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A Proposal for a new Paradigm in Foreign Policy for Sri Lanka

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by Dharshan Weerasekera,
Attorney-at-Law

Legend has it that when King Vijayabahu was in hiding and regrouping to fight the Cholas an old woman advised him that just as it is easy to break a single stick of firewood but much harder to break a bunch of sticks when held together he should first find the right allies to advance his objectives. The story is very useful when thinking about how to address Sri Lanka’s present-day foreign policy challenges the most important of which is the “Pivot to Asia” by the United States.

The Pivot has the potential to affect the sovereignty, national security and territorial integrity of our country now and in the years to come. Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge there is very little discussion in local academic journals or newspapers on ways of dealing with this threat other than appeals to “neutralism” and “non-alignment.” Without prejudice to the efficacy of those concepts in meeting present needs, it is in the public interest to explore new ways of responding to the Pivot.

The purpose of this article is to suggest such a way. I argue that Sri Lanka should take the lead in forming a new alliance of the low to middle-income countries that come under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In this article, I shall briefly discuss: a) the most urgent challenges related to the Pivot that Sri Lanka is facing at the moment, b) the failure of the traditional alliances such as the Non-Aligned Movement, SAARC and others to protect Sri Lanka’s interests on issues that really count, c) the plan.

 

1) The challenges

There are two urgent challenges. First, the recent blacklisting of leading Chinese companies by the United States. Since Sri Lanka is a poor country and heavily dependent on the US and its allies for economic support, it is unreasonable to suppose that the GOSL can or will do anything on its own to protest against unilateral actions by the US against China or any other country even if such actions indirectly harm this country.

However, if Sri Lanka is in an alliance with a group of nations all of whom are harmed by the actions in question they could more easily protest against them. Also, by providing a market for each other’s goods the members can help each other dissipate the effect of any retaliatory actions the US might take against an individual member.

Second is the continuing effort by the pro-LTTE groups active overseas to get the international community to endorse a purported right to self-determination of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It goes without saying that this effort benefits certain powerful nations that for their own reasons wish to destabilise Sri Lanka. Under these circumstances, the worst-case scenario would be for such nations to push for a resolution at a UN organ such as the UNHRC suggesting a “two-state solution,” “referendum on secession” or suchlike thing on the grounds that the government is not doing enough to address the ‘grievances’ of the minorities.

The initial resolution could be expanded over time in the same way that the UNHRC resolutions starting in 2012, which called for an international war crimes investigation against Sri Lanka, were expanded at successive sessions of the Council until the sought for goal was achieved in March 2014. It is crucial that if there is the slightest attempt at a repeat performance except this time in regard to a “two-state solution” the GOSL nip such attempt in the bud. The value of an alliance of nations that would stand with Sri Lanka in this situation is incalculable.

 

2) The Failure of the Traditional Alliances

a) Non-Aligned Movement

Pandit Nehru, one of the architects of non-alignment explained that the purpose of the movement was to help the former colonies pursue an independent foreign policy without getting dragged into military alliances either with the US or the Soviet Union. In 1961, at the first summit of the movement held in Belgrade he said:

“We call ourselves non-aligned countries. The word ‘non-aligned’ may be differently interpreted, but basically it was coined and used with the meaning of being non-aligned with the great power blocs of the world. ‘Non-aligned’ has a negative connotation. But if we give it a positive connotation, it means nations which object to living up for war purposes, to military blocs, to military alliances and the like”

Unfortunately, today, the NAM is all but dead because of three reasons: a) many NAM members including India are now firm allies and “partners” of the US, b) the common experience of colonialism no longer evokes the same passion among the various members as it once did and many members especially in Africa are racked with internal conflicts including the rise of Islamist extremism, and c) regional organizations such as the African Union, Organization of Islamic Cooperation and others now cater to the needs of their members far more than the NAM.

The NAM has failed Sri Lanka specifically in recent years when the series of UNHRC resolutions mentioned earlier were being brought against this country. It is now universally recognized that the culminating resolution in that series, resolution 30/1 of October 2015 contains provisions inimical to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. To my knowledge, the NAM did not utter a word of official condemnation at what was being done and key NAM members such as India even voted for the resolution.

b) SAARC

SAARC was established in 1985 as a forum to address the security and economic concerns particular to South Asia. However, many critics have pointed out that SAARC has been perennially impeded in reaching its goals because of two reasons: a) the continuing rivalry between India and Pakistan, b) India’s hegemonic ambitions. Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, the Pakistani scholar says, “South Asia’s structure is such that there exists the overwhelming predominance of India contained by the presence of Pakistan, which is strong enough to resist the domineering attempts of India. The feelings of being subjected to a hegemonic system are not conducive to accelerated evolution of collectivity.” (Gonzalvez and Jetly 1999: 95)

c) Commonwealth

The Commonwealth is based on the shared experience of its members as former colonies of Great Britain. Presumably, these members are committed to the institutions that Britain bequeathed to them chief amongst which are: the tradition of the Common Law, respect for the rule of law, democracy and individual rights. The Commonwealth has failed Sri Lanka in recent years by not protesting when the UNHRC resolutions mentioned earlier were being brought against it. Worse, a number of Commonwealth nations most notably the UK played a key role in pushing the said resolutions.

The UK also remains a staunch supporter of resolution 30/1. Recall that, the GOSL withdrew from the co-sponsorship of that resolution in March 2020 stating that it was harmful to Sri Lanka’s interests. However, the UK along with four other nations—the so-called “core group” on Sri Lanka—told the Council this past June: “We reiterate our profound disappointment at this development. We remain firmly committed to advancing the resolution’s goals.” (30th June 2020, www.gov.uk.) In sum, the question arises whether with friends like this one needs enemies.

 

3) The Plan

The BRI is a vast network of roads, railroads and harbours connecting Asia with the Middle East, Africa and Europe. There is no question that the network offers the low to middle-income countries along the route an unparalleled chance to achieve rapid economic growth. Accordingly, the BRI is a resource that these nations share and it is in their mutual interest to ensure that the network is maintained and indeed developed to its full potential.

This economic self-interest is a powerful incentive for the nations concerned to band together regardless of differences in ideology, religion, language and culture in order to oppose powerful nations—whether the US and its allies on the one hand or China on the other—if they impede their ability to enjoy the full benefits of the BRI.

The main difference between this alliance and previous alliances is that this is forward-looking, meaning that the physical infrastructure of the BRI is the basis for the relationship and so an intellectual and social culture common to the network can develop over time based on mutual cooperation. Sri Lanka is in a unique position to initiate a dialogue on the alliance because of its history as a vital link in the ancient ‘Silk Road’, of which the BRI is the modern-day incarnation. Sri Lanka has had contacts with most of the nations along the route for hundreds of years.

 

Conclusion

The “Pivot to Asia” by the U.S. poses challenges that Sri Lanka simply cannot face alone. The BRI offers a basis for an alliance with nations similarly situated to Sri Lanka, which it is in this country’s interest to explore.



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Mindset changes and the dangerous ‘Religious War’ rhetoric

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Israeli border police on patrol at the Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem (Pic courtesy Al Jazeera)

Nothing could be more vital at present in the conflict and war zones of the world than positive mindset changes and the wish of the humanist is likely to be that such momentous developments would quickly come to pass in particularly the Middle East. Because in the latter theatre almost every passing hour surfaces problems that call for more than average peace-making capabilities for their resolution.

For instance, the Islamic Supreme Fatwa Council in Palestine has reportedly warned of a ‘Religious War’ in the wake of recent allegations that Israel is planning to prevent the Muslim community from having access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem in the month of Ramadan. If true, this development is likely to further compound the Gaza violence and take it along an even more treacherous track. This is on account of the fact that religious passions, if not managed effectively, could prove most volatile and destructive.

As pointed out in this column previously, peace movements on both sides of the main divide in the region would need to quickly activate themselves, link-up and work as one towards the de-escalation of the conflict. What the Middle East and the world’s other war zones urgently need are persons and groups who are endowed with a pro-peace mind set who could work towards an elimination of the destructive attitudes that are instrumental in keeping the conflicts concerned raging.

This could prove an uphill task in the Middle East in particular. For, every passing minute in the region is seeing a hardening of attitudes on both sides in the wake of issues growing out of the violence. Accordingly, if peace-making is to be contemplated by the more moderate sections in the conflict, first, we need to see a lull in the violence. Achieving such a de-escalation in the violence has emerged as a foremost need for the region.

Right now, the Israeli state is showing no signs of climbing down from its position of seeing a decisive end to the Hamas militants and their support bases and going forward this policy stance could get in the way of de-escalating the violence even to a degree.

On the other hand, it would not be realistic on the part of the world community to expect a mindset change among Israeli government quarters and their supporters unless and until the security of the Israeli state is ensured on a permanent basis. Ideally, the world should be united on the position that Israel’s security is non-negotiable; this could be considered a veritable cornerstone of Middle East peace.

Interestingly, the Sri Lankan state seems to have come round to the above view on a Middle East peace settlement. Prior to the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime taking this stance, this columnist called repeatedly over the past few months in this commentary, in fact since October 7th last year, for the adoption of such a policy. That is, a peace settlement that accords priority to also the security needs of the Israelis. It was indicated that ensuring the security and stability of the Palestinians only would fall short of a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East imbroglio.

However, in the case of the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime, the above change in policy seems to be dictated almost wholly by economic survival considerations rather than by any well thought out principle or a sense of fairness to all relevant stakeholders.

For example, close on the heels of the regime playing host to the Israeli Transport Minister recently, it accorded a reverential welcome to the Iranian Foreign Minister as well. From the viewpoint of a small country struggling to survive, this is the way to go, since it needs every morsel of economic assistance and succour.

However, if permanent peace is to have a chance in the Middle East it would need to be based on the principle of justice to all the main parties to the conflict. Seen from this point of view, justice and fairness should be accorded to the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. Both parties, that is, should live within stable states.

The immediate need, though, is to at least bring a lull to the fighting. This will enable the Palestinian population in the Gaza to access humanitarian assistance and other essential needs. Besides, it could have the all-important effect of tempering hostile attitudes on both sides of the divide.

The US is currently calling for a ‘temporary ceasefire’ to the conflict, but the challenge before Washington is to get the Israeli side to agree to it. If the Israeli Prime Minister’s recent pronouncements are anything to go by, the US proposal is unlikely to make any impression on Tel Aviv. In other words, the Israeli Right is remaining an obstacle to a ceasefire or even some form of temporary relief for the affected populations, leave alone a political solution. However, changing their government is entirely a matter for the Israeli people.

Accordingly, if a stable peace is to be arrived at, hostile, dogmatic attitudes on both sides may need to be eased out permanently. Ideally, both sides should see themselves as having a common future in a peacefully shared territory.

Peace groups and moderate opinion should be at centre stage on both sides of the divide in the region for the facilitation of such envisaged positive changes. The UN and democratic opinion worldwide should take it upon themselves to raise awareness among both communities on the need for a political solution. They should consider it incumbent upon themselves to work proactively with peace groups in the region.

The world is a vast distance from the stage when both parties to the conflict could even toy with the idea of reconciliation. Because reconciliation anywhere requires the relevant antagonists to begin by saying, ‘I am sorry for harming you.’ This is unthinkable currently, considering the enmity and acrimony that have built up over the years among the volatile sections of both communities.

However, relevant UN agencies and global democratic opinion could begin by convincing the warring sections that unless they cooperate and coexist, mutual annihilation could be their lot. Mindset changes of this kind are the only guarantors of lasting peace and mindset changes need to be worked on untiringly.

As this is being written, the ICJ is hearing representations from numerous countries on the Middle East situation. The opinions aired thus far are lopsided in that they do not present the Israeli viewpoint on the conflict. If a fair solution is to be arrived at to the conflict Israel’s concerns too would need to be taken into account expeditiously.

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Dubai scene brightening up for SL fashion designers

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Sri Lankans are lighting up the scene in Dubai, not only as musicians, but in other fields, as well.

At the recently held Ceylon Food Festival, in Dubai, a fashion show was held, with Sri Lankan designers doing the needful.

The fashion show highlighted the creations of Pubudu Jayasinghe, Tehani Rukshika and Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya, in three different segments, with each designer assigned 10 models.

The fashion show was choreographed by Shashi Kaluarachchi, who won the Miss Supermodel Globe International 2020, held in India, and was 1st runner-up at the Mr., Miss and Mrs. Sri Lanka, in Dubai.

Shashi says she was trained by Brian Karkoven and his know-how gave her a good start to her modelling career.

She has done many fashions shows in Sri Lanka, as well as in Dubai, and has worked with many pioneers in the fashion designing field.

The designers involved in the fashion show, in Dubai, were:

Pubudu Jayasinghe,

a 22-year-old creative and skilled makeup artist and nail technician. With a wealth of experience gained from working in various salons and participating in makeup and fashion projects in both Dubai and Sri Lanka, he has honed his talents in the beauty industry. Passionate about fashion, Pubudu has also acquired knowledge and experience in fashion designing, modelling, and choreography, showcasing his multifaceted expertise in the dynamic world of fashion.

Tehani Rukshika,

who studied at St Joseph’s Girls School, Nugegoda, says she went to Dubai, where her mom works, and joined the Westford University in fashion designing faculty for her Masters. Her very first fashion show was a Sri Lankan cultural event, called ‘Batik’. “This was my first event, and a special one, too, as my mom was modelling an Arabic Batik dress.”

Shashi Kaluarachchi

Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya

has been living in Dubai for the past 21 years and has a batik shop in Dubai, called 20Step.

According to Shashi, who is on vacation in Sri Lanka, at the moment, there will be more Sri Lankan fashion shows in Dubai, highlighting the creations of Sri Lankan designers.

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A mask of DATES…

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Yes, another one of my favourites…dates, and they are freely available here, so you don’t need to go searching for this item. And they are reasonably priced, too.

Okay, readers, let’s do it…with dates, of course – making a mask that will leave your skin feeling refreshed, and glowing

To make this mask, you will need 03-04 dates, and 02 tablespoons of milk.

Remove the seeds and soak the dates, in warm milk, for about 20 minutes. This method will soften the dates and make them easier to blend.

After the 20 minutes is up, put the dates in a blender and blend until you have a smooth paste. Check to make sure there are no lumps, or chunks, left.

Add the 02 tablespoons of milk to the blended date paste and mix well.

Okay, now gently apply this mixture to your face, avoiding the eye area. Use your fingertips, or a clean brush, to evenly distribute the mask all over your face.

Once the mask is applied, find a comfortable place to sit, or lie down. Relax for about 15-20 minutes, allowing the mask to work its magic on your skin.

After the mentioned time has passed, rinse off the mask with lukewarm water. Gently massage your face while rinsing to exfoliate any dead skin cells.

After rinsing off the mask, pat dry your face with a soft towel, and then follow up with your favourite moisturizer to lock in the hydration and keep your skin moisturized.

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