murder. What is
significant is that the assassination of the foreign minister led
almost immediately to a reassessment of foreign policy thinking
and how we expect the international community to deal with one party
to Sri Lanka’s intractable conflict.
is so particularly in our relations with the west because some western
nations and institutions somehow seem unable or unwilling to practice
what they have so assiduously preached to us over the years.
lost count of the number of times the west has lectured us on the
need to respect human rights, how they, as the civilised nations
on Planet Earth, would do this, that and the other to us barbarians
if we step outside the norms of respectable human behaviour.
So when our foreign secretary tells the gathering of diplomats from
the “free world” and other not so free nations that
they should adhere to international law and their countries should
fulfil their obligations under international law, some might have
he not preaching to the converted? After all, in the gathering surely
there were diplomats from countries that have assumed the mantle
of arbiters of civilised conduct, from countries that helped draft
the conventions and treaties; that laid down the parameters of proper
here is a potty little country with even pottier politicians, telling
the wealthy and mighty all about international law and their responsibilities
toward upholding a legal regime.
the international diplomats left the meeting somewhat bewildered
it is not at being lectured to by Sri Lanka. Some of these countries
have not only blatantly violated human rights, running prisons and
torture camps such as Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, but are also
proposing new laws that would probably kick civil liberties in the
groin and start the dismantling of charters and conventions on human
rights that go back half a century or more.
bewilderment is not merely because we seem to have a foreign policy
that blows hot and cold. It is also because Sri Lanka has a domestic
policy that blows cold and is surely inconsistent with what we are
trying to do abroad.
Kadirgamar’s first tenure as foreign minister he conducted
a strong international campaign to have the LTTE ostracised, if
not banned outright.
surely was why the LTTE dismissed him as a traitor, for Kadirgamar’s
policy to corner the LTTE made much headway internationally, though
Canada has stepped back somewhat after its politicians came under
pressure from LTTE supporters and Norway.
came the Ranil Wickremesinghe era, if one might call such a brief
period an era. It was an era in the sense that it saw the Kadirgamar-led
policy stood on its head by a new government determined to please
and appease for peace in its time.
now know that the Wickremesinghe government was taken for a ride-
from Bangkok to Oslo and back again- by a group that was street
and jungle savvy though not educated in British and American universities.
What is more it was the Wickremesinghe government that allowed,
under a lopsided ceasefire agreement, the Tigers to break out of
the Wanni and roam the world in the name of widening their political
they did widen was the territory under their control and the capacity
to engage in both conventional war and terrorism.
at least it might be said there was consistency in the domestic
and foreign policy approach to the LTTE. While the government and
some of its ministers lavishly buttered the Tiger bread, our diplomatic
missions were forced to quickly change gear.So from saying how terrible
the Tigers were, how they coerce the Tamil diaspora to part with
money and how children are abducted and forced into playing soldiers,
the diplomats had now to sing praises to the peace loving Tigers
who were after all preparing for democratic governance.
diplomats are said to lie abroad for the good of their country,
I suppose they had no difficulty in cutting their talk according
to their brief, whatever their personal opinions of these pendulum
where do our missions stand when one day our diplomats speak with
awe and reverence of the Tigers and the next day search frantically
for the new hymn sheet that carries the authorised version.
only do such rapid changes in stance make it embarrassing for those
who are expected to conduct foreign policy abroad with conviction,
but it is even worse when at home the self-same people once described
as terrorists are treated as virtual VIPs and the Wanni leaders
dictate terms with imperiousness worthy of a Roman tribune dealing
with slaves.Organisations suspected of terrorist links are honoured
at the say- so of some public servant or similar lay about who cannot
see beyond his nose.
is not only injudicious but surely laughable when policies are changed
with little regard for consistency and international respectability.
Who could really tell when current policy of baiting the Tiger becomes
one of holding the Tiger by the tail.
must also be given to the justification of having defence attaches
or advisers attached to some of our missions. We had defence attaches
in certain missions when our needs and priorities were different.
I suppose we had one in London because of the colonial relationship
and as our military officers were mainly trained in the UK at one
But the situation has changed. While defence attaches might be justified
in countries with which we have close military ties, it seems ridiculous
to have them drawn from the armed services when there is hardly
anything to do.
what exactly do these officers do. They report directly to the ministry
of defence and only the ministry is privy to whatever they report.
This might be good for major powers that could afford to have political
and military reporting.
do we need to waste our limited resources and work in such a compartmentalised
manner. Should not the defence ministry share whatever information
is passed on with the foreign ministry however useless the information
to assess reliability and avoid contradictions and inconsistencies?
If all they do is pinch information published in the media they
hardly serve any purpose.
Junius Jayewardene started this rot by posting faithful UNPer Col.
C.A Dharmapala’s son “Dingo” Dharmapala to Washington
as military attaché.
we have to continue to behave so ludicrously? If we must have defence
attaches, they should work alongside the rest of the diplomatic
mission and not pretend to be 007s with a licence to swill.