Losing diplomatic war

killing 12In marked contrast to the hysterical screeching by Government leaders that there shall be no domestic or international inquiry into the last days of the military campaign to defeat the LTTE in May of 2009, we are now faced with both. The silence by these same leaders to last week’s decision to hold a domestic inquiry is deafening in comparison.

There has been no official statement by the Government up to date on the Gazette that was issued on July 15 expanding the scope of the Commission on Disappearances to encompass a mandate to investigate allegations of International Humanitarian Law violations (read ‘war crimes’). One can understand the Government’s embarrassment at the volte-face but it has only itself to blame and some explaining to do to the people.

The Government was advised ad nauseam to hold a credible domestic inquiry at the right time. There were bad precedents set; first the court martial of the former Army Commander and then the sham inquiry by the military on allegations of ‘war crimes’. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was set up after much feet dragging. Its recommendations, though, gave the Government an early window of opportunity — an escape route when the Western dominated so-called International Community was breathing down the Government’s neck for an inquiry, but the Government chose to pussyfoot with the recommendations.
In many ways, the Government showed its arrogance bolstered by electoral victories which it felt were sufficient to justify not having such an inquiry.

The Government hierarchy was misled by its foreign policy pundits that no international inquiry would be set in motion.The President was under pressure from the defence establishment, naturally concerned about protecting the morale of the Security Forces who had sacrificed so much to defeat a blood-thirsty fascist terrorist organisation. But many argued that if the Government was able to incarcerate the Commander of the Army who led the ground forces in that military campaign and purge the Forces — and the Police, of whom they suspected to be disloyal elements, purely on political grounds, then what is the morale factor one is talking about. Some of these purged officers having emigrated are reported to be ready, willing and able to testify before an international inquiry.

The Government misread the situation all along and the end result is that it has unfortunately given the message that not only has it capitulated to international pressure, but that it will be forced to act only when there is international pressure. What happened was that the Government missed a trick early on, and ignored the age-old adage; a stitch in time saves nine.

Even the External Affairs Ministry (EAM), which often gives the weirdest explanations to justify some of the wackiest things the Government does, is mute this time. For once, it is lost for words. In March 2012, the Minister went on record saying that the Government cannot implement the LLRC recommendations overnight because then the people might think the Government is doing so due to international pressure.

It was not the international community alone that asked to implement the LLRC recommendations, but the learned Minister’s logic was that even a good thing must not be done for the country because the people will think it’s done under international pressure. After the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) vote to hold a “comprehensive” international inquiry into Sri Lanka’s 2009 military campaign, we said it was an unprecedented and intrusive move by the international community to put Sri Lanka on the rack, and its leaders, metaphorically tied and stretched. It was a foot in the door by the West into meddling in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs.

Our Political Editor pointed out last week in his column that friendly countries had advised the Government not to take the UNHRC inquiry lightly. And that all the chest-beating at home would not help. There is one silver lining, however, that has appeared for the Government amidst the dark and ominous clouds — and that is that the new Government in New Delhi is not that enthusiastic about such an inquiry on Sri Lanka. Or so, the Indian ruling party’s ‘intellectuals’ who were here in Colombo this week seemed to say. How long these party theoreticians will have a say in the new Indian Government before the bureaucracy, and the political compulsions of the federal states, take over is a different matter.

The past aside, the Government will now need to take matters from the ‘in situ’ position it is in. One does not need to rub it into the Government that it committed a major foreign policy faux pas that has now impacted on the country’s internal affairs, but that is what has happened.President Mahinda Rajapaksa is finding it difficult to even attend the Commonwealth Games in Scotland despite holding the post of Commonwealth Chair-in-Office — and the EAM has come up with an ingenious explanation once again.

The domestic inquiry now commissioned is only part of the exercise in fending off international pressure on the Sri Lankan Government. There is much to do in mending fences with the West; something that has all but been abandoned by the EAM. Back channel initiatives through businessmen supposedly close to the White House and Capitol Hill will take a month of Sundays to bear fruit, if at all they do.

The Government will have to set its priorities right in the first place. For instance, the insane ‘Look Africa’ foreign policy must be just thrown into the WPB and a more useful ‘Look West’ approach adopted, surely. The country and its people have much more in common with the West than with Africa. There are more trade connections, education and job opportunities, and tourism from the West. If Sri Lanka is to succeed in this modern world it cannot shun the West — or be shunned by it.

jAt least the Government can take a leaf from the new Indian Government’s pro-West foreign policy aimed entirely at bringing economic prosperity to the Indians. We can do that without having to abandon our age-old Non-aligned stance, which already is being compromised by being too close to some power blocs. The whole thing about a domestic or international inquiry is the sick machinations of the duplicitous Western powers. The Security Forces did what it took to end the scourge of terrorism. But a more prudent foreign policy by the Government could have avoided investigations.