TAMIL EELAM STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM
How the West lost Sri Lanka
8 May 2009, Sri Lanka State Controlled Daily News
"An important factor Western countries have
overlooked in their manipulations is that unlike in those days, when there
was no alternative to Western aid, now there are other donors who are
willing and able to step into the breach. As Jeremy Page of the Times noted
China’s aid to Sri Lanka jumped from a few million dollars in 2005 to almost
$1 billion last year, replacing Japan as the biggest foreign donor. By
comparison, the United States gave $7.4 million last year and Britain just £
1.25 million. Beijing also appears to have increased arms sales
significantly to Sri Lanka since 2007, when the US suspended military aid
over the same human rights issues. According to Jane’s Defence Weekly in
April 2007 Sri Lanka signed a classified $37.6 million deal to buy Chinese
ammunition and ordnance for its army and navy. It is not China alone that
helps Sri Lanka: there is Japan, Russia, Iran, Libya and Vietnam in addition
to India and Pakistan. "
How the Western countries have treated Sri
Lanka in recent years is an object lesson in how not to
manage foreign relations. Their actions based on false
premises and pandering to pressure groups have resulted in
working against their own long term interest.
Ever since gaining independence in 1948, this island state
in the Indian Ocean has been playing an active role in
international affairs well beyond its size. It has been a
committed member of the United Nations contributing to its
activities including peace keeping, a senior member of the
Commonwealth, and an active player in the non-aligned
movement, SAARC and many others.
It has signed up to all the key United Nations conventions
ranging from the conventions on restrictions on the use of
certain excessively injurious weapons, to the elimination of
all forms of discrimination against women. With a high level
of literacy Sri Lanka is among the few functioning
democracies in the region. These factors, along with its
strategic location in the world’s busiest sea route, make
Sri Lanka a useful ally for any country.
But historically, Sri Lanka has been identifying itself closely
with the Western world following four centuries of colonial rule starting with
the Portuguese and ending with the British.
It was a mutually beneficial relationship cemented by generous economic
assistance provided to the country. In time, with recurrent fluctuations in the
price of its commodity exports and sharp increases in the price of essential
imports such as oil, the dependence on Western aid increased. Aid came in many
forms: some bilateral, and much of it multilateral, mainly from agencies such as
the World Bank. Eventually aid constituted an indispensable part of balancing
the annual budget and meeting the gap in external balance of payments.
The heavy reliance on aid allowed the donor community, initially, to impose
conditions which were ostensibly to promote economic growth.
It was such an effective tool for donors that the choices for recipients were
severely limited - accept the conditions or go without aid. With no other
alternatives, almost always countries opted to grin and bear the pain, sometimes
with severe domestic repercussions.
In time, donors realised the immense potential of this tool to extend their
influence beyond the economy to political, social and other spheres.
Recent years also mark the upsurge in blatant disregard for human rights in many
parts of the world and addressing it has become a top priority for Western
Trying to capitalise on this concern were the INGOs scouring the globe for
‘investment’ opportunities. Sri Lanka’s efforts to deal with a terrorist group
which had ravaged the country for three decades turned out to be a fertile
ground for them.
It was a soft touch compared with Iraq or Afghanistan or Darfur and a pleasant
place to live. ‘Human rights’ was the issue. The only missing link, however, was
information to back up a campaign. And that was provided by the LTTE through
cooked up data and doctored photos broadcast to the world through their
websites, television channels and print media.
Not only the gullible Governments, but organisations such as the United Nations,
the BBC and respected newspapers such as the New York Times fell into the LTTE
trap. It also became a haven for INGOs feeding on each other.
Everyone was happy, except the Sri Lankans who felt they were hard done by.
However, their protests did not cut much ice since the well tailored information
dispensed by the LTTE fitted the human rights abuse model like a glove.
Why allow facts to spoil a perfect story, especially when it came neatly
packaged without having to do any hard work and catered well to your needs? The
irony is this has been going on for over three decades and continues to flourish
even today unquestioned. Only a handful of journalists took the time and effort
to venture beyond the LTTE propaganda.
With the first serious attempt by the Rajapaksa Government to eliminate
terrorism all the conditions were ripe for Western states to clamp down the
screws on Sri Lanka. And they did.
The series of demands concomitant to aid included coming up immediately with a
political solution, release of those held under the prevention of Terrorism Act,
devolution of power and the latest, a ceasefire to allow the civilian hostages
held by the LTTE to leave.
The Government has clearly spelt out its commitment to a political solution
underlining the fact that it was premature to negotiate until the terrorist
threat was eliminated. With regard to a ceasefire it has pointed out over and
over that the lull in fighting will be used by the LTTE to rearm.
That is exactly what happened during the ceasefire agreement of 2002-2006 when
the LTTE used it to build its military infrastructure including, adding four new
battalions, expanding naval capability - the Sea Tigers, and establishing the
nascent air force.
During the period it also built up its arsenal and established modern
communication systems all in preparation for war. During this period the two
parties met six times but the discussions were limited to administrative matters
and the LTTE walked out on flimsiest of excuses.
Negotiations were merely a cover for military build up. Any new ceasefire would
have ended the same way, the Government advised. But in April, at the behest of
the international community President Rajapaksa allowed a 48-hour cessation of
hostilities to allow the LTTE to release civilians held hostage.
The only thing that happened was the LTTE shot at those who attempted to leave
and killed two soldiers. Only 28 people managed to escape.
So where is the logic for a ceasefire again? It is true that for ages ceasefire
has been used by warring parties as the mechanism to evacuate innocent civilians
caught up in the fighting. But in the case of Sri Lanka these civilians are
purposely held hostage by the LTTE as a human shield to prevent the Armed Forces
from attacking them.
In fact the 160,000 that escaped from the clutches of the LTTE did so not during
a ceasefire: it was through combat operations of the Government soldiers who
pushed the LTTE cadres back facilitating the civilians to leave. The only
purpose a ceasefire could serve in the circumstances is to help LTTE to buy time
to regroup and prolong the agony of those held in captivity.
In spite of this, the persistence of Western Governments and INGOs on a
ceasefire shows either a surprising lack of understanding of the ground
situation or a deliberate decision to ignore it. During the past week Gordon
Brown sent his Foreign Minister along with the French counterpart to press the
Government and another delegation of British MPs followed immediately after.
Canada has followed suit.
Hillary Clinton keeps on firing from a distance. Their mantra is ceasefire. It
is not surprising that the Sri Lankan Government has not acceded to these
demands. No sane Government on the verge of eliminating the terrorists would.
It may also come as a surprise to these do-gooders that the representatives from
within the region, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee of India, a
country which has a greater stake in the issue than any other, and Yasushi
Akashi, Japan’s Special Envoy to the island, who also visited the country around
the same time did not make such demands. Akashi stressed at the end of his
three-day visit that there was no link between the aid provided by Japan and
progress in peace efforts.
An important factor Western countries have overlooked in their manipulations is
that unlike in those days, when there was no alternative to Western aid, now
there are other donors who are willing and able to step into the breach. As
Jeremy Page of the Times noted China’s aid to Sri Lanka jumped from a few
million dollars in 2005 to almost $1 billion last year, replacing Japan as the
biggest foreign donor. By comparison, the United States gave $7.4 million last
year and Britain just £ 1.25 million.
Beijing also appears to have increased arms sales significantly to Sri Lanka
since 2007, when the US suspended military aid over the same human rights
According to Jane’s Defence Weekly in April 2007 Sri Lanka signed a classified
$37.6 million deal to buy Chinese ammunition and ordnance for its army and navy.
It is not China alone that helps Sri Lanka: there is Japan, Russia, Iran, Libya
and Vietnam in addition to India and Pakistan.
There were rumours of Obama and Brown along with some INGOs urging the IMF not
to provide the standby arrangement of $1.9 billion to Sri Lanka. What the West
needs to realise is that the more they attempt to clamp down the more they push
Sri Lanka into the fold of China and other friendly nations.
The duplicity of the West does not end there. By all accounts the LTTE led by
Prabhakaran is far more deadly than Al Qaeda. The Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI) has described it as the “most dangerous and deadly
extremists” in the world and ranked it ahead of Al Qaeda and Hamas.
According to the agency advisory, the LTTE has perfected the use of suicide
bombers; invented the suicide belt; pioneered the use of women in suicide
attacks and murdered some 4,000 people in the past two years alone.
It goes on to say that the LTTE’s “ruthless tactics have inspired terrorist
networks worldwide, including Al Qaeda in Iraq.” The FBI also notes that the
LTTE operatives have assassinated two world leaders, the only terrorist
organisation to do so. This is only a part of its resume. Drug dealing, credit
card fraud, human trafficking and recruitment of child soldiers are in addition.
For the 70,000 deaths he was responsible for, the New York Times called
Prabhakaran the Pol Pot of South Asia.
And now Prabhakaran and his top leaders are trapped in a five kilometre stretch
of land surrounded by Sri Lankan Armed Forces. If it was Osama bin Laden who was
cornered like this, will the US and UK still call for a ceasefire? It is this
deceit in applying double standards that is a further factor in the West losing
Having come this far there is no doubt the Sri Lankan Government will soon
complete the task of eliminating the terrorist group. Simultaneously the window
of opportunity for the West to rethink its strategy is rapidly dwindling.
The writer is an economist and freelance journalist. Email: [email protected]