Hard Talk and not so soft options

Is Prabhakaran a man sans gratitude? He celebrates his birthday every year on a grand scale calling it Mahaveer Day and confers honours on his combatants, propagandists and well wishers posthumously. Those men and women may have died for his movement but their contribution to his cause pales into insignificance in comparison with that of a group of persons he has failed to honour all these years despite their vigorous campaigning to take him off the hook whenever he gets into trouble.

They are the men and women in some Colombo-based NGOs and members of a section of the media, both local and foreign. See how they have swung into action while Prabhakaran is struggling in the Wanni, unable to face the military advancing on several fronts. They are using more sophisticated weapons than the conventional AK 47, T-56, MBRLs and claymore mines, which Prabhakaran have found not so effective at this juncture. They are using R2P and GSP+ and HR. While Prabhakaran is trying to hold out on the military front, they are all out to put the brakes on the government’s military onslaught by debilitating the economy and through foreign intervention.

Their latest salvo has been fired from the Great Smoke. BBC sought to trap Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal on the issue of GSP+ in its Hard Talk programme, having shamelessly refrained from telecasting a previous interview with him claiming that the tape containing it had got erased accidentally. (This ‘erased tape’ will be a good case study for students of media ethics.) Spin doctors of the government and the Opposition are giving various twists to what Cabraal said about GSP+ in that interview. However, the fact remains that he managed to have his message track aired courtesy BBC obviously much to the annoyance of the interviewer who kept on interrupting frantically as if he were trying to prevent the tape being ‘accidentally’ erased yet another time. Reflected in the Governor’s answers was the government’s position: Sri Lanka would sally forth, undeterred, in its war against terrorism. Naturally, the LTTE and its lobbyists couldn’t take kindly to that. They are trying to have us believe that the position the Governor took up in the interview will prompt the EU to scrap the GSP+ concession posthaste.

There is nothing called a free lunch. GSP+ concession has, no doubt, stood Sri Lanka in good stead but that doesn’t mean the EU is not using that as an instrument to further it interests in a world where several nations are vying for dominance. The EU has had to review its policy towards Africa after China moved into that continent to promote its economic interests. The EU opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq despite Saddam Hussein’s crimes against humanity, for he was selling oil for Euros towards the end of his regime much to the consternation of the US. There is also a trans-Atlantic trade war between the US and the EU, as manifest in the well concerted campaign against GM food, which some EU countries stand accused of promoting against America which has the technology in question. In so competitive a world, the prospect of oil gushing from Sri Lanka’s seabed someday is also a factor that the EU may not want to ignore.

So, simply because Cabraal implies in a BBC interview that Sri Lanka will have to come to terms with the abolition of GSP+ sooner or later, the EU will not withdraw that concession promptly. It took over two decades, it may be recalled, for the EU to ban the LTTE in spite of all its crimes. The EU cannot be as desperate as the LTTE allies to make Sri Lanka’s economy scream, especially when the party that will benefit from such drastic action is an outfit the EU has proscribed as a terrorist outfit. The GSP+ recipient nations, besides accepting international conventions on social, human rights, environmental protection and governance, have to undertake to fight against drugs. The EU cannot be unaware of the US State Department statements in the past that drug trafficking constituted a part of LTTE’s income. The choice that the EU will have, when GSP+ for Sri Lanka comes up for review, will be between the continuation of that concession to be further used as a goad to make the latter, with which it has had healthy relations, improve its human rights track record and scrapping it so that a terrorist group banned in most of the leading countries in the world will stand to gain.

However, it will be a mistake for the government to underestimate the capability of the Tiger lobby which has managed to pull the wool over many a gullible foreign envoy in Colombo and take several foreign governments for a right royal ride. It is on a campaign to lump this country in the same bloc as anti-western nations like North Korea. The government’s aggressive diplomacy may lend credence to that claim. Even the forthcoming visit by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, a country whose historical ties with Sri Lanka dates back to time immemorial, is being shamelessly exploited by the LTTE propagandists to achieve their sinister objective of painting a black picture of this country. Ironically, this they are doing while making overtures to the Muslim community in the Eastern Province which is going to polls on May 10.

The world community is certainly far too matured and informed to be deceived by the Tigers, the closet Tigers and their propaganda brigade including hirelings in the foreign media adept at journalistic striptease. But, constant dropping, they say, washes away a stone. They are relentlessly repeating their Goebbelsian lies in the hope that they might succeed someday.

Whether the EU will allow itself to be made a cat’s paw by the Tigers to pull chestnuts out of the fire remains to be seen. Moreover, now that the LTTE has shown signs of buckling under military pressure and the government is ready to go the whole hog in its war, will the EU want to hear that Sri Lanka has defeated terrorism ‘in spite of the EU’?

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