Mangala Was Certainly Better Than GL Pieris

rajiva w 2     ( Remarks By Prof Rajiva Wijesinha at the launch on Saturday March 23, of Dayan Jayatilleka’s ‘Long War, Cold Peace’-Vijitha Yapa Publishers, 2013)   

In Parliament,I told Dr Jayalath Jayawardena, who is a master manipulator, that instead of making insidious use of the government’s misfortunes, he should be constructive, and move a motion to suggest that Prof Pieris be replaced as Foreign Minister by Dr Dayan Jayatilleka. He told me, characteristically, that he would be happy to suggest me instead, but I assured him that I knew my limitations. I had no doubt that I would do a better job than Prof Pieris, but so would almost anyone in this room

I was reminded then of what Mangala Samaraweera – yet another Foreign Minister who was certainly better than the incumbent – had said a couple of years back, when he accused me of being responsible for all the ills from which he thought the country was suffering. When I asked for an explanation he expanded this to include Dayan as well, claiming that it was because of the victory in Geneva in 2009 that the government thought it had leeway to do whatever it liked.

Though I was involved at the time with Dayan, I cannot take credit for the triumph he architected. Although the size of the victory led idiots in Colombo to assume that any idiot could achieve such a victory – which perhaps explains the failure to register the intellectual weaknesses of his immediate successor – in fact what he achieved was carefully crafted, in terms of the principles that he and Tamara Kunanayakam expressed so eloquently at the discussion on Foreign Policy that the Liberal Party organized earlier this week.

Dayan pointed out that the thin, i.e. bare bones, notion of sovereignty we assert needs to be thickened through a sincere commitment to pluralism that encompasses all within the bounds of that sovereignty. Tamara noted the importance of strengthening our bargaining power through alliance building and genuine cooperation, not just asking for votes at a time of crisis. Our failure to work on these lines was apparent in perhaps the most worrying element of the vote on Thursday, which was Brazil voting against us.

Instead of getting upset with Brazil about this, we should try to understand why a country that voted with us in 2009 now votes against. Does it have something to do with our failure to engage with them, as exemplified by the manner in which the Ministry of External Affairs sabotaged the decision of the President to send Tamara as a sort of roving ambassador to South America?

But there will be no sensible analysis of this result, just as last year there were only clarion calls to follow the West blindly, while simultaneously claiming that we had gained a great victory since the total of those who voted against the resolution and those who abstained was almost equal to those who voted for.

Very simply, there is no capacity any more amongst decision makers in the Foreign Ministry to either think or analyse, and the bright youngsters who could do better are crushed, transferred whenever they do something sensible, as happened not only to Dayan and Tamara but also to Tamil officers in London and Chennai, and to the intelligent Deputy High Commissioner who tried to prevent the fiasco of the President’s visit to Oxford in 2010 (which started the slippery slide downward), to name just a few. And in this regard, while we read in the pontifications of our more destructive patriots attacks on countries that supported the resolution.

But it is also related to the relentless ‘othering’ the West engages in – as explained so eloquently by the great Indian thinker Nirmal Verma – so that anyone who was in favour of the destruction of Tiger terrorism had to be a hard-liner  This became clear in the manner in which Blake explained to an Indian friend the American support for Sarath Fonseka.

Obviously the Americans would have thought this would please India, though thankfully India was too sensible to subscribe to such strategies. The bottom line is that they, like our hardliners here, simply do not understand synthesis, the moral need to see what we have in common, and work towards mutual understanding and respect, rather than use pressures that can destroy trust and hence cause excessive reactions.

I don’t think there will be any challenge to the claim that Dayan and I, though he of course was the senior partner and the strategist, worked together effectively. This has to do with the suspicions engendered by ruthlessly opportunistic behaviour on the part of those who resented our triumph over terrorism.

They ignored the opposition of the President to efforts to impose an Israel type solution, by increasing the size of the army and engaging in settlements while holding back the displaced. Instead they supported against the President the chief proponent of that strategy, while claiming that they were critical of the government for the sake of the Tamils who had suffered. That obviously made government dubious about their motives, and increased the influence of the hardliners who remained loyal to the government.

The manner in which, ignoring the principles enunciated by Dayan and Tamara, the Ministry of External Affairs conducts itself reminds me rather of what Lenin said: We shall destroy everything and on the ruins we shall build our temple’. But, unlike Lenin, the decision makers seem to be concerned only with a temple to themselves, with no understanding of the issues at stake.

Dayan shows graphically, as Tamara argued forcefully earlier this week, that the Resolution in Geneva sprang not from concern for human rights but from a political agenda, that saw Sri Lanka simply as a means to domination, for strategic reasons as also for ideological reasons. But they also pointed out that such an agenda needs allies to succeed, and those allies are often idealistic. Countries like India and Brazil and Japan and South Korea, as well as those who voted for us, dislike the replacement of a multilateral United Nations by instruments beholden to just one perspective. But they are also concerned with Human Rights and equity, and we need to work on ensuring these for all our citizens.

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