With the appointment of the 12-member team by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, the encirclement of Sri Lanka is just about complete.
The Western steam roller has been set in motion and Narendra Modi is in power in India with a plainly-to-be-seen desire not to alienate Jayayalitha Jeyaram of Tamil Nadu even though he does not need her support to keep the government going. Never before in Sri Lanka’s post-Independence history have we been encircled like this – not even in 1987.
In 1987 when Sri Lanka for the first time faced direct intervention by India, we were not really encircled, it was just one country – India – browbeating us. What we are facing now is a real encirclement with the USA, the EU, the UN and in some ways even India being a part of the noose that is tightening around Sri Lanka. The only missing ingredient is unilateral economic sanctions by the US and EU. If Sri Lanka can survive this, we can survive anything.
If China abandons us now, our goose is cooked and what we will be looking at is a relatively short term situation where a regime change is effected in this country, the fallen leaders are marched off to the Hague to face war crimes trials, a government amenable to the US-EU and India takes power, and the country is divided in all but name – and most probably in name as well between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. So how is Sri Lanka to respond to an external threat of this magnitude? One school of thought is that Sri Lanka should face this investigation by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) and present our case forcefully so that our side of the story will be heard. This line of thinking assumes that the panel appointed by the OHCHR will be an impartial body which will weigh the evidence they get from both sides, take all the surrounding circumstances into consideration and come to a fair assessment of what occurred. Unfortunately however that is not what happens in bodies like the OHCHR.
We already have direct experience of how the UN does things because of the Panel of Experts Report that the UN Secretary General published in April 2011. What we have to understand is that more than 75% of the funds of the entire UN and its subsidiary bodies like the UN Human Rights Council come from ten or fifteen Western nations including the USA. There is nothing called impartiality in the UN system. In the speech he gave at the prestigious West Point military academy on May 28, president Obama specifically described organizations like the UN as institutions that act as ‘force multipliers’ of US foreign policy. The term force multiplier refers to using auxiliaries to aid the efforts of the main force much like the use of ‘gambattas’ by the armed forces. The entire UN bureaucracy is made up of auxiliaries of the US State Department and the Western nations. Only the UN Security Council cannot be manipulated by the West because of the veto powers of Russia and China.
In such circumstances the only purpose of this panel appointed by the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner will be to repeat perhaps even more forcefully, what was said earlier by a similar panel appointed by the UN Secretary General. It is the panel that decides what is credible or not credible. What the UN Secretary General’s panel did in 2011 was to declare Sri Lanka guilty on the basis of information they refused to divulge on the grounds that those who provided the information will be endangered if they reveal their sources! Even if Sri Lanka cooperated with the Secretary General’s panel in 2010/11, the final outcome would have been no different. So we know what to expect from these panels. Why participate in a process where you are going to be declared guilty on the basis of information whose sources are never revealed to the accused?
It would be extremely foolhardy for Sri Lanka to expect any fair play from the OHCHR in particular. The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights is the secretariat of the UN Human Rights Council and the former is implicitly mistrusted by the latter. Every year there is a regular resolution brought in the UNHCR under the heading “Composition of the staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights” and the purpose of this resolution, which is passed every year with a huge majority, is to reduce the number of Westerners serving on the staff of the OHCHR. One would think that a world body would have a staff drawn from all over the world; but that’s not the way things work in the UN. The Western powers feel that if they put up more than 75% of the money, 75% of the staff should be Westerners. One of the ways the West funds the UN is by providing personnel free of charge which means that government servants of Western countries are sitting in UN offices masquerading as UN officials. This annual UNHRC resolution titled ”Composition of the staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights” actually supervises the extent to which the OHCHR has been reducing the number of Westerners on its staff year by year.
Even though the Western powers may be reluctantly complying because the members of the UNHRC keep insisting on it, yet those who replace the Westerners on the OHCHR would be third world individuals who are also a part of the Western funded NGO set up, thus continuing through indirect means the hegemony of the West. This is the institution that is now going to carry out an investigation on Sri Lanka. It is the same set of pro-Western jokers who are recycled from one Western conspiracy in the UN to another. For example, Marsuki Darusman who was the head of Ban Ki-moon’s investigation on Sri Lanka is also on the UNHRC Commission of Inquiry on North Korea. Given this background, Sri Lanka can never expect impartiality from any UN body except the Security Council. That fact should be obvious from the devious method adopted by Ban to put out his so called Panel of Experts Report on Sri Lanka. According to the established procedure, the UNSG can appoint a Panel of Experts to study the situation in a country only on the express instructions of the Security Council.
But in SL’s case the Security Council gave no such instructions so the UNSG appointed three people ostensibly to advice him personally on Sri Lanka and he quietly began referring to these people as a ‘panel of experts’ on Sri Lanka. Ban got a report written by this imitation panel and has published it as a PoE Report! The present investigation being conducted by the OHCHR is only marginally different to that even though this time, the UNHRC has actually given the OHCHR a mandate to conduct this inquiry. Still, this is not a proper Commission of Inquiry constituted by the UN Human Rights Council. When the UNHRC appoints a CoI, it is appointed by the president of the UNHRC, who is an ambassador of one of the member nations and not by the UN Human Rights Commissioner who is an official. But what is now being carried out with regard to Sri Lanka is a staff investigation by the highly tainted OHCHR. In these circumstances, Sri Lanka has no option but to stay away and refuse to acknowledge the process being carried out.
The pressure from India
If we turn towards, India, the pressure on Sri Lanka from that quarter stems largely from the fact that the new Modi government has asked Sri Lanka to implement the 13th Amendment in full (which essentially means giving police and land powers to the provincial councils) but Sri Lanka is not able to accede to this request for practical reasons. So we are on a collision course with India as well. Now supposing the 13th Amendment is implemented in full to please India, what result will that have? One has to remember that the 13th Amendment was forced on Sri Lanka by Rajiv Gandhi to placate the Tamil terrorists who were asking for a separate state. The provincial councils system was thought of as a compromise where both parties were brought to a halfway position by India. The provincial councils system in Sri Lanka has absolutely no relevance for the Indian central government except as a way of appeasing Tamils in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. The Indian government’s foreign policy objectives were achieved through the exchange of letters that accompanied the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord and not through the PC system.
In 1987, when this provincial councils system was imposed on Sri Lanka, Rajiv Gandhi personally saw to it that it was accepted by all Tamil groups except the LTTE which flatly refused to agree to it. Rajiv also got the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu M.G.Ramachandran to agree to it, so at that time only the LTTE was opposed to it. Yet today, the TNA openly says that what they want is not the 13th Amendment but something going well beyond that. In the case of Tamil Nadu, they have no interest in the 13th Amendment at all, and what they want is nothing less than a UN supervised referendum to carve out a separate state of Eelam. Now if the Sri Lankan government implements the 13th Amendment and the Tamils are still not satisfied, what will the Indians do? All they are going to do is to tell Sri Lanka “Yar, give the Tamils something more!” Rajiv Gandhi at least told the Tamils on both sides of the Palk Straits ‘thus far and no father!’ But the present Indian leaders say ‘13th Amendment and beyond’ without defining how far you have to go before you reach this beyond.
If Sri Lanka flatly refuses to go beyond anything that is presently implemented of the 13th Amendment, what is India going to do?
1. One thing that they can do is to punish Sri Lanka by bringing resolutions against Sri Lanka in the UNHRC as Jayalalitha requested, but that will not be without repercussions for India as well, with similar resolutions being sponsored by Pakistan and other Muslim countries about the situation Kashmir. It is unlikely that India will set precedents that can adversely affect them.
2. Another thing that India can do is to call for a UN supervised referendum to give the Tamils a separate state in the north of Sri Lanka but this will open the flood gates in India as well with calls from outside India for a similar referendum in Kashmir.
3. Another thing that the Indian central government can do is to invade Sri Lanka for not obeying its diktat. But of all the states in India only Tamil Nadu would want that kind of punitive action taken against Sri Lanka. It will be very difficult to convince other states as to why the Indian central should undertake a military adventure in Sri Lanka.
Besides, with Tamil Nadu having distanced itself from both the BJP and the Congress Party, will the hierarchies of either national parties have an appetite for any military adventures in Sri Lanka on behalf of Tamil Nadu which has rejected them both and shown clearly that they are no longer an organic part of the Indian nation? Another thing that India can do is to engage in covert operations to get rid of the Rajapaksa government and bring in a government that will implement the 13th Amendment.
However, even if the Indians get the 13A implemented in this manner, it will not be of any practical use to the central government. The 13th Amendment does not confer any advantage at all on the Indian central government and in a situation where Tamils on both sides of the Palk Straits have rejected the 13A, getting it implemented is actually an exercise in futility. The only reason why the Indians keep harping on the 13A is to see whether Sri Lanka is willing to listen to India. Furthermore, if the Indians through covert intervention bring about regime change in Sri Lanka and they get the 13A implemented in full, they will come under more and more pressure from Tamil Nadu to nudge the Sri Lankan government further and further towards granting a separate state. This dangerous game of playing midwife to the creation of a separate state will only lead to the dismemberment of India as well and even though the government in power will be too desperate to hang on to power for just a little while longer to bother about the medium to long term repercussions of promoting Tamil separatism, there will be other political parties in India that are not willing to countenance such a course of action which will be suicidal for India itself.
Whichever way one looks at it, India’s options with regard to Sri Lanka are limited. What Modi can perhaps do is to try to understand the difficulties that Sri Lanka has with implementing the 13th Amendment much less going beyond it, and to desist from making the 13A a prestige battle between Sri Lanka and India. There should be an unspoken agreement between the two sides that each side will only make noises about the 13A with neither side actually wanting it implemented.
In order to make it easy for Modi to stop talking about Sri Lanka, the SL navy should stop arresting Tamil fishermen poaching in the Palk Straits. If one looks at what brings Sri Lanka into focus at the level of the central government most often, it is the arrest of Indian fishermen. If not for this, the central government would have no reason to discuss Sri Lanka in Delhi except on the rare occasions that Jayalalitha comes calling with her demand for a referendum to create a separate state of Eelam.
These Tamil Nadu fishermen are not our enemies, on the contrary, they can be Sri Lanka’s secret weapon to drive a wedge between the Tamil communities living on either side of the Palk Straits. SL should not arrest Indian fishermen at all and they should be allowed them to take all the fish they want. All the Navy should do is to ensure that the Indian boats do not come too close to land and that no smuggling or other activities inimical to Sri Lanka’s security takes place and also that the Indian fishermen do not venture further south which is the preserve of the Sinhala fishing community. The TNA utters not a word about all the poaching that goes on because they are afraid that this will antagonize Tamil Nadu and jeopardize the project of winning Eelam through Tamil Nadu pressure on the Indian central government.
Some may argue that if Sri Lanka does not arrest the Indian Tamil poachers, that will be an affront to our sovereignty. Our sovereignty is constantly being insulted anyway, but this Indian poaching is one insult that we can turn to our advantage. When the arresting of Indian fishermen stops, the fishermen of Jaffna and the Northern Province then will have to ask their provincial council to provide them with alternative employment or force them to take a stand against Tamil Nadu fishermen. Such manipulation and the setting of one party against another is at times necessary in politics. Though Jayalalitha talks about Sri Lankan Tamils with great sympathy, when it comes to the rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen to rob all the fish in the Palk Straits, she fails to notice that the fish that her fishermen steal belong to the northern Tamils. It is the ‘Sinhala government’ in Colombo that is trying its best to save the fish of the northern Tamil fishermen but they do not get even a word of appreciation from the northern Tamils for their efforts. The govt. should put these misplaced notions of sovereignty aside and use the poachers as a tool to drive a wedge between Tamil Nadu and the northern Tamils. By not stirring the pot with arrests of Indian fishermen, Sri Lanka will be able to go for months at a time without coming to the attention of Delhi. Jayalalitha too will have no reason to keep talking about Sri Lanka. So the government should seriously reconsider the arrest of Indian Tamil fishermen. The resources of the navy should be deployed only to protect the fishing grounds of Sinhala fishermen and that too not by arresting Indian fishermen but by chasing them off.
The emerging China-Russia alliance
In the light of encirclement by the West and emerging difficulties with the newly elected government in India, Sri Lanka is completely dependent on China and the friendship of Russia for our survival. If China abandons us now, we are finished. Conversely, if China stands by us, we can withstand any pressure that may come, even economic sanctions. The good news is that it is very unlikely that China will abandons us because without a foothold in Sri Lanka, they have no way of protecting their trade routes across the Indian Ocean and if those trade routes cannot be protected, its goodbye to China’s emerging superpower status – other powers like the USA and India will have a stranglehold on China by dominating its most vital trade routes – a situation that no aspiring superpower can countenance. The Sri Lankan situation also opens up enormous diplomatic opportunities for the emerging China-Russia alliance.
What will China have to do to stand by Sri Lanka and enable her to survive the present encirclement by the West and her difficulties with India? Nothing much really! China will not have to move troops to Sri Lanka or help secure our air space or anything that costs money. All they have to do is to stand behind us and make sympathetic noises and neither the West nor India will dare touch us. In the event of possible sanctions, perhaps some investment by Chinese firms in processing or assembling industries for re-export to the Middle-East and Africa and other parts of Asia would help. But even here only a limited number of investments need be made because Sri Lanka does not have the labour resources for anything on a large scale. Backing Sri Lanka will be a remarkably cost effective way of ending Western domination in Asia.
If the US, the EU and the Indians all have their snouts rubbed on the ground by a small country like Sri Lanka that will seriously undermine their clout in Asia. Unbeknownst to most Sri Lankans we are at the turning point of an epoch making power struggle between the old order and an emerging new order. If Sri Lanka succumbs to the present encirclement, the emerging powers of China and Russia will have to retreat and it will be very difficult for them and especially China, to regain lost ground. As we pointed out earlier, it is the Chinese foothold in Sri Lanka that ensures the security of her trade routes. If SL survives this encirclement, that will be the clearest sign to the world that the era of Western domination is over.