Originally Published 2012-03-26 00:00:00 Published on Mar 26, 2012
Sri Lanka should understand the nuances of diplomatic existence, survival and self-assertion, appreciate them where possible, accept them where needed. India and others may be blamed for Sri Lanka losing the vote but it should rather shake up Colombo to look into what had gone wrong with its foreign policy strategy, instead.
Shake-up time for Sri Lanka
It was not victory at Geneva for Sri Lanka, yes. Thankfully, it is not thumbing of the chest either, in Colombo. Instead, it should be shake-up time for the Government and polity. They should understand the nuances of diplomatic existence, survival and self-assertion, appreciate them where possible, accept them where needed. It’s like this. Having sought and encouraged the counter-resolution against the EU initiative at UNHRC in 2009, for Colombo to cry foul on internationalisation three years hence was wrong strategy, if nothing more!

India and others may be blamed for Sri Lanka losing the vote but it should rather shake up Colombo to look into what had gone wrong with its foreign policy strategy, instead. Over the decades of Executive Presidency, political decisions, based on personal preferences have passed off for policies. The consequent weakening of institutional systems and memory, invasion of the diplomatic corps and the rest of the institutional hierarchy by people whose prime business is domestic politics at best, has let down Sri Lanka in the past, it has done so again. The trend needs to be stalled, and stopped.

Domestic politics is winning elections and keeping, it is confrontational. Diplomacy is about consultations, keeping a window open. Diplomacy is also politics at its worse -- the attitude firm yet flexible, the approach forward-looking and options-rich, and the lingo, nuanced and options-rich. It’s not a college debating club in Colombo, competing strands of ’Sinhala nationalism’ confusing for ’Sri Lankan nationalism. Nor is it the ’Five Classes’ of Rohan Wijeweera or the pre-war pitching on a Jaffna campus -- all of which only brought misery to the Serendip.

At Geneva-12 unlike Geneva-09, Colombo closed the doors early on. Pre-election in 2005, President Mahinda Rajapaksa identified India as a relation, and the latter’s traditional bête noire, Pakistan and China as other Asian friends of Colombo. Through ’Eelam War IV’, the Government managed that equation to its advantage, and also ended post-IPKF mistrust with New Delhi. All three nations were/are opposed to ’country-specific resolutions’ at Geneva-2012 as in 2009, Sri Lanka lost now. The foreign policy drift needs to be stopped, and reversed.

Initial reaction from Colombo indicates that there is appreciation of India’s political compulsions on the Geneva vote. Yet, going beyond what External Affairs Minister G L Peiris indicated at Geneva, post-vote, Tamil Nadu’s concerns went beyond ’competitive Dravidian politics’ or perceived LTTE funding for local constituencies. New Delhi’s concerns over Colombo’s un-kept promises, like substituting the APRC with a PSC, were accompanied by the international community’s complaints about naming an LLRC after the Justice Bhagwati panel had thrown up its arms years ago in sheer frustration, are only instances. India readily accepted the logic behind the PSC still. The Geneva vote too became a reiteration of Sri Lanka’s LLRC-centric commitments. It is not about deliveries on the rehabilitation and reconstruction fronts, it is about Colombo’s credibility that is otherwise under a cloud.

Sri Lanka lost India not when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that New Delhi was ’inclined’ to vote in favour of the US resolution. It lost New Delhi when the Sri Lankan media reported that India would vote against the resolution. The Indian Parliament was in session, every political party, national or regional, was taking pot-shots at the Centre and the ruling Congress leadership. The Tamil Nadu polity was up in arms, the peripheral pan-Tamil group`s in the south Indian State had become increasingly assertive for the first time in the post-war era in the island-nation, the mood of the IT-driven local population was not the same as it was during Nandikadal and Mullivaikkal, there was communication gap between Colombo and Chennai, Colombo and Delhi, and Chennai and the Centre. New Delhi’s hands were tied.

Going by post-Geneva Indian media reports, Sri Lanka did not seem to have taken the initiative. By inserting the Sri Lanka’s ’concurrence’ as a pre-condition for UNHRC’s ’technical assistance’ in the Geneva resolution, New Delhi has stuck to its stand against ’country-specific resolution’. It has ensured that Colombo was not trampled upon in the name of UNHRC mandate. The US got a resolution, not the resolution. It may have been more, either way -- if Sri Lanka had kept the widow open, or India had voted against the resolution. Diplomacy, not politics, seemed to have been at work.

Indian media reports have also stressed New Delhi’s post-vote reiteration of the ’democracy’ credentials of Sri Lanka in resolving the ethnic issue to every one’s satisfaction. For one more time, India has underlined its understanding that TNA is a player in the process, not the only player. Increasingly under the US form of presidential system, Sri Lanka has become a diverse and alliance-dependent Third World democracy, not a guided, bipartisan democracy, which alone the West understands and propagates. Consensus-building cannot be a condition precedent. It has to be the consequence of a consultation process, involving not just a few. From experience, India has acknowledged the same in Sri Lanka’s case.

Sri Lanka can take satisfaction that from the extended Asian neighbourhood, Saudi Arabia, a traditional US ally, and Kuwait, whose sovereignty and territorial integrity Washington defended militarily not long ago, have voted in its favour at Geneva. ’Arab Spring’ has done wonders to their perception of ’country-specific resolutions’. There are other lessons, however, for Sri Lanka to consider. Maldives, despite change of guard and unaltered pro-western position on human rights, has continued with its soft-corner for the Sri Lankan neighbour. Yet, on the same day as the Geneva vote, Male did reiterate its commitment to involve the international community, the UN, the EU, the Commonwealth, et al, in resolving the political deadlock on the home front.

It is election-year politics in the US, too. Post-Geneva, Sri Lankan media reports say Minister Peiris has accepted US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s invitation for visiting Washington for consultations. Reports have also spoken about the US, like the UK before it, has reiterated commitment to sell arms to Sri Lanka. The Tamils, particularly the Diaspora, should not be surprised. Others too should not be surprised if the Tamils say they felt ’cheated’. Colombo may end up forgetting those that stood by it in Geneva, circa 2012, and whom it might not have wanted to embarrass by revisiting its position after the pre-vote head-count had proved unfavourable. Colombo cannot shake the US, now. Post-Cold War, the US may extended its footprint to Sri Lanka, and expanded it to cover all of South Asia, as well.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

Courtesy: The Daily Mirror

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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