US Message to Sri Lanka through Geneva: Tamil Issue - Tamil Issue - Tamil Issue
If there is a misconception that the United States wants a regime change in Sri Lanka, perish the thought. If there is a misconception that the United States wants a divided Sri Lanka, a Tamil Nation for the Tamils in the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka, perish the thought. Of course, the State Department, for many reasons known to this writer, preferred Ranil Wickremasinghe over Mahinda Rajapaksa as this South Asian nation's president in 2005, Mr. Rajapaksa gave me some reasons for it when this writer met him in Los Angeles some years back.
And if an one in Mr. Rajapaksa's presidential secretariat or officials in Sri Lanka's External Affairs Ministry which include the erudite professor and my good colleague Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha in Geneva believe that American officials are going to be candid about some pressing issues in Sri Lanka and open their minds to their classified thinking, perish that thought too.
What I have confidentially discussed with my editor K.T. Rajasingham all these many years I have been with Asian Tribune about some sensitive working atmosphere within the portals of the American Embassy in Colombo and the dialogue and working relationship I had with senior foreign service officers (FSO) in Colombo and Washington, this writer is not prepared to break the oath of office taken during the employment with the U.S. Federal Government.
Throughout my career, first ten years (1970 thru 1980) in public affairs and the following fifteen years in public diplomacy, I was associated with many internal discourses of critical and not so critical socio-political-economic developments in Sri Lanka while maintaining very close rapport with some principal players in this South Asian nation and routine working relationship with others for me to broadly understand the nuances of Sri Lanka's national issues and how they were related to overall American foreign policy and reaction to those in within the Colombo diplomatic mission and Washington.
I was a political specialist with little above mid-level classification clearance but was routinely exposed to the sensitive and classified mind-set of the senior American diplomats because they couldn't conceal their thinking if they wanted me to produce reports and analyses for Washington's understanding.
It is with this understanding that I stated at the outset that the United States never wanted Sri Lanka divided which means never wanted the Tamil Tigers to establish a separate state for minority Tamils.
But issues surrounding and associated with Tamil rights, their grievances and the disproportionate Sinhalese share in Sri Lanka's political structure and the governance were seen the dominant discourse within the U.S. diplomatic mission in Colombo and the South Asia division of the State Department in Washington.
When Sri Lanka, since the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, allowed the activists/professionals within the Tamil Diaspora in the United States and the EU to be the spokesmen of the 11% minority Tamils which convinced the Washington officials that these activists were in fact representing the voice of the Tamils, Sri Lanka failed to get the ownership of its minority paving the way for the Tamil Diaspora and the state department/EU officials to move toward a close rapport and working relationship.
The irony of it is that, in the process, Sri Lanka forgot to expose these activists to the international community (IC) that they were in fact the 'material supporters' to the lethal terrorist group that was designated a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) in most of the EU nations and the United States and allowed them to be champions of human rights of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.
Some of the activists within the Tamil Diaspora in the U.S. could have brought before the U.S. federal court system for providing material support to an FTO which is a federal offence under federal laws confirmed by the US Supreme Court decision in 2011.
Sri Lanka allowed them to have a smooth sail right toward Geneva.
The message the U.S. gave Sri Lanka through the UNHRC in Geneva, again in March 2014 as were in three previous years was about the Tamil Issue, and this writer having worked with the Americans with some understanding of their mind-set is The Tamil Issue - The Tamil Issue - The Tamil Issue.
The following narrative depicts how the Tamil Issue came all the way from the eighties right on to the 'Message from Geneva' on 27 March 2014.
Somewhere in 1991, a year or so since the brutal suppression of Sri Lanka's southern Marxist rebel group JVP along with the questionable death of its leader Rohana Wijeweera in November 1989, a group of foreign service officers (FSOs) at Colombo's American embassy was in a routine meeting to exchange views, discuss political issues developing at that time of the host country, and figure out what Washington needs to know to facilitate the development of policy planks regarding Sri Lanka.
The significant issues as recalled by this writer who was part of that group as the diplomatic mission's political specialist were; (a) the Tamil Tiger or LTTE's lethal campaign in the north-east region (b) the tension in the rest of the country due to the mayhem created by the separatist group (c) Sinhalese-Tamil race relations (d)the political strategy of the government and the operational maneuvers of its armed forces, and (e) the Tamil 'National Issue' and related grievances and Sinhalese reactions to such issues.
This was the period, commenced in early 1980s, the U.S. diplomatic mission was deep into a serious project of understanding the nuances of Sri Lanka's ethnic problems and related issues while focusing toward the Tamil Tiger campaign to be part of the discourse to develop comprehensive policy planks for the Washington policymakers and Capitol Hill lawmakers.
Despite the Tamil Tiger movement unleashed nation-wide terrorism that Colombo American diplomatic mission and Washington decried, many among the US diplomatic corps strongly felt that the Tiger movement grew to address minority Tamil grievances and the increased Sinhalese domination in the governing apparatus since the sixties.
The perspective of Tamil National Question was taking shape along with critical national issues, and the mind-set of the FSOs and their Washington colleagues were being developed as to how the Sri Lankan polity reacted, manner in which it framed policies and the obstacles on their path to implement some of the agreed policy planks, and reaction to such policy implementation.
The said routine meeting's atmosphere suddenly took a different direction when one of the FSO's made the comment with displayed authority that "Sinhalese army is killing the Tamils" referring to the ongoing military operation in the north-east region combating separatist LTTE.
Prior to this 'comment' was made, this writer who had several official/personal meetings with the then General Officer Commanding (GOC) the North General Denzil Kobbekaduwa in his office in Colombo had briefed the Mission of the progress of military operations against the Tigers some of which were quite sensitive in nature. The writer used his old school ties with General Kobbekaduwa to get a deeper understanding of events in the north and the political maneuvering in the south as the General was well connected to principal players in the political stage at that time one being the opposition leader Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike, his close relative.
Why did the 'Sinhalese army killing the Tamils' sentiment creep into the mind-set of the FSOs that one could in later years seen as a catalyst of American foreign policy to build other policy planks surrounding Sri Lanka issues one could see had serious consequences to Sri Lanka's global image in subsequent years when General Kobbekaduwa was highly regarded as a soldier who was compassionate toward Tamil civilians?
This writer already in several briefings had told the hierarchy of Colombo's American diplomatic mission that Kobbekaduwa used three principles in his counter-insurgency war measures: firstly, he did not believe in holding down land, secondly, he believed in drawing the enemy away from populated areas to minimize civilian deaths and with advance maneuvering and superior firepower strain and destroy the enemy firepower, and thirdly make the civilians realize that they were better off trusting the armed forces. In fact, the UNHCR once paid a tribute to him for his humanitarian approach to the beleaguered Tamil population.
The current defense secretary Colonel Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who was posted to the northern war theater under Kobbekaduwa, could vouch for the latter's humanitarian approach.
This writer - remember this writer was an insider working closely with American officials for a very long time - explained to those who were at this meeting that the government and its security forces considered both the LTTE and JVP as enemy combatants and were equally a threat to national security, and despite the Tiger fighting cadre were totally of ethnic Tamils and the JVP cadre were all Sinhalese the security forces treated both groups as threats, and defeating the Tigers and the JVP cannot be interpreted as defeating the Tamils and the Sinhalese respectively.
But the FSO who made the 'killing' remark was joined by at least two other FSOs to distinguish between the two movements, one made up of ethnic Tamils who had fewer influence over a polity largely controlled by the majority Sinhalese thus advocating self determination for the Tamil people, and the other with ideological differences aimed at a regime change.
What this writer understood during the discourse of that meeting and subsequent scrutiny of the 'developed' mind-set of the FSOs was that the U.S.-designation of the Tigers as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) in 1997, it's acknowledgment of Norwegian brokered 2002 ceasefire agreement between the GSL and the Tigers ( personally initiated by the then Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage and current external affairs minister Prof. Peiris) , encouragement of peace talks between the two warring factions toward a peaceful political settlement and in support of bringing Tamil Tigers to mainstream Sri Lankan affairs, the U.S. tactical and intelligence assistance to defeat the Tigers but short of total annihilation, the United States political maneuver to make the ethnic minority Tamil population stakeholders of Sri Lankan affairs and lowering the hegemony ( a term occasionally used by the FSOs in Colombo during that period) of the majority Sinhalese, a significant policy plank had been engraved in the overall policy structure of the State Department.
The United States intervention in the current Sri Lankan affairs and its effective Geneva involvement, the American lawmakers and policymakers' perennial dialogue with the Tamil Diaspora and their 'advise'/'lectures' to the GSL and the effect of Tamil Diaspora politics in U.S. foreign policy while manipulating those foreign policy planks through the Tamil Diaspora to effect changes in the body politic of Sri Lanka are largely drawn from the perspectives the state department developed between the early eighties and mid-nineties.
"The Sinhalese army is killing the Tamils" sentiment continues to govern the American psyche and intensified since the war ended in May 2009 effectively replenished by the professional activists within the Tamil Diaspora - activists who were once with the LTTE propagating its 'self determination' agenda, providing 'material support' to it by way of legal/professional advice, encouraging raising funds for the terror movement and even advocating procurement of arms describing the movement as a liberation organization of the Tamils - projecting Washington and activists of the Diaspora as strange bed fellows.
The message that came out of Geneva following the adoption of the US-sponsored resolution was nothing but a clear message to Sri Lanka to 'Take The Ownership of the Tamils', work with them to make them stakeholders of the governance in Sri Lanka, and bring a better working relationship between all ethnic communities.
What I understood during my tenure with the state department was that the U.S. never wanted the LTTE to succeed in their effort to wrest a separate state in the nation's north-east region nor a complete annihilation of the movement. Although Washington did not participate in peace talks the Norwegians initiated it allowed the then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to informally get involved in the peace process.
Washington was serious about the Tamil National Issue right throughout this period onto Geneva, and the "Sinhalese army killing the Tamils" sentiment governed the U.S. policy planks that reflected quite well in the text of the US-sponsored resolution that was adopted in Geneva last Thursday.
The message that the United States gave through UNHRC is nothing but the 'Tamil National Issue' and not about military bases, separate Tamil nation and 'excessive' Sinhalese dominance in Sri Lankan polity.
The experience during my tenure with them, and subsequent dealings with my former State Department colleagues and reading of men and events is that Sri Lanka has taken a long time to 'own' part of her ethnic population. It helped the former 'material supporters' of the terrorist Tamil Tigers to be effective spokesperson for 11% minority Tamils and paved the way for them to work closely with policy/lawmakers in the U.S. and some major EU nations.
This led the effective transfer of 'domestic terrorism' to the emergence of much more effective 'Global Diplomatic Insurgency'.
Geneva Message is: Tamil Issue - Tamil Issue AND Tamil Issue.
- Asian Tribune –