Sri Lanka on a DPL minefield

Sri Lanka and its armed forces won a major military victory five months ago, crushing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and decapitating that organisation to the point of no return, but the nation’s travails are far from over, and in fact, it appears that the country’s diplomatic war has begun in earnest only now.

This week saw a flurry of diplomatic battles in different forums. It began with the United States Department of State delivering a report to the Congressional Appropriations Committee that detailed incidents that allegedly occurred during the final months of the conflict with the LTTE.

Sri Lanka was to respond strongly. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo said that “the allegations against the Government of Sri Lanka... appear to be unsubstantiated and devoid of corroborative evidence,” and that, “there is a track record of vested interests endeavouring to bring the Government of Sri Lanka into disrepute, through fabricated allegations and concocted stories.”

Washington countered this response with an assertion from a State Department spokesman who urged Sri Lanka to take steps to “thoroughly investigate what are ‘credible’ claims of atrocities committed by government forces and ‘rebels’.

A few days later, the European Union passed a resolution which demanded “rapid and full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution” and expressed concern over the situation faced by the Internally Displaced People (IDP), while calling for continued economic support for the country.

Thereafter, it was the turn of the United Nations. Later in the week, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights (UNHCR) was to propose that an inquiry, similar to one that looked into fighting in Gaza, may be needed to determine if war crimes were committed in Sri Lanka in the final Eelam War.

All this was being enacted in the context of whether Sri Lanka would continue to profit from the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) concessions extended to the country. There were strong indications that the GSP benefits would be withdrawn, unless Colombo bowed to the conditions laid down - an unlikely possibility.
What all this means is that, although the LTTE may be dead, its international sympathisers and an assorted array of probably well-intentioned do-gooders are very much alive, and that Sri Lanka is still treading on a diplomatic minefield. The question is, in such a delicate scenario, is Colombo doing enough?

Just as much as it required an unprecedented effort from a thorough, professional and disciplined armed forces to defeat the LTTE militarily, in the face of pessimism from many quarters, it requires a similarly Herculean effort from the Foreign Office in Colombo to surmount the diplomatic obstacles the country is confronted with in the aftermath of the war.

Also, Colombo must be clear in what its stance, vis-a-vis the post-conflict situation is. Certainly, Sri Lanka must stand up for its sovereignty and integrity as a nation and not be cowed down by all the demands and dictates that are being thrust at them. But at the same time, it appears that this can be done with more finesse.

What we hear, from time to time, is a chorus of political rhetoric aimed largely at a local audience, possibly for the purpose of winning elections. Simultaneously, though Colombo has to contend with significant diplomatic adversaries, whose combined clout could have a devastating effect on the country, should they decide to pursue a hostile attitude towards Sri Lanka.

The ideal scenario would be to fashion a diplomatic path that accommodates only the reasonable demands of the international community, while at the same time safeguarding our rights as a nation. This, of course, is easier said than done.

On the plus side, it must be noted that, one aspect which Colombo has got it right is our relations with neighbouring India. The recent visit of a group of Parliamentarians from across the Palk Straits was a step in the right direction, and went a long way in allaying concerns that New Delhi may have had regarding the conditions in which IDPs were being detained in the North.

But more needs to be done to drown the growing cacophony of strident voices within the international community that are speaking against Sri Lanka. A clear foreign policy on this issue, a foreign service devoid of political interference and a Foreign Ministry that has its eyes and ears wide open to what is going on around them, is a sine qua non for this purpose.

Of course, had the late Lakshman Kadiragamar been amongst us, he would have revelled in this task. But now that he is no more, it becomes the duty of the current incumbents of that office to perform their role, if not to perfection, at least to a standard that would appease both Sri Lanka and the world at large.
After all that this country has been through, we wouldn’t want to win the war and lose the peace, would we?