Diplomatic debacle

As the majority of the people of Sri Lanka were celebrating the life and teachings of India's greatest son, Gautama the Buddha, in the corridors of power of modern India, its leaders were lecturing to this island-nation's Minister of External Affairs on how best to govern this country.

A former professor of law, Minister G.L. Peiris seems to have obediently capitulated. Going by the joint statement ('joint' is the operational word), the Minister committed himself, his government, and his country to doing all what his hosts wanted from him, his government and his country.

Our Political Editor analyses in great detail on this page, the joint statement that came out of New Delhi, the present-day seat of government of India. This document displays, sadly, how the Sri Lankan Minister has succumbed to the heavy breathing down his collar. It has reference to unsolicited counselling on the one hand, titillating offers of gifts and tantalizingly veiled threats, but nothing beats the reference to urging the Government of Sri Lanka to provide for "genuine reconciliation". This is nothing but an unmistakable slap that Dr. Peiris has timidly accepted on behalf of the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration for the inclusion of the word "genuine" before the word "reconciliation" is nothing but a reflection that India views present efforts at reconciliation to be 'farcical'.

Why the Sri Lankan Minister permitted such wording in a joint statement requires an official explanation, especially because there is no rebuttal of this allegation to state that reconciliation efforts by the Rajapaksa administration are indeed genuine. The word could have been easily avoided and omitted. This is not about splitting hairs; but about a stinging message from India to Sri Lanka through the fine art of diplomacy, the nuances and skills the Sri Lankan side woefully lack to meet when dealing with those schooled in professionalism in other countries, like India.

The Foreign Service in Sri Lanka has been so politicised, but even so, there are those who can still match their counterparts abroad. It is, therefore, a total mystery to why the Minister went on an official visit of such paramount importance, and that to arguably Sri Lanka's most important bi-lateral partner without a single official from the Foreign Ministry in Colombo.

There seems to be little or nothing that Sri Lanka has gained from these talks. Leave alone not getting any assurances of support to oppose the UN panel report on allegations of human rights violations, there is not a hum even about Indian support for Sri Lanka's bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2018. Then the minister has not only agreed to develop on the 13th Amendment, but to do so in consultation with Tamil parties in Sri Lanka. What about other political parties? It has been a dismal performance, to say the least.

Having said that, there was at least one silver lining in an otherwise hopeless performance by the Minister of External Affairs this week, i.e., the congratulatory letter he wrote to Jayaram Jayalalithaa, the newly elected Chief Minister of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, thus re-opening the doors for a dialogue with that important state. We have long urged such interaction because such a political and diplomatic exchange is a sine qua non to stability in Sri Lanka's immediate neighbourhood.

Ms. Jayalalithaa trounced her rival, the leader of the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) into third place in elections to the State Assembly, the results of which were announced late last week. Mutuvel Karunanidhi's government was enveloped in financial scandal that reached his own family with his politician daughter being dispatched to jail.

Both, Ms. Jayalalithaa and Mr. Karunanidhi have long hitched their stars to the populist bandwagon in their state. They make promises that they cannot often keep and then get the Order of the Boot from the people. They have been taking turns over the past decades with Ms. Jayalalithaa taking over the reins from her mentor M.G. Ramachandran or more famously, MGR, who indulged in the same shenanigans. They are actors and actresses one way or the other and revel in the 'politricks' of Tamil Nadu.

Part of their role is to play the 'Sri Lanka Tamil' card, flogging the issue of the treatment of Tamils in Sri Lanka to whip up emotions and thereby garner votes in their constituencies. That this continued and frenzied attacks on the so-called 'anti-Tamil' state across the Palk Strait is nothing but the shedding of 'crocodile tears' was best displayed when the two of them encouraged Tamil Nadu fishermen - their voters - to poach in Sri Lankan waters, taking the bread out of the mouth of the northern Sri Lankan Tamils, who are not their voters.

It is, however, unfortunate that the Sri Lankan parliamentarians did not respond to the initiative by a Tamil Nadu all-party delegation's visit to this country shortly after the defeat of the LTTE in 2009. The initiative was lost due to the lack of a follow up.

In that context, therefore, the writing of a letter by the government of Sri Lanka to Ms. Jayalalithaa, despite her belligerent noises during the election campaign and thereafter, is a welcome move, even if it may have been prompted by Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe's telephone call to the new Chief Minister congratulating her on her victory. It is a known fact that Ms. Jayalalithaa herself has been a victim of LTTE threats and increased her personal security to ward off any bodily harm to herself from that terrorist organisation. While giving to her the benefit that she would entertain some genuine concerns about the way the minority Tamils are being treated in Sri Lanka, given her new responsibilities she would naturally be expected to act more circumspectly -- as did Mr. Karunanidhi in office. It will now be Mr. Karunanidhi's turn to whip the Sri Lanka bogey to win back the votes he seems to have so drastically lost.

There are undercurrents that the ruling Congress Party in New Delhi might make overtures to Ms. Jayalalithaa's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (AIADMK) and in the process dump its long-time ally, Mr. Karunanidhi's DMK for future elections considering the electoral shift towards the former film star's party last month. New Delhi applying the pressure points even harder on Colombo would then intensify.

The re-opening of a dialogue with the state of Tamil Nadu, however, does not mean giving in to its whims, fancies and every demand as the Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister seems to have done in New Delhi this week. A complete review of Sri Lanka's international relations with special emphasis on India and the region is called for. This administration must wake up to its inept foreign policy failures.

Next week, a new headache opens with the UN Human Rights Council meetings in Geneva as Sri Lanka tries to ward off any possible moves to bring 'war crimes' charges up for discussion. If the Sri Lankan Government feels it is being encircled and besieged by the International Community, including India, this is true. But it has no one but itself to blame for most part.

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Editorial Archive 2011 
09th January 2011 - Reciprocity to visitors
23rd January 2011 - Food crisis: The balanced diet
06th February 2011 - Independence 2011 and beyond
13th February 2011 - The message from Egypt
20th March 2011 - Be with Japan, be prepared
27th March 2011 - Without FIA, more sabhas will mean more crooks
03rd April 2011 - Sports: Heroes and villains
10th April 2011 - Move towards direct democracy
17th April 2011 - A report that seeks to open old wounds
24th April 2011 - Clinically shred war crimes allegations
01st May 2011 - May Day: Distress call from migrant workers
08th May 2011 - Global 'dupli-macy' and what’s fair in war
15th May 2011 - The light of Asia and the Dhammadvipa
22nd May 2011 - Diplomatic debacle
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