Colombo, Foreign Relations, IDPs and Refugees, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy: Speaking in many tongues and still not making any sense

Is it just me or are you also wondering how many times can the government of Sri Lanka shoot itself in the foot or put the proverbial foot in the mouth when it comes to manageing it’s diplomatic affairs?

Since executing the war against the LTTE to it’s logical conclusion a mere 5 months ago, the government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) has managed to antagonize just about every Western European nation and the sole super power through a spate of ill advised and ill tempered foreign policy decisions.

Let’s take a look at some of the low points of GOSL diplomatic onslaught (actually more an onslaught on common sense) and their consequences;

1. GOSL refuses NGO’s access to IDP settlement camps. GOSL’s reluctance to allow third party access while the IDP camps were being set up is understandable. However, the stubborn refusal to allow third party access, ostensibly due to concerns of leakage of inaccurate and damaging depiction of the camps and their conditions to the outside world, was an exercise in futility. Even according to the most pro-GOSL sources, there were at least 150,000 IDP’s at the end of the war. Considering that probably at least 125,000 of these folks were in the camps against their will, it would be logical to assume that parties who were seeking access to the camps and were denied had on a given day 125,000 willing and motivated informers. In such a scenario, the information coming from the inmates was more than likely to be exaggerated and even less likely to be patting the GOSL on the back for interning them in their own country. If saner heads prevailed, GOSL would have allowed limited but continual access to the more recognized NGO’s like the UNHCR and the ICRC. GOSL’s intransigence only threw a life line to the Tamil diaspora reeling from LTTE’s military demise.

2. Refuses the Swedish foreign minister a visa. Sweden currently holds the rotating Presidency of the European Union (EU). The EU is an important actor for Sri Lanka because of the volume of country’s exports to EU countries (especially garments) and due to the trade concessions granted by the EU to Sri Lanka. With one irrational act, Sri Lanka managed to jeorpardize the welfare of a major sector of the country’s economy. Various ministers and other GOSL officials are now running around like chickens with their necks cut off trying to undo the damage.

3. Turns away Bob Rae, Canadian Liberal MP/former Premier of Canada’s most populous province Ontario and the opposition Liberal Party’s foreign affairs spokesperson at the Colombo airport. He could to be the Foreign Minister in a Liberal dominated government in the future. It would have been more sensible to allow Mr.Rae at least limited access. Subsequently, 2 Canadian Conservative Party members(members of the present governing party) were also denied visas to visit SL.

Within the short span of a few months, the GOSL has successfully pissed off the Canadian ruling party as well as the main opposition. Well, lets give the GOSL credit for covering the bases. It’s highly unlikely that any Canadian government in the near future will want to extend favourable trade or economic aid to Sri Lanka or deal with LTTE terrorism.

The Conservative Party of Canada under the current PM Stephen Harper did legislate the outlawing of the LTTE. There are probably 500,000 Tamils in Canada. Canada is the most important country for the LTTE in terms of raising money and providing a safe haven for it’s various neferaious activities. Therefore (logically), from the GOSL’s stand point it makes sense to raise the level of involvement with Canadian authorities to highlight the criminality of the LTTE and gently scare the living daylights out of them to crack down on anybody who even talks to a suspected LTTE sympathiser.

Well, I think that hope is pretty much a goner. Canadian government probably will underwrite the rebirth of the LTTE, now.

4. Verbal fisticuffs errupt between the GOSL Defense Secretary and the British Foreign Secretary with regard to the number of civilian casualties during the last phase of the war. Yeah, yeah I know. Milliband is basically a boor who has forgotten that England is not a real player in the world scene anymore. But, we also know very well that the British have been licking American boots for the last two decades to protect their interests and we also know that the Americans love the British accent because it sounds quaint and intelligent. I lived through the Reagan-Thatcher lovefest and my gag reflex is still in tact (don’t ask me how or why because it is not something that I am proud of).

5. Sri Lankan FM gets into a public spat with Navin Pillay the UN Commissioner on Human Rights. This is a South African woman of Tamil ancestry who remarkably rose through the ranks of the South African judiciary during the apartheid period.

Being a Tamil she probably does harbor pro-Tamil sympathies. But, considering her judicial career and her position in the UN, GOSL’s concerns regarding Navin Pillay’s impartiality or the perception of partiality in this instance, should have been handled in a more sensitive and sensible manner. What positive outcome resulted by this ugly and tacky spat?

6. Expels the UN Media spokesperson for being forthright in his assessment of the IDP situation. Since he is an employee of the UN and not the GOSL, he should be able to draw conclusions based on the information received from his sources at ground zero. I guess he forgot to refer to the figures given by the GOSL.

7. (This is a classic kohothe yanne; malle pol statement) The Sri Lankan PM (a paragon of marital fidelity) reacting to a statement made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on reports of human rights abuses by the Sri Lankan armed forces and specifically the alleged rape of women during the last phase of the war, refers histrionically to Bill Clinton’s lesson to the impressionable White House intern Monica Lewinsky on the right way to smoke a cigar. I was left scratching my head and asking myself; “uh..did I hear that right?”

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

8. The General Secretary of UPFA makes disparaging remarks about the affectiveness of military regimes by drawing attention to Pakistan and painting post-Zulfikar Ali Bhutto regimes as ineffectual and corrupt. He was trying to highlight the folly of military leaders joining the political front. Hello there Mr.General Secretary, if not for Pakistani military aid and support we will still be fighting the LTTE.

9. Sri Lanka’s UN representative throws the country’s vote in favor of censuring Israel’s conduct in the Gaza. I guess Israelis didn’t offer any assistance to Sri Lankan forces on how to infiltrate the LTTE and how to run IDP camps.

Back in May of 2009 when the world woke up to the news of Prabakharan’s death and the death of the LTTE military capacity, most of the world cheered the armed forces of Sri Lanka for subduing one of the most vicious terrorist organizations in the world.

By all means the GOSL should be basking in the glory of their victory over terrorism.

Unfortunately, the GOSL has failed to capitalize on their military achievements by it’s irrational; ill-informed; ill-thought; and ill-mannered behaviour vis-à-vis the western world.

One gets the feeling that the GOSL was waiting for the rest of the world to sing hosannas and hold it’s military success as a learning experience for all other militaries engaged against terrorists.

Well, it’s not as simple as that, is it?

It’s back to the drawing board for the GOSL. Hope they start with International Relations 101.

That is if they want to normalize relations with the West and reduce the chances of the LTTE of rearing it’s ugly head again.