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US seeking way out of Afghan killing field

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As the Biden administration makes its initial moves to extricate the US’ remaining security forces personnel from Afghanistan, it would do well to ponder on former US President John F. Kennedy’s insightful comment on foreign policy: ‘Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.’ This is a rare nugget on the nature of foreign policy.

Considering the high costs, human and economic, a country could incur as a result of blundering on its foreign policy front, Kennedy could be said to have spoken for all countries. However, there is no denying that the comment is particularly applicable to expansionist powers or ‘hegemonic’ states.

Sensible opinion is likely to be of the view that the US decision on quitting Afghanistan should have come very much earlier; may be a couple of years after its bloody misadventure in the conflict and war-ridden country. Considering the terribly high human costs in particular the US’ 20 long years in Afghanistan have incurred, the US could be said to have committed one of its worst foreign policy blunders, overshadowing in severity the blood-letting incurred by the super power in Vietnam. However, in both theatres, the consequences for the US have been of unbearable magnitude.

The US death toll speaks for itself. At the time of writing more than 2,300 US security forces personnel have been killed and over 20,000 injured in Afghanistan. Reports indicate that over 450 Britons have died in the same quagmire along with hundreds of similar personnel from numerous other nationalities. Apparently, it took an exceptionally long period of time for the US to realize that Afghanistan for it was a lost cause.

The lesson that the US and other expansionist powers ought to come to grips with is that it would not be an ‘easy ride’ for them in the complex conflict and war zones of the South. The ground realities in these theatres are of mind-boggling complexity and Afghanistan drives this point home with notable harshness. Power projection in South-west Asia and persistence with its ‘war on terror’ were among the apparent prime objectives of the US in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq but what the US did not evidently take into consideration before these military involvements were the internal political realities of these countries that are not at all amenable to simplistic analyses and policy prescriptions.

The Soviets ought to have come to grips with some features of the treacherous political terrain presented by Afghanistan in the late eighties but their principal preoccupations were related more to the compulsions of the Cold War. Simply put, the Soviets were bent on preserving the ‘satellite’ status of Afghanistan and their war effort was aimed at this in the main. Preparing Afghanistan for democracy was not even least among the Soviet Union’s concerns, of course.

However, the same does not apply to the US. The latter helped the Mujaheddin in the task of getting rid of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan but its aim was also to have a US-friendly regime in Kabul that would be a veritable bridgehead of US power and influence in the region on a continuous basis. In other words, the US expected the regime which replaced the Soviets to be pro-Western and essentially democracy-friendly. The US did not in any way bargain to have in Afghanistan Islamic fundamentalist regimes whose political philosophies were the anti-thesis of democracy as perceived in the US and practised by it.

However, the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime which eventually came to power in the mid-nineties in Afghanistan, once the Soviets withdrew, defied all Western expectations. As is known, the Taliban was not only repressive and undemocratic but was staunchly opposed to everything Western. There were no hopes of the Taliban working towards Western interests. Besides, the US did not expect to see in Afghanistan a country dangerously divided on ethnic, tribal and religious lines. The problems of Afghanistan have been compounded over the years by the coming together of the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda and these groups have world wide Islamic fundamentalist links.

It has been the aim of the US to have in Kabul religiously moderate, pro-democratic regimes but as developments have proved over the past few decades these administrations have not been in a position to hold out against the Taliban. In fact, it is the Taliban that is veritably at the helm of power in Afghanistan currently and years of futile attempts at trying to contain the Taliban have brought home to the US and its allies that they have no choice but to talk to the Taliban in order to secure some respite to effect ‘an honourable exit’ from the bloodied land. This is where matters stand at present.

However, as pointed out by commentators, it is the Afghan civilian population that has suffered most in the decades-long blood-letting in the country. Conservative estimates put the number of Afghan security forces personnel killed in Afghanistan at around 60,000 to date and the number of civilians killed at double that figure.

Accordingly, the Afghan people would be left to face an uncertain and highly risk-riddled future when the last of the US security forces personnel and their allies leave Afghanistan in September this year. The country would be left to its own devices and considering that the Taliban will likely be the dominant formation in the country and not its legitimate government, the lot of Afghan civilians is bound to be heart-rending.

There is plenty to ponder on for the US and other democratic countries in the agonies of Afghanistan. One lesson that offers itself is that not all countries of the South are ‘ready for democracy’. This applies to very many countries of the South that already claim to be democracies in the Western sense. Southern ‘democratic’ polities defy easy analysis and categorization in consideration of the multitude of identity markers they present along with the legitimacy that they have achieved in the eyes of their states and populations. What we have are dangerously volatile states riddled with contradictions. Relating to them will prove to be highly problematic for the rest of the world.



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HIRED & FIRED!

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CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY

Part 5

By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil

President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada

Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum

chandij@sympatico.ca

Settling down

The Government of Ceylon had decided to institutionalise organised tourism a few years before I joined the Ceylon Hotel School (CHS). Accepting the recommendations of the international experts who prepared the Tourism Development Master Plan, the government invested on developing the future leaders of the hospitality industry. We were the key beneficiaries of this vision. All CHS facilities, tuition and full-board accommodation, laundry etc. were provided to each student at a highly subsided monthly fee of Rs. 100 (around US$ 25 at that time).

My second month at CHS was better as I gradually learnt to avoid getting into trouble too frequently. Having recovered from the initial culture shock, I started to enjoy everything at the hostel and the school, with the exception of studying. The only major change we had was when our Hostel Warden’s son, who was in our batch, left CHS after a month, much to the disappointment of his father. Apart from that tension, the hostel life was mostly enjoyable.

There were two resident male helpers at the hostel who made tea and breakfast for the students, cleaned the hostel, and distributed our dinner packets and weekend meals which came from Samudra Hotel. When we realized that one of these helpers, Cooray, was good at book-keeping, he became very popular among the students as this was the hardest subject for most of us. Some students arranged for Cooray to give them free lessons on book-keeping throughout our three years at CHS.

 

Eggs or cigarettes?

At the hostel, we were entitled to only one egg per student every morning. Cooray and his assistant prepared the egg to order for each student in the hostel kitchen. As some of the students attempted to get breakfast eggs twice, the Warden had introduced a control system by getting the eggs distributed to each room in the hostel early morning by one of the helpers. This meant that there were twelve eggs placed on the dining table in the dormitory where I lived with eleven other students. Some students woke up early simply to pick an extra egg when a roommate was absent.

We came to a mutually beneficial agreement with the owner of a small tea house that we passed every morning walking from the hostel to CHS. In exchange for an egg, he gave us a cigarette, which was usually shared by a few students. The more eggs we managed to collect or steal, the more cigarettes we received. One of my batchmates and roommates, Hiran, occasionally stayed at his girlfriend’s nearby house in the night and sneaked back to the hostel in the morning. He was always annoyed that his egg was missing by the time he returned to the hostel. Hiran used to shout every morning, “Cooray, who stole my bloody egg?”. I never told him that it was me.

 

Hostel and fun

We played all types of outdoor and indoor sports at the hostel – basketball, cricket, football, pingpong, carom, cards, chess, etc. Rugby football and a

thletic teams practiced on the outside fields or on the famous Galle Face green in the early morning. Some afternoons, we went for a sea bath just behind the hostel. I continued to practice Judo three evenings a week at my club in the Colombo Central YMCA. Some evenings, when we were dead broke and bored, we went for

 long walks around Colombo or just sat on the front half wall of the hostel in our sarongs and looked at girls walking from a nearby girl’s hostel.

 

Hotel Developments

As the government had identified tourism as a sector with major economic growth potential, many concessions including lengthy tax holidays had been offered for new hotel projects. As a result, many new hotels were being constructed in the early 1970s. The first two international hotel brands ever to operate in Ceylon were already on the island – a prominent US hotel chain, Hyatt, who managed the historic Mount Lavinia Hotel, and the largest British hotel chain, Trust House Forte, who managed the brand-new four-star level Pegasus Reef Hotel. Among locally managed new hotels already opened, most prestigious were Bentota Beach Hotel and Browns Beach Hotel.

In development stage, was a four-star level hotel in Colombo which was negotiating a franchise agreement with the largest hotel chain in the world at time – Holiday Inn. There were no five-star hotels in Ceylon at that time, but two five-star hotels were being developed with financial support and 25-year management contracts offered by the government – a 252-roomed InterContinental getting closer to the opening date and a 266-roomed Oberoi, which was due to open in three years’ time. The site for the latter was right in front of our hostel. Seated at the front half wall, at times, we looked at this site and wondered if we would find middle management jobs there when the hotel opened. Some of us actually did so years later.

 

Streaking

Owing to peer pressure, we also did stupid things. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as the free-love movement spread around college campuses in Europe and North America, running around naked or ‘streaking’ became a popular prank. Given the deep-rooted culture in Ceylon, streaking in public was certainly not common or ac

cepted. One evening, a few of us were seated on the front half wall. Out of the blue, one of my batch mates said, “I bet none of you have the guts to streak to Hotel Lanka Oberoi site and back!”. I got up, put my sarong on the ground, ran naked across Galle Road to the Oberoi site, and ran back.

Unfortunately, a couple of cars happened to pass by at the exact same time, with the occupants, including a few ladies in full view of this indecent exposure. We watched them drive straight to the nearby police station to lodge complaints. In fear, we rushed back to the hostel, turned off the lights, and went to sleep. Within a few minutes time, we heard the police visit the Warden to find out what was going on. He was furious, but never discovered the truth. All in all, the hostel life was full of fun, even on days when we were bored, financially broke or broke the law.

 

The first job

One day, when walking in the back of the house of Samudra Hotel adjoining the CHS, I saw a small notice that said that the Samudra was seeking part-time busboys (table clearers at restaurants/cafes) to work in their restaurant for a few evenings a week. I immediately went to see the Catering Manager of the hotel and expressed my interest. As I had less than two months experience at CHS, he was keen to find a more senior student, but none of them were interested in being a busboy. Some of them were under the unrealistic impression that they would be able to get part-time work in white collar or supervisory positions.

Owing to the lack of interest by other students, I was chosen. My job was to clear tables and assist waiters who served the customers. I particularly liked to work in the evenings when the hotel had well-advertised ‘Sundown Dances’ with live bands. My salary for the evening was Rs 4.00, or around US$1.00 at that time. I liked the free entertainment, experience, and the pocket money.

 

Getting fired

Hotel Samudra had only ten rooms, which were occupied most of the time. A family of four from the UK were occupying two rooms for a long period, as they were in Ceylon to settle some family matters. The parents were Ceylon-born, but their two daughters, ages 16 and 19, were both born in the UK and were unfamiliar with Ceylonese culture. They both became quite friendly with me. I found their trendy attire and their accents interesting. Similarly, they found my afro hair, big chain with a peace sign, broad belt with a large brass buckle and huge bell bottom jeans, cool and groovy. The 16-year-old was interested in dating me, but it was the 19-year-old who invited me to accompany her to a ‘Sundown Dance’ at my workplace. As I had saved some money from my salary the previous week, and had a night off, I happily accepted her invitation and had a good time. It was my first dance and later that evening, in the dark dance floor I experienced my first-ever kiss.

The Catering Manager of the hotel was a strict disciplinarian. During his evening round to the restaurant and the bar, he was shocked to see me dancing away with a hotel guest. The next day, I was summoned to his office. I was told very clearly that no employee was permitted to enjoy the hotel facilities, and that employees were certainly not permitted to have any personal relationships with hotel guests. I apologised and mentioned that it was my off day. This angered him more, and he yelled, “You are fired!”. He ordered me to return my uniforms immediately and not to show up for work again. My first job in the hospitality industry ended almost as quickly as it began.

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Giuliani’s Legal Trouble Is Trump’s Too

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To save himself, the President’s former lawyer might have to spill damning secrets.

POLITICO magazine

by Selvam Canagaratna

“You don’t need to be a lawyer to know that when federal agents knock on your door with a search warrant and seize your electronic devices, you’re in big trouble.” wrote Renato Mariotti, Legal Affairs Columnist for Politico magazine. “Ever since that happened to former Donald Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Wednesday, he has tried to downplay the peril he is in, saying whatever evidence is on his phones proves that “the President and I…are innocent.”

But it sure looks like Rud y has a long legal battle ahead of him, and his best defense will likely put him at odds with his former boss. If Trump doesn’t voluntarily protect his one-time counsel, Giuliani may have no choice but to point the finger at his former client. (Their relationship was tested in January when Trump reportedly refused to pay Giuliani for his unsuccessful work trying to overturn the November election results.)

The saga of one-time Trump legal fixer Michael Cohen, who turned on his boss after he pleaded guilty for election finance violations and fraud, is instructive here. Despite Cohen’s assertion that Trump knew of the violations, the President was protected from prosecution while he was in office under Department of Justice guidelines. Now that Trump is a civilian, those guidelines do not protect him, and he has to be concerned about his own liability going forward.

There can be no question that the execution of a search warrant at Giuliani’s residence is a serious step that indicates the criminal investigation against him is far along. Federal prosecutors can’t obtain a search warrant based on a hunch or mere suspicion. They had to present substantial evidence to a federal judge that there is good reason to believe that a federal crime was committed and that evidence of that federal crime was located in Giuliani’s apartment and his electronic devices. It’s significant a judge was persuaded they met that standard.

For that reason, prosecutors likely have a lot of the evidence they need already. During my time as a federal prosecutor, when I sought a search warrant for a subject’s electronic devices, typically I had already obtained some of the subject’s communications or electronic documents from other sources such as co-operators, subpoenas or prior search warrants. I used that evidence to persuade a judge that those communications would also be found on the devices. Even though prosecutors have some communications prior to obtaining electronic devices, the devices can contain more data, including deleted messages, metadata and location information.

In this particular case, one can trust the evidence was solid and substantial given the significant internal scrutiny that this case would receive within the Justice Department. The criminal investigation of any lawyer is a sensitive matter due to the complexities caused by attorney-client privilege, and the DOJ takes special care when investigating a criminal defense attorney, to ensure that the department does not appear to be targeting opponents. Obviously, obtaining a search warrant for the residence and devices of the personal lawyer of the former President would receive even more scrutiny from senior department leadership.

Curiously, the crime for which Giuliani is under investigation — violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires agents of foreign governments who lobby US officials to disclose their relationship with the foreign government — has been prosecuted only rarely over the decades. But FARA prosecutions spiked during the Trump administration, including the high-profile conviction of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and former Republican finance chair Elliott Broidy. (An associate of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn was also indicted for a FARA violation, but the conviction was later overturned.) That group of FARA prosecutions led President Joe Biden to vow on the campaign trail to increase the use of FARA if he were elected, saying there should be no lobbying on behalf of foreign governments outside regular diplomatic channels.

The investigation reportedly centers around Giuliani’s efforts to lobby the Trump administration on behalf of Ukrainian officials and oligarchs who were also helping him dig up dirt on then-candidate Biden and his family during the campaign. At issue, as well, are Giuliani’s efforts to persuade Trump to oust the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, whose anti-corruption work was viewed hostilely by those same Ukrainian officials. If Giuliani’s efforts to push Trump to fire Yovanovitch were done on behalf of Ukrainian officials, that could be the sort of foreign lobbying activity that he should have disclosed.

Thus far, Giuliani has tried to hide behind mere technicalities, arguing that he didn’t have a written contract with a foreign official or oligarch. He won’t get away with that in court. What matters is whether he was an agent of a foreign government, not whether his relationship with that foreign government was memorialized in writing. You can’t avoid FARA requirements by failing to write down the details of your arrangement with a foreign government.

Giuliani’s work in Ukraine has been the subject of controversy for two years and was central to the first impeachment probe of Trump’s pressure on the new Ukrainian president. But, according to The New York Times, senior DOJ political appointees in the Justice Department repeatedly tried to block the search warrants, which suggests that the department has had the evidence it needs against Giuliani for some time.

Those prior efforts to slow down the investigation won’t help Giuliani now. If anything, they may eventually work against Giuliani if it is shown that they were done at his urging. Giuliani’s foolish public statements (he claimed erroneously that search warrants can only be issued if there is a fear the evidence will be destroyed) won’t help him either if he is ultimately indicted. At that point, he will need to adopt a defense strategy that may put him at odds with his former client.

Giuliani’s defense will likely be that he was acting completely at Trump’s direction and that his efforts on behalf of the officials and oligarchs was done to curry favour with them on Trump’s behalf, and was done at Trump’s behest and knowledge. Purely from a perspective of trial strategy, Giuliani’s best defense would include testimony from the former President that he knew everything Giuliani was doing and approved of every action he took. That would permit Giuliani’s defense team to argue that since he was ultimately advancing Trump’s interests, he was actually working on behalf of the United States, not Ukrainian oligarchs.

 

Unfortunately for Giuliani, Trump is not known for sticking his neck out for disgraced former aides, particularly if doing so would involve personal embarrassment or potential liability. Given how Trump distanced himself from former lawyer Michael Cohen when he faced similar peril, it is hard to imagine the former President taking an oath to tell the truth and subjecting himself to withering cross-examination that could embarrass him at best or expose him to potential liability at worst. (Trump’s record of lying under oath in civil suit depositions is well documented.)

The only surefire way for Trump to avoid testimony in the trial of Giuliani would be to take the Fifth, but Trump has repeatedly noted that taking the Fifth makes you look guilty. The only way for him to get out of testifying is for him to suggest that he didn’t really know what Giuliani was doing and didn’t approve of his activities. That would make him worthless for Giuliani as a witness and force Giuliani to point the finger at Trump to save himself. The five-year sentence Manafort received for conspiring to violate FARA gives Giuliani ample incentive to do so, especially since he knows Trump cannot pardon him any longer.

When a lawyer, particularly a famous former federal prosecutor like Giuliani, faces time in prison, the incentive to reduce that sentence is significant. Just like Michael Cohen, Giuliani will have every incentive to help federal prosecutors if it could potentially reduce his prison sentence. That could make the Giuliani prosecution far more consequential than it appears at first glance, given his role in everything from the defense of Trump’s impeachment to the January 6 insurrection.

Without Trump’s protection or financial support, Giuliani’s loyalty would seem to have a limited shelf life.

 

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The transitional 1990s and beyond (JVP-III)

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by Rajan Philips

If the 1980s were tumultuous, the 1990s were more transitional, even if not less tumultuous. In this ‘potted’ history, it is not necessary to recount all the details of the 1990s and the first decade of the new 21st century. Suffice it to focus on developments that have had a continuing influence on current events and the farce of 2021. The UNP and the JVP, which more or less came together in 1977, were gone by 1994, after seventeen years of assorted achievements. The UNP would never return to the same pinnacle of power that it seized in 1977. The JVP with a new generation of leaders transformed itself into a democratic political party with mixed results. The first half the decade saw the disintegration of the UNP under the weight of the presidential ambitions of three rival contenders – President Premadasa and his two younger challengers, Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake. The LTTE took out every one of them in 1993 and 1994.

LTTE violence took off in the 1990s after the JVP had been finished off in the late 1980s. In a telling commentary on that period, Wikipedia lists the names of political leaders, parliamentarians, professionals and political activists who were killed by the JVP, the LTTE, other Tamil groups and the armed forces over three decades of violence. The 1990s began with the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and ended with the killing of TULF MP and Legal Academic Neelan Tiruchelvam in 1999. The old leadership of the TULF, with the exception of M. Sivasithamparam, had been wiped out in the late 1980s. That included TULF leader A. Amirthalingam, a consummate politician and parliamentarian, who started off as a fiery federalist and turned himself into a mellowed separatist.

As the 90s wore on, the LTTE asserted itself as the sole representative of the Tamils. It waged war against the state and its forces but not to capture the state of Sri Lanka but to establish a new state of Tamil Eelam. The JVP’s mission was different, but its ultimate objectives were never clear. Lacking the LTTE’s military prowess, it never seemed plausible that the JVP was serious about capturing state power through violent means. Politically, the JVP swung from its ultra-left attacks on a manifestly leftist government in 1971, to undertaking ultra-right attacks against the most rightwing government in Sri Lanka’s modern history. The left-right cleavage was not part of the LTTE vocabulary.

On the other hand, although it railed against the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord and the presence of Indian armed forces in Sri Lanka, the JVP scrupulously avoided taking potshots at the Indian Army. The LTTE, in contrast, cut its military teeth fighting the Indian army and found common cause with the Sri Lankan government under President Premadasa to fight a common enemy. There was even grudging admiration among sections of the Sinhalese for the LTTE’s choosing to take on the Indian Army. For the record, the Indian Army came to Sri Lanka on the invitation of one Sri Lankan President and left Sri Lanka at the request of the succeeding Sri Lankan President. Hardly the modality for an occupying force. War or peace, Sri Lanka was again left to its own devices.

 

Illusions of Peace

The second half of the 1990s and the first half of the next belonged to Chandrika Kumaratunga. Her presidency began with a bang of charismatic inspiration but petered through for want of a clear focus and purposeful efforts. Perhaps her singular failure was not single-mindedly moving to abolish the executive presidency as she was universally expected to do. She was also the first and, until Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrived on the scene 25 years later out of nowhere, the only person to become President without previously being a Member of Parliament. Her parliamentary inexperience, untrammeled access to presidential power, not to mention her political ego, all combined to vitiate the promise with which she had led the People’s Alliance to power.

With the benefit of hindsight, we might say that parliament started becoming inexorably poorer from thereon. It is far worse now, in 2021, and for many new reasons. And it has taken a JVP MP, in Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, to take a spirited stand in defense of parliament and parliamentary democracy in Sri Lanka – against presidential authority and media hypocrisy. The ironies of history, you might say, but more on it later.

Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (CBK) deserves full marks for starting the peace process during her presidency, but she showed inexplicable naivete in choosing to rely on people from her social circles to take the lead in serious peace mediation. The LTTE was going to be a difficult peace-dance partner anyway, and it required much more than social brokering to make any headway. In the end, the LTTE almost succeeded in assassinating her during her election campaign for a second term in office in 1999.

The main irony of that period was the nasty competition between Chandrika Kumaratunga (leading the SLFP) and Ranil Wickremesinghe (leading the UNP) for leadership in the peace process. It was a total about-turn from previous decades when the two main Sinhalese parties fought one another over who was giving more concessions to the Tamil Federal Party, even though what was on offer was way less than what would be included much later in the 13th Amendment. In any event, the CBK-RW competition over peace turned out to be counter productive both to the peace process and to their respective political calculations.

It may not be wholly accurate to say that presidential politics was the main driver of the peace rivalry, but it is impossible to view the rivalry in isolation from presidential ambitions. All the constitutional changes proposed by the CBK government included provisions to protect her powers, which made it even easier for RW and the UNP to reject the proposals out of hand and even, in one instance, make a bonfire of them right in the well of parliament. As for Ranil Wickremesinghe, his obsession with becoming a President, or at least a presidential candidate one more time (after two attempts in 1999 and 2005), became quite obvious when he deliberately subordinated every initiative of the yahapalanaya government (2015-2019) to that single obsession.

Back during his rivalry with CBK over peace initiatives, Ranil Wickremesinghe stunningly turned to the LTTE to strike a counter peace partnership to CBK’s peace partnership with the TULF. I am not aware of any public recounting of the mediation that brought RW and the LTTE together in a peace initiative. But objectively, it fair to surmise that Ranil Wickremesinghe reached out to the LTTE as a counter to CBK’s peace alliance with the TULF. What was fairly well known throughout the JRJ presidency was that President Jayewardene cunningly kept not only the TULF but also the JVP from joining forces with the SLFP/Left opposition at that time. In the end, there was no ultimate benefit to anyone from JRJ’s Machiavellian politics. The presidential house he built so adroitly would be eventually lost to the UNP. Now it seems it is lost forever. And it will be for other more upstart aspirants as well.

As JRJ’s successor, President Premadasa took a different tack, reaching out to the LTTE to get the Indians out. We know how that tack or track ended. The TULF that was left hanging, or what was left of its depleted leadership, broke with the UNP and turned to Chandrika Kumaratunga and the People’s Alliance for a new kick at what had become the proverbial viable solution, while Ranil Wickremesinghe modified the Premadasa approach to re-engage the LTTE with Norwegian insurance. To their credit, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe ‘fought’ over how to make better peace with Tamils, rather than about waging a more brutal war with the LTTE. They both admitted that the Sri Lankan state had failed in the building of its nation and were committed to creating a plural and inclusive polity. While their political spirits were willing their presidential flesh led them astray.

And their peace-fight was nasty. They could not work together even when they were forced to cohabit as President and Prime Minister between 2001 and 2004. Ranil Wickremesinghe, as Prime Minister, dashed everyone’s expectations of peace dividends by giving, not for the last time, free rein to corruption in government. For her part, and in what she would later admit to being among her more grievous mistakes, President Kumaratunga dismissed the Wickremesinghe government in 2004 (which she had the power to do under the pre-19A Constitution, unlike Maithripala Sirisena who flouted his own 19th Amendment in October 2018), dissolved parliament and won the parliamentary election in April 2004 with provisional support from the JVP.

The results of the April 2004 parliamentary election gave false hopes to President Kumaratunga and the JVP (that won 39 out of 105 UPFA seats in parliament, its highest on record), relegated Ranil Wickremesinghe to the opposition backwaters for the next ten years, and signaled the emergence of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the next presidential candidate from the true south. The country went through the tsunami devastation in December 2004, but that did not help the political leaders getting any wiser about working together. The Supreme Court abandoned President Kumaratunga when it rejected her bid to extend her second term by one year. Ranil Wickremesinghe even thought that Chief Justice Sarath Silva was helping him for not impeaching him earlier!

Those who had serenaded CBK during her rise lost no time in leaving as she declined. Mahinda Rajapaksa became the SLFP-UPFA candidate by acclamation. He reached a new agreement with the JVP. The unkindest cut of all was delivered by the LTTE to Ranil Wickremesinghe who thought that it would be a no contest. Mahinda Rajapaksa won the November 2005 presidential election by the squeakiest of margins, while Tamil voters in the north were ordered to stay home. Basil Rajapaksa’s familial prophesy that there will be a President from the south was finally fulfilled. But there were other dynamics at play.

 

Illusions of Restoration

In my last installment published two weeks ago (April 25), I alluded to Mahinda Rajapaksa becoming the presidential beneficiary of a new strand of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism fueled by the Jathika Chinthanaya school of thought. The school of thinking that JC advocated has not universally been accepted in Sinhalese political society. At one level, the electoral victories of Chandrika Kumaratunga (PA) and the partial successes of Ranil Wickremesinghe were moments of political pushbacks to the creeping influence of JC thinking. At another level, both the SLFP and the UNP were forced to come to terms with ‘JC forces’ and include them in their political alliances often on their (JC’s) terms.

The presidential system and proportional representation in parliamentary elections facilitated the emergence of alliance politics. The era of programmatic united fronts of political parties was gone. Serious political programs gave way to lawyerly Memorandums of Understanding. Multiple parties with bilateral/multilateral MOUs could come together under an umbrella alliance for contesting elections. The April 2004 parliamentary elections were the breakthrough election for the new Sinhala Buddhist nationalist organizations.

The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), the most electorally successful offshoot from the JC school, won nine seats in the election, all won by Buddhist Monks. The JVP which had been courting JC ideologues and followers from the 1980s, was part of Chandrika Kumaratunga’s alliance (UPFA) and won 39 seats. It was the JHU that successfully challenged President Kumaratunga’s attempt to extend her second term limit in the Supreme Court in August 2005. JC’s political consummation came within months, with the victory of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the November presidential election. That it came with support from the not so hidden hand of the LTTE did not dampen the significance of the moment. Mahinda Rajapaksa was recognized as the most authentic Sinhala Buddhist political leader since independence.

In terms of political analysis, the victory of Mahinda Rajapaksa has been described as the restoration of the linkage between the Sri Lankan state establishment and the political hegemony of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. The linkage had apparently been ruptured since July 1987 when JR Jayewardene and Rajiv Gandhi signed the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. Looked at in another way, the state of Sri Lanka which has traditionally been accused of alienating the Tamil and Muslim minorities, would seemed to have found a way to alienate even the Sinhalese majority.

And the restoration that was apparently achieved with the victory of Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005, has not turned out to be as consequential as anticipated. To wit, the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord and the Thirteenth Amendment that it created have survived two terms of Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency and may yet survive the first term of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency. At the same time, a full restoration of the linkages between the state of Sri Lanka and all its ‘peoples’ will require a more sensitive and nuanced understanding as well as appreciation of the nationalist compulsions of the Sinhalese, Tamils and the Muslims. Anything less can be nothing more than a farce. (Next week: The farce of 2021).

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