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Midweek Review

Roadmap for India relations, growing Chinese influence and Quad politics

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January 2009 Gujarat: The then Tourism Minister of Mahinda Rajapaksa administration Milinda Moragoda with the Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi. Moragoda was there to address the annual "Vibrant Gujarat" Investor Forum.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Naming former lawmaker Milinda Moragoda as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in New Delhi had been one of the most controversial decisions taken by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the onset of his administration.

The appointment was made in spite of strong objections, even by some of those who had backed Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s candidature at the 2019 presidential election. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa went to the extent of issuing a statement vowing to go ahead with appointments made following careful consideration. However, Moragoda couldn’t take up his new assignment due to the raging Covid-19 epidemic in India. Although the Covid-19 situation remains critical, Moragoda is planning to move to New Delhi soon.

Ahead of taking up his post in Delhi in the coming weeks, Moragoda released a document titled, ‘Integrated Country Strategy for Sri Lanka Diplomatic Missions in India’ that dealt with the 2021-2023 period.

Deputy High Commissioner in New Delhi Niluka Kadurugamuwa, in his introduction to what can be called a road map, asserted that this could provide the required agenda though ideally it should be further fine-tuned and developed in the implementing phase. Sri Lanka needs a long term strategy. Sri Lanka cannot pursue an agenda to suit a particular envoy/government though differences in political approach are understandable.

A meticulous planner, Moragoda having thanked the Deputy HC and members of the Country Team as well as the group of experts who provided invaluable advice and inputs in preparation of the roadmap declared he accepted full responsibility for any omissions or oversights.

Having first entered Parliament through the UNP National List in late 2000, Moragoda successfully contested the 2001 and 2004 general elections on the UNP ticket though in 2007 he switched his allegiance under controversial circumstances to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Moragoda, who had been a key government negotiator in talks with the LTTE during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as the Premier in 2001-2003 was among those UNPers who received ministerial portfolios after they switched sides in 2007. Moragoda played quite an impressive role during his tenure as the Justice Minister. The writer had an opportunity to cover the rehabilitation process undertaken under Moragoda’s guidance. Perhaps, the involvement of the All Ceylon Hindu Congress in the rehabilitation of LTTE cadres is definitely a high point for the then Minister.

Moragoda remained with the Rajapaksas and was President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s first choice as the country’s top envoy in New Delhi. Throughout his political career, and post-parliament period, Moragoda pursued a strategy that was alien to many MPs/ex-MPs with the formation of Pathfinder Foundation being a singular achievement. Formation of Pathfinder Foundation (PF) that dealt in foreign relations among a range of other issues with the focus on developing relations and Quad countries, namely the US, Japan, Australia and Japan and US ally South Korea. In the wake of receiving diplomatic assignment, Moragoda gave up the chairmanship of PF to top ex-career diplomat Bernard Goonetilleke, who had been with the outfit for some time.

But what the writer likes to highlight is the recognition of PF by China as one of its top 10 partners here during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure as the President. The recognition was made at a ceremony to mark the Chinese New Year and Sri Lanka’s National Day held at the BMICH. Among those present were President Mahinda Rajapaksa (current Prime Minister), Prime Minister D.M Jayaratne (passed away in Nov 2019), Minister of Health Maithripala Sirisena (former President, SLFP leader, and currently SLPP MP), Minister of External Affairs G.L Peiris (SLPP Chairman and Education Minister), Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Senior Advisor Lalith Weeratunga. The then Chinese Ambassador Wu Jianghao who presented the top 10 partner’s award to Moragoda, Founder of Pathfinder Foundation, is now Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In his thank you note therein addressed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Moragoda declared the two countries were bound by circumstances of geography, economics, culture, history, and just as importantly, democratic values. Against this backdrop, the former lawmaker asserted any setbacks to Indo-Lanka relationship, however intractable they may appear to be at any given point in time, could only be temporary. Perhaps the proposed road map should be discussed taking into consideration what Moragoda stated in the section headlined ‘Mission Strategic Framework.’ Let me reproduce that vital part verbatim: “In recent years, the Indo-Sri Lanka bilateral relationship has been increasingly dominated by a transactional approach. This is a consequence of the changes in the geo-political equilibrium in the region that have resulted in a growing trust deficit.”

But the Milinda Moragoda saga is not complete, we believe, without going into his background. He is the grandson of late legendary first Sri Lankan Governor of the country’s Central Bank N. U. Jayawardena, but left it under a cloud. The literally self-made, NU then went onto build a financial empire, but that too caved-in in the late’ 80s amidst a public spat with then Governor of the Central Bank Dr. H.N.S Karunatillake.

Indo-Lanka relations and Quad

Sri Lanka cannot even discuss Indo-Lanka relations without taking into consideration the US-led Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) the very purpose in its formation has been to gang up against Beijing. The Quad comprising the NATO leader the US, Japan, Australia and India, meant to counter the rapidly growing Chinese military, political and economic power and is also wary about Sri Lanka’s strategic relationship with China. The passage of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill in May this year certainly dismayed Quad. The outgoing US Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz in April and in July this year sought to subvert the high profile Colombo Port City project. Of course, the CHEC Port City promptly set the record straight. Unfortunately, the government and the Foreign Ministry remained conveniently silent though issues raised by Ambassador Teplitz shouldn’t go unanswered. It would be pertinent to mention that the US statement definitely had the backing of other Quad members, Japan, Australia and India. South Korea though not being part of Quad certainly stands with the US-led grouping.

HC Moragoda’s roadmap that dealt with Indo-Lanka relations cannot be discussed leaving Quad out. In fact, Indo-Lanka relations, regardless of Sri Lanka’s position on bilateral matters, are essentially part of Sri Lanka’s response to Quad concerns relating to China. The forthcoming Malabar exercises off the coast of Guam in the Indo-Pacific are taking place ahead of the much-awaited Quad summit in the US in which Australian, Japanese and Indian leaders are scheduled to meet the US President Joe Biden in October.

Sri Lanka should pay attention to the evolving situation. If decision-makers bother to peruse Chapter 6: ‘An Indocentric Practitioner of Realpolitik’ in ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy’ authored by the late Indian Foreign Secretary J.N.Dixit , it wouldn’t be too difficult to understand the complexity of the situation.

The Moragoda roadmap made reference to the loss of about 1,300 Indian soldiers here. The reference is quite questionable and inappropriate. Let me reproduce the relevant section verbatim below: “The intervention in the conflict in Sri Lanka where India lost about 1300 soldiers (emphasis is mine), India’s commitment of billions of dollars as development assistance and grant assistance to Sri Lanka, the Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement, cooperation extended through training of Sri Lankan military personnel, undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships to Sri Lankan students, as well as Joint Statements issued on the occasions of state visits of the leaders of the two countries, are but a few examples that amply demonstrate the breadth and depth of the strategic partnership enjoyed by the two countries (emphasis is mine).

It would certainly be a mistake on Sri Lanka’s part to recognise India’s uninvited intervention here as a benevolent example of the strategic partnership between the two countries. Actually, the Indian intervention should have been correctly assessed taking into consideration the late Dixit’s assessment as regards the then Indian Premier, the late Indira Gandhi’s decision vis a vis Sri Lanka.

In his memoirs, Dixit stated: “The two foreign policy decisions on which she could be faulted are: her ambiguous response to the Russian intrusion into Afghanistan and her giving active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants. Whatever the criticisms about these decisions, it cannot be denied that she took them on the basis of her assessment about India’s national interests. Her logic was that she could not openly alienate the former Soviet Union when India was so dependent on that country for defence supplies and technologies. Similarly, she could not afford the emergence of Tamil separatism in India by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils. These aspirations were legitimate in the context of nearly 50 years of Sinhalese discrimination against Sri Lankan Tamils.

In both cases, her decisions were relevant at the point of time they were taken. History will judge her as a political leader who safeguarded Indian national interests with determination and farsightedness.”

Dixit also justified the Indian intervention on the basis of what he described as ‘Sri Lankan government’s evolving security connections with the US, Pakistan and Israel.’

Indian stand in Geneva

Can one envisage the normalisation of Indo-Lanka ties as long as war-winning Sri Lanka remained on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) agenda? Can we ever forget Sri Lankan armed forces and political leadership are being hounded for bringing the devastating near three-decades long war to an end whereas those responsible for terrorism here sit in judgment? Sri Lanka needs to set the record straight. India can never absolve itself of the responsibility for causing terrorism here.

The world should acknowledge Sri Lanka would never have to fight a conventional military challenge on its soil if not for the Indian sponsorship of terrorism. Obviously, India wants everyone to conveniently forget its past military misadventure here (July 1987-March 1990) as it seeks a bigger role in the world stage as a US ally. India joined the US project against China long before the formation of Quad in 2007. Whether New Delhi’s policy towards Sri Lanka would be influenced by the overall Quad strategy in Indo-Pacific, Sri Lanka should be wary of India exploiting Geneva as a platform to pursue its objectives here. Clearly Quad countries, as well as South Korea home to nearly 30,000 US military personnel might be swayed to take a common stand in Geneva. Those countries either vote for Geneva resolutions moved by interested parties against Sri Lanka or abstained. Having caused terrorism here in the’ 80s to pave the way for the deployment of the Indian Army in 1987 with catastrophic consequences, India urged Sri Lanka in Geneva March 2021 to address Tamil aspirations. India said that Sri Lanka should take necessary steps through the process of reconciliation and full implementation of the 13th Amendment (shoved down our throat by Delhi) to the Constitution of Sri Lanka. Why should the 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution or the new Constitution making process be an issue at the Geneva-based UNHRC?

The March 2021 Geneva session paved the way for a fresh international investigation into Sri Lanka’s accountability issue. Those who had openly and tacitly backed fresh investigation remained conveniently silent on now-disclosed diplomatic cables from the British High Commission in Colombo (January-May 2009) which contradicted unsubstantiated war crimes accusations directed at Sri Lanka.

It would also be pertinent to mention that Quad countries the Japan and Australia, have to share the expenditure incurred by the US military deployment. South Korea, too, pays for the US military. The US-India relations are now at an extremely high status with the latter being part of the Western powers’ overall thinking. Therefore, Sri Lanka cannot, under any circumstances, ignore the fact its close relationship with China may cause apprehensions among Quad members, particularly India. Such a situation cannot be addressed by improving bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and India. That is the undeniable truth. Against the backdrop of unbearable devastation caused by the raging Covid-19 epidemic, Sri Lanka is easy prey for foreign powers. The epidemic has weakened the country to such an extent that repayment of debt of USD 01 billion International Sovereign Bond Issue received media attention. Have you ever heard of such a fund transfer receiving media attention? Bloomberg quoted State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal as having said Sri Lanka has transferred funds to repay the $1 billion bond by Tuesday (July 27) deadline.

Roadmap: Seven primary objectives

As mentioned, the objectives of the Sri Lankan High Commission are (1) Elevate the existing close bilateral relationship to a strategic level through increased interactions at political level (2) Bolster foreign investments as well as earnings from exports. Achieve significant export growth and increase foreign exchange earnings, with the ultimate objective of increasing productivity, employment generation and international competitiveness to uplift the living standards of the people in Sri Lanka, with a view to achieving the macro-economic targets set out for the period 2020- 2025, in the Government Policy framework document, ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ (3) Expand collaboration in the fields of strategic cooperation, defence and Indian Ocean security between Sri Lanka and India (4) Further enhance cooperation between Sri Lanka and India, particularly in the fields of culture, education and science and technology, to promote Sri Lanka’s interests (5) Project a more positive image of Sri Lanka in India through public diplomacy initiatives, with a view to reaching out to the people of India and strengthening people-to-people contacts (6) Enhance connectivity between Sri Lanka and India and finally (7) Promote Sri Lanka’s interests in protecting its ocean resources.

Perhaps one of the most important issues (objective number 7) is taking tangible measures to stop ongoing large scale organised poaching in Sri Lankan waters by the Indian fishing fleet. In spite of talks with the Central government, relevant state governments and other stakeholders, poaching continues unabated much to the dismay of local fishermen. India had the wherewithal to comfortably curb the Indian fishing fleet from crossing the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary though New Delhi would never do so for obvious reasons. During the conflict (1980s-2009) terrorists exploited Indian poaching to move men and lethal material between South India and Sri Lanka. The poaching issue can be successfully dealt with only if India is genuinely interested in denying access to her fishermen, who literally invade Sri Lankan waters in thousands of boats to plunder our fish resources. Indo-Lanka relations should be examined against such bilateral issues as well as India being part of Quad ranged against emerging Superpower China. The bottom line Indo-Lanka relations cannot be decided bilaterally. The 99-year-lease of Hambantota port to China, flagship Chinese venture Colombo Port City project, Chinese managed terminal in the Colombo Port and a plethora of other agreements are all part of not only Indo-Lanka relations but relations with other Quad countries as well. Quad nations, the US and Japan recently conducted naval exercises off Trincomalee with the Sri Lanka Navy. The exercise marked a new phase of their strategy as Sri Lanka struggled to maintain a balance and is now forced to walk a diplomatic tightrope.



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Midweek Review

Seeing Red on Bread

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By Lynn Ockersz

The ‘People’s Rep‘, suave and poker faced,

Said to citizens bent under multiple weights:

‘You‘ll have to do with two meals and not three,

Since times are lean, and we are all seeing red‘;

But such alerts, citizens know, are all over history writ,

With France and Russia of long ago standing out,

As cases where Bread stormed centre stage,

And brought to society topsy-turvy change,

Marking an end to privileges earned in unjust ways,

While sending out the message to those in charge,

That the patience of the hungry wears thin fast.

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Midweek Review

War crimes:

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UN going the whole hog

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The newly formed Civil Society Platform (CSP) on Monday (13) dealt with entire range of accountability issues and the re-imposition of a state of emergency on the pretext of addressing food distribution. The media received the comprehensive statement endorsed by 30 organisations, and 36 individuals, soon after the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) declared its intention to go ahead with fresh investigation, as mandated at the 46th session.

The hard-hitting CSP statement should be examined against the backdrop of a dialogue between a new collective of civil society activists, grouped as Sri Lankan Collective for Consensus (SLCC). The civil society appears to be divided over their strategy in respect of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government. However, UN Rights Chief, Michelle Bachelet, one-time Chilean President, in her hard-hitting statement, at the onset of the 48th session, made reference to the meeting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had with SLCC on August 3. That is a quite a development. But, nothing has changed in Geneva and the war-winning country is on the UN agenda.

A recent statement, issued by the Executive Director of the National Peace Council (NPC), Dr. Jehan Perera, on behalf of SLCC, dealt with several contentious issues.

The statement issued, subsequent to a meeting the group had with newly appointed Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, raised the following issues: the declaration of State of Emergency, Cabinet of Ministers giving the go ahead for the Legal Draftsman to prepare ‘NGO legislation,’ continuing harassment of NGOs, abolition/amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (reference was made to those who had served the LTTE and the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage suspects), implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, and holding of long-delayed Provincial Council polls, land issues in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, language issue, hate speech and misuse of the ICCPR Act, step-motherly treatment of Tamil-speaking people, by denying them participation at national events, and targeting of the Muslim community.

The above litany, however, sounds only too familiar and the chorus is the same. They have packaged themselves under the new name SLCC, but being backed by the West, have been pushing the same agenda for decades. The CSP is no different. No one ever bothered to ask for an explanation from the TNA for recognising the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil-speaking people, in 2001, thereby paving the way for the Eelam War IV a couple of years later. Similarly, no one ever inquired into the clandestine relationship between UN Colombo and the LTTE. Geneva is also silent about the origins of Sri Lanka terrorism (Indian intervention).

As happened in Afghanistan, with the now infamous independent media of the West, which unquestioningly only pushed the narrative of the military industrial complex of mainly the US and the UK, for decades, have now suddenly metamorphosed into finally questioning what went wrong, only after all their lies about Afghanistan and elsewhere began to crumble overnight. Interestingly, they are pointing fingers at everyone else, except at themselves, for not having done the job as an objective media. Theirs has been, for quite some time, an embedded media that cheered on the military industrial complex and the Wall Street. May be there, too, it was all due to filthy lucre.

Prof. Peiris, who had served as the Foreign Minister during the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term (2010-2015), received the same ministry on Aug 16. The academic, who once headed the government delegation for Oslo-arranged talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), has assured the SLCC of the government’s readiness to work with the civil society.

The SLCC statement, headlined ‘Promise of a fresh approach for resolving national issues’, at the onset, insisted that the discussions the group so far had with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the then Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Justice Minister Ali Sabry, Youth and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa, Regional Cooperation State Minister Tharaka Balasuriya and Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage failed to yield the desired results. So they still want the pound of flesh paid for by the West and nothing less?

Prof. Peiris seems confident that the government’s interaction with the civil society can be utilised in their dialogue with the international community, whereas the SLCC assured the new administration of its support to address concerns among the international community. However, their support would depend on the government’s readiness to address the issues raised by them.

In addition to Dr. Perera, who had represented Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), in March 2018, on the invitation of the late Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, several other prominent civil society activists joined the discussion with the government. It would be pertinent to mention that the SLCC has quite justly accepted that it did not represent, what it called, the larger civil society and recognised themselves as a group of individuals, drawn from multiple sectors of society, religion, academia and non-governmental organisations, dedicated to a country established on the high sounding ‘ideals of pluralistic coexistence, human rights and justice’, but found nowhere in the world, especially not among the self-appointed good guys of the West. Just look at how they still treat their Blacks, especially by their famed law enforcers.

The SLCC comprises (1)Ven. Kalupahana Piyaratana Thera – Inter religious Alliance National Unity, Chairman, Human Development Edification Centre working for peace Reconciliation and Ecology for more than 25 years. Peace activist for more than two decades (2) Bishop Asiri Perera – Retired Bishop/President of Methodist Church (3) Rev. Fr. C.G. Jeyakumar – Parish Priest Ilavalai and Lecturer at the Jaffna Major Seminary, Human Rights Activist (4) Dr. Joe William – Founder member and Chairman of National Peace Council, Director, Centre for Communication Training and Convenor, Alliance for Justice (5) Prof. T. Jayasingam – Director NPC, former Vice Chancellor of Eastern University and former member, Public Service Commission of the Eastern Provincial Council (6) Prof. Kalinga Tudor Silva – Professor Emeritus Dept of Sociology, University of Peradeniya (7) Dr. Dayani Panagoda – Social Activist, former director of Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process and Lecturer, former member of the Official Languages Commission (8) Ms. Visaka Dharmadasa – Peace Activist, Chair of Association of War Affected Women (9) Dr. Jehan Perera – Executive Director of NPC (10) Dr. P. Saravanamuttu – Founder and Executive Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives (11) Hilmy Ahamed – Vice President, Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, Civil activist with 35 years of communicating on issues of Peace and Justice, Chairman of Young Asia Television (12) Sanjeewa Wimalagunarathna – Former Director of Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (13) Rohana Hettiarachchi – Executive Director PAFFREL (14) Javid Yusuf – Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, former Principal, Zahira College and Founder member and Governing Council member, National Peace Council NPC (15) Varnakulasingham Kamaladas – President, STA Solidarity Foundation, Vice President Batticaloa-Ampara Hindu Temples Federation, former President of Inland Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (INAYAM) Batticaloa, and (16) Ms. Sarah Arumugam – Human Rights Lawyer.

SLCC responds

Dr. Perera emphasized that they were prepared to work with any party to achieve genuine post-war national reconciliation.

The livewire behind the NPC Dr. Perera responded swiftly to several questions posed to him regarding the latest civil society initiative.

(1) The Island: Did the SLCC reach consensus with what it called ‘wider Sri Lanka civil society’ regarding the dialogue you are having with the SLPP administration?

SLCC:

No, we did not. SLCC is a loose collection of individuals drawn from civil society organisations that have reconciliation and peace building aims in their work. We have no one leader or office-bearers. Each of us is part of other networks where we have discussed the stands we take. But we do not speak as their representatives. Our common position is commitment to a united Sri Lanka that is founded on ideals of pluralistic coexistence, human rights and justice.

(2) The Island: When did you set up the SLCC?

SLCC:

We could say it was on June 23, 2021. That was the day we decided on our name. This followed two earlier consultations, organised by the Association of War Affected Women (AWAW), which were held in Kandy, to have an in depth discussion on the lessons learnt through our reconciliation process. We felt there was a need for a group, such as ours.

(3) The Island: Did you have discussions with the TNA (Tamil National Alliance) or other Tamil parties, represented in Parliament, regarding the current initiative?

SLCC:

We have not met with the TNA as yet, though we plan to meet them, and other parties, too. Earlier on we met with Charitha Herath of the SLPP, leader of the DPF Mano Ganesan, General Secretary of the SJB, Ranjith Madduma Bandara. More recently we met with Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa. We had arranged for a meeting with the Chairman of the National Movement for Social Justice, Karu Jayasuriya, but this was postponed and we hope to have it soon.

(4) The Island: Who decides the agenda?

SLCC:

Agendas of the meetings are decided by consensus, prior to the meeting, based on the need and the responsibilities of those whom we meet. Usually, following a self-introduction, we present the issues highlighted in the memorandums we have submitted.

(5) The Island: You represent the NPC, Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu represents the CPA and all others in the SLCC are members of various civil society groups. Do the SLCC members represent those organisations in the ongoing dialogue?

SLCC:

Those in the SLCC are mostly heads of organisations, who will naturally be in line with the positions of their organisations in any discussions on principle or decisions arrived at. But they are here as members in their personal capacities.

(6) The Island: Did the SLCC ever discuss these issues with the late Mangala Samaraweera?

SLCC:

No, we did not.

(7) The Island:

On the basis of BHC cables (Jan-May 2009), Lord Naseby, in Oct 2017, challenged the massacre claim of 40,000 on the Vanni east front as mentioned in the Darusman report. In June 2011, US Embassy staffer, Lt Col Smith, at the 2011 Defence Seminar, in Colombo, denied war crimes accusations (weeks after the release of Darusman report).

(8) The Island: Did government representatives or the SLCC referred to/discussed/raised the need to examine the BHC cables during discussions?

SLCC:

We limited our discussion to issues that we presented in our memorandums to them with a view to be forward looking. This included the Office of Missing Persons and its work. We did not discuss the death toll, at the end of the war, or issues of war crimes.

Contentious issues

Some of them had been involved in previous peace initiatives, including the Oslo project, finalised in Feb 2002. The SLCC has essentially pursued issues that had been taken up by a section of the international community (those who voted for Geneva resolutions or conveniently abstained) both during the conflict and after. Let me reproduce the SLCC’s stand on three key issues verbatim as mentioned in a memorandum handed over to Prof. Peiris.

Prevention of Terrorism Act:

Until the promised amendment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, to cease using this law to detain people and to expedite the release of those taken into custody, under its draconian provisions, either on bail or totally where there is no legally valid evidence to justify their continued detention, especially when they have not even been charged. This applies to both long term LTTE prisoners and more recent Muslim prisoners with only a peripheral relation to the Easter Sunday bombings.

Provincial Councils:

Improve the implementation of the 13th Amendment and expedite the holding of provincial council elections so that the ethnic minorities may enjoy a measure of self-governance in the areas where they predominate.

Targeting of Minorities:

The issue of Muslims being targeted continues to fester in proposed legislation regarding personal law, the continuing refusal to permit burial of Covid victims, except in a single designated location and the imprisonment, without trial, of a large number of Muslim persons, following the Easter bombings. All communities need to feel that they have been fairly consulted and treated without discrimination for national reconciliation to become a reality.

The 13th Amendment is quite a contentious issue, especially against the backdrop of India stepping up pressure over its implementation. The government is in a quandary as regards the much delayed Provincial Council polls. Today, the government, the Opposition, the civil society and the international community had conveniently forgotten the origins of the Sri Lankan imbroglio. Clandestine Indian intervention long before the July 1983 riots, most probably precipitated by the then 20th Century Fox JRJ openly flirting with the idea of giving the Trincomalee deep harbour to the US. The subsequent building up of terrorist power, leading to the forcible deployment of the Indian Army in Northern and Eastern regions, in July 87, paved the way for the 13th Amendment. Sri Lanka almost disintegrated.

Unfortunately, successive governments quite clearly failed to examine the current situation in a proper perspective. There had never been a genuine attempt to set the record straight. The incumbent government, too, pathetically failed to address accountability issues properly. Dr. Perera’s response to The Island query, based on Lord Naseby’s challenge and Lt. Colonel Smith’s denial of war crimes accusations six years before, revealed the failure on the government’s part to recognise the threat facing the country’s unitary status. Prof. Peiris and the SLCC owed the public an explanation how they discussed matters, including Office of Missing Persons, or OMP, leaving the primary accusation that the military killed 40,000 Tamil civilians on the Vanni east front. That is the charge Sri Lanka continues to face in Geneva, though Prof. Peiris’s predecessor, Dinesh Gunawardena, declared, in the Feb-March 2020, sessions, the government’s decision to quit the 2015 resolution. In fact, Sri Lanka is now facing a new investigation and actions so far taken by the incumbent government seems insufficient. As long as HRC turns a Nelsonia eye to all the grave crimes the West has committed and continuing to commit, from Palestine to Libya, Iraq, Syria, etc., how can we expect any fairplay from it. Maybe Minister Gunawardena played the only card there, we could have played, considering the ground realities.

The rationale in seeking the support of the civil society should be studied, taking into consideration the government’s failure to revisit accountability issues. Instead, having repeatedly promised the electorate in the run-up to the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls, a robust defence at Geneva, the government appeared to have accepted the agenda, pursued by Ranil Wickremesinghe and the late Mangala Samaraweera.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government established the OMP, in August 2016, less than a year after the signing of the Geneva resolution. The OMP came into being under controversial circumstances with the then Joint Opposition (now SLPP) accusing the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government of jeopardising national security. Today, the incumbent government has accepted responsibility for taking forward the much maligned and controversial Geneva process, much to the disappointment of those who genuinely believed an attempt would be made to reverse the project.

Key architects of the yahapalana project are in the current Parliament. Ranil Wickremesinghe is the solitary UNP MP. The former PM entered Parliament on the National List whereas Maithripala Sirisena returned from his home base Polonnaruwa after having contested the last general election on the SLPP ticket. Sirisena’s SLFP is the second largest constituent with 14 lawmakers, including one National List MP. As regards the accountability issue, the government seems to be moving in a direction contrary to the much publicised promises made.

In the absence of cohesive Sri Lanka response to Geneva threat, interested parties, such as the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, have been freely bashing Sri Lanka. Massive foreign funding to the civil society lobby here and various other outfits are meant to ensure they follow the dictates of their sponsors. Often repeated claims that they refrained from taking government funding should be examined taking into consideration how these groups pursued Western interests and those of various other parties.

Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009)

, released in 2011, two years after the eradication of the LTTE, provided an insight into foreign funding for a particular purpose. The Norwegian study dealt with funding provided to various peace merchants assigned the task of propagating the inevitability of a negotiated settlement in the absence of military muscle to bring the war to a successful conclusion. For Norwegians funding for such initiatives had never been a problem. Sri Lanka is a case in point. They lavishly spent on the dicey Sri Lanka project on the basis that the LTTE cannot be defeated militarily, the then government has no option but to accept a deal even at the expense of the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

The Norwegian report revealed the funding of Sri Lankan outfits to the tune of USD 28 (NOK 210 mn) mn during the conflict. The recipients included Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe’s Foundation for Coexistence (largest single beneficiary with USD 6 mn during 2004-2008 period), the then Minister Milinda Moragoda’s MMIPE for humanitarian demining, Sarvodaya, Sewalanka (its former head Harsha Kumara Navaratne, an original extremely talented breakaway from Sarvodaya and now a member of the Human Rights Commission will soon relinquish office to take over Lanka mission in Canada as HC), Sareeram Sri Lanka National Foundation, Hambantota District Chamber of Commerce, One-Text Initiative, the National Anti-War Front also led by Dr. Kumar Rupasinghe, the National Peace Council, the Center for Policy Alternatives, the Forum of Federations and the People’s Peace Front.

The Norwegians also provided funding to the TRO (Tamil Rehabilitation Organization) an LTTE front organisation. The Norwegians went to the extent of providing funding to the then LTTE Peace Secretariat though it knew the group was rapidly preparing to resume hostilities. When Norwegian funding of LTTE front organisations drew strong condemnation, they funded the setting up of a Buddhist academy in Kandy in addition to reconstruction of Buddhist temples on the southern coast destroyed by Dec 2004 tsunami.

However, Prof. Peiris in a note recently submitted to diplomatic missions, based in Colombo, ahead of the 48 Geneva sessions, emphasised that the March 2021 resolution adopted by a divided vote hadn’t been accepted by Sri Lanka, rejected establishment of an external evidence gathering mechanism targeting Sri Lanka and questioned the rationale in spending meager financial resources on such a politically motivated Geneva initiative. The FM’s note dealt with progress made as regards port-war reconciliation with the focus on OMP operations, Office of Reparations, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, Sustainable Development Goals, National Human Rights Commission, Presidential Commission of Inquiry, Accountability, PTA, Pardon to ex-LTTE cadres, Resettlement of IDPs, Releasing of Lands, engagement with the civil society (Prof. Peiris referred to the discussion President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had with SLCC on Aug 3, 2021) and International Human Rights and other Treaty Obligations and Engagement with the UN Special Procedures Mandate Holders.

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Midweek Review

Puravara Visvavidyala (Pura Sarasavi)

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By Usvatte-aratchi

‘Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking.’ John Maynard Keynes

In the beginning, all universities were City Universities (puravara visvavidyala): Bologna, Montpellier, Paris, Oxford, Heidelberg, Upsala and Utrecht and that for two reasons: first, in medieval Europe, where universities began as universitas generale, the city was the only polity available. Countries as political entities and national governments, were at least 600 years into the future. Universities needed law and order to work, in quiet. And these cities were ports on the Mediterranean: Venice, Genova and in other places, on river banks: Bologna (connected to the Po with canals), Utrecht on the Rhine, Paris on the Seine, Oxford on the Thames (Isis), Harvard (and, much later) MIT on either bank of the Charles river. There was good reason for that. In medieval Europe and in 17th century Massachusetts, travel by water was the fastest. Students and teachers walked to schools, rode on horseback or rowed a boat. Scientists from Cambridge, after rowing on the Cam and the Muse, rode a horse to Gresham College to attend the Royal Society meetings. Trains, motor cars, steamships and airplanes were at least 700 years away in the future. Let us remember that did not prevent scholars from coming from afar either to learn or to teach. In each universitas generale, there had to be students from beyond its neighbourhood and the student body was divided into ‘nations’. In 13th century Oxford there were two: Australes (Southerners) and Borrealase ( Northeners). (Recall that well into the 17th century, education in Europe was in Latin). As for teachers, there were

Constantinus Africanus from Tunis who wrote on medicine, Avicenna from present Iran who taught medicine and peripatetic Bartholomeus Anglicus, who taught philosophy in many places, including Paris. Books written by Constantinus and Avicenna were taught in universities well into the 16th century. Universities were city organisations but they were places where students and teachers from all sorts of places learnt and taught. We will jump to modern city universities in a minute.

Before that, a quibble about the name: why puravara ? There are also maravara (thugs). Why not pura sarasavi? Pura has a good genealogy:

vana vana pathi turehi

pura pura pathin medurehi (gira sandesa)

(in forests, on king-of-the-forest treetops and in cities (pura), in city chief’s mansions).

Word of Kumaratunga Munidasa’s coinage

Sarasavi was a term coined by Kumaratunga Munidasa to signify a university and has much merit to commend it over visva vidyalaya. In non-European societies, universities are often identified by other names. In China, it is daxue (e.g.Bejing daxue); in Thailand it is maha vithyalai (Tammasat Maha vithyalai). Vishvavidyalaya has its origin here and in India. It arose, perhaps, from a misreading that university has something to do with the universe (vishvaya) of knowledge. It is understandable as the word traces its origins to the same Latin usage meaning ‘combined into one (uni+versus)’. However, the popes who issued Bulls to charter early 13th and 14th used ‘universitas vestra’ to address a group, which form was not limited to universitas generale. He would address a guild of goldsmiths with the same term. And a universitas generale was a group, sometimes, of students (Bologna) and sometimes, of masters (Paris). The usage survived and morphed into university in English and say universite in French and universidad in Spanish. The term has no connotation that the universe of knowledge is taught in a university. It was not true in medieval times (Bologna taught law, Salerno medicine and Paris theology and arts); it is not true now (Remember the adage that Harvard men do not know to count and of MIT men how to read.) In Hindu culture sarasvati or sarasavi has association with knowledge and has been so used widely in Sinhala writings. I cited earlier Sinhala use of pura to mean a city. Pura sarasavi reads dandy, doesn’t it?

President drawing inspiration

The President perhaps draws his inspiration for city universities from his knowledge of his adopted nation, the United States of America. In the US, education is a matter for States and not the Federation. There are state universities, the President’s own state has the magnificent California State University System extending from Berkeley, San Diego to Santa Cruz. I am more familiar with the east coast and New York state, in particular. The New York State University (SUNY) system extends from Buffalo in the north to Stony Brook in Long Island. In addition to SUNY, there are City universities, the best known being the New York City University (CUNY) with two celebrated colleges: Hunters in mid-Manhattan and Queens in Fresh Meadows. The City University is owned and operated by the City of New York, with taxpayers’ money and students’ fees. In addition to these city universities, there are Community Colleges, owned and operated by counties. The entire primary and secondary school system is owned and operated by locally elected Schools Boards with revenue from property taxes.

Pinnawala, where a City University is to be located, is no city but an elephantine village. It does not have the resources of many kinds to run a university. Pinnawala cannot raise tax revenue sufficient for the purpose. As it stands, there are no residential facilities for students and staff in the neighbourhood. In the 13th century, a university that was started by students in Florence (Firenze) was abandoned because house rent was too high for students to afford. In a report on the University of Calcutta in 1918 (Sarkar?), it was observed, that students were in poor health partly because of wholly inadequate housing they lived in. There will have to be large scale construction to provide lecture rooms, well equipped labs and engineering labs quite apart from residential facilities for students and staff; perhaps like in Peradeniya. Finding that many competent teachers will be most challenging. These facilities will have to be repeated in all 10 districts for the time being, no small enterprise in matters personnel and financial.

At the inauguration ceremony of the Pinnawala project, both the President and the Minister emphasised that city universities will be there to supply graduates who can walk into workplaces. Did they ever ask themselves or their advisers, ‘Where are the workplaces that these young men and women would walk into?’. Anyone who expects that puravara visvavidyala themselves will generate job opportunities for their graduates, is presenting a new paradigm of development. We need to sit down and think hard. It is one of the common and convenient myths that this country has not developed for lack of trained personnel. In 1964, while a student, I read a paper before a group of eminent economists overseas and pointed out that Ceylon then had higher levels of education than most developing countries but was poorer in economic performance, contrary to the then growing tendency among economists to find a close relationship between investment in education and economic growth. I was almost politely shouted down. However, unhappily for us, subsequent developments have borne me out. I also wrote a paper in Education in Ceylon, A Centenary Volume, published in 1969 by The Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, in which I generalised on this phenomenon. The slogan about ‘the gap between skills and job opportunities’ (coined perhaps by Ronald Dore of Sussex) came from the ILO employment missions that were launched in 1971 or so.

Those missions went to Ceylon, the Philippines, Iran, Kenya, Colombia, Venezuela and a few others. Those mission reports had no impact on the development of those economies. We decided to carry the burden for the missions. However, graduates from Moratuva find employment, mostly overseas, before their final GPA is known. A professor in architecture in Moratuva told me, a few years ago, that of the 11 students in his final years class, 10 had left for employment overseas, within a few months of graduation. A young man who stayed with us and graduated in physics 2019 in Colombo was offered employment in Siemens in Germany before he graduated. Graduates in Commerce from Jayawardenapura find employment overseas, often easily.

Seeking more jobs in Saudi Arabia

Our Foreign Minister ‘urged Saudi Arabia to provide more jobs to Sri Lankans to work in skilled and professions there’ (The Island 14th August). Surely, this country has an exportable surplus of skilled personnel (including terrorists) and professionals. These young men and women go overseas for employment at reasonable wages mainly because there are none such here. A young university graduate who becomes a teacher is paid some Rs. 33,000 and an allowance of Rs.!0,000, I learn from an old friend. They love their country but working in a congenial environment and the prospect of a good living much more. Our graduates walk into professions overseas. Those with lower levels of education walk into homes abroad to clean them, sometimes to offices for clerical jobs. But for this latter exodus, our unemployment rates today would exceed 10 percent of the labour force.

If students did not go to university, they would have gone to either West Asia for employment or added to the locally unemployed school dropouts. I will turn the premise of the President and his Minister on its head and say, ‘Our graduates are unemployed because there are no jobs into which that they can walk into’. If enterprises do not grow, I am afraid graduates from Puravara Visvavidyala will walk not into jobs but on to street protests.

Look around!

Look around you. Taiwan has a population that is 0.2 of the total world population. Taiwan produces 80 percent of the world output of semiconductors. Is every Taiwanese employed in semiconductor production a Ph.D. in quantum mechanics? When South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore started to industrialise and then to take on electronic industries, did they have massive increases in university output in engineering and in electronics? Why does Singapore import so much labour and we export so much? Did China undertake massive programmes in science and engineering education to become the factory to the world? It is in the current Five Year Plan ending 2025 that China ‘will vigorously cultivate talents with technical skills’ (The Economist). For that matter, go back in history, and Britain, when it was the factory of the world, did not have more than 2% of its population (1902) as university graduates, almost all of them in arts. That was true of the US when it overtook Britain as the world’s richest country about 1900, although there had been a professor of science at Harvard College from 1756. About arts graduates’ inability to fit into jobs, remember that the British empire was built and run when the two pre-eminent universities in Britain did not have a faculty of engineering.

What changed in Korea, Taiwan, China, Malaysia and Singapore was that enterprises grew to employ young people. Changes in policy that Deng Xiao Ping brought about in China in 1978 saw a magnificent growth of enterprises, both state owned and privately owned. We saw the birth of a new economic formation: state capitalism. In India, massive and widespread unemployment of university graduates was whittled away after 1992, with Manmohan Singh reforms that ended the permit raj and new enterprises grew ending the ‘Hindu rate of growth’. IITs, now powerhouses sending out manpower competent in engineering to the world, were first established in 1951 (Kharagpur), 1958 (Bombay), 1961 (Delhi) and others later. Yet it was after 1995 or so that the Indian economy began to grow fast and cut down graduate unemployment in India.

Central to all these changes was the growth of enterprises, no matter who owned them. Historically, the sequence in development has been for enterprises to emerge before skilled workers find employment. So far it has not been a chicken and egg question. There were no changes in educational policy before those enterprises flourished. Trained workers followed.

Every established truth deserves fresh examination, when new evidence emerges. And new evidence will meet the eye of those that seek.

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