The Sri Lankan Model:
Eliminating terrorism, cherishing civilians - III


By Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP

Were the humanitarian agencies guilty then of double dealing? Were they in fact hand in glove with the terrorists? Sadly there are some people in Sri Lanka who believe this was the case, their suspicions fuelled by one incident in which an NGO concealed from us for weeks that the terrorists were using their heavy equipment for building barriers. In that case I believe there was some connivance, but in general I have long believed that one should never ascribe to wickedness what can arise from incompetence. In the Sri Lankan case I believe that much of the problem was due to sheer incompetence, combined with a situation which privileged such incompetence simply because it was foreign – and the refusal of foreigners, who naturally hang together, to admit culpability even in obvious cases such as the one noted above, which naturally leads to general suspicions.

Adding to this was the strategy of the terrorists, to confer exalted status upon their international interlocutors, and sadly many foreigners fell for it. I recall still the European Union trying to draw up Modes of Operation for humanitarian work, in which they claimed that external agencies should hold the balance between the concerned parties, ie the elected government and a bunch of terrorists. Fortunately I was appointed Secretary to the Ministry which was in charge of aid coordination shortly after I had first objected. At the next meeting I attended the EU officials grandly said that the clause could not be changed because it had been agreed previously, but I had to tell them that I was not there to negotiate, but to tell them what government policy was, as laid down by my Minister. Needless to say, they soon lost interest in this framework, which they had been anxiously pursuing previously, in order I now believe to enshrine their own importance.

Think of it then, a beautiful and generally peaceful country, with restaurants cheap by European standards in which the bright young white and sometimes slightly coloured things of the humanitarian community can drink and dance well past midnight. Imagine youngsters just out of grad school laying down the law to officials, called up by the Times and the Guardian to substantiate lurid stories, with staff to drive them around and serve them. How could they possibly bear to go away?

Similarly with their Sri Lankan counterparts. I can think of at least a dozen individuals who have lived off the largesse of the British Embassy and the European Union over the last few years. When I asked the British ambassador for funding to teach our security personnel Tamil, he told me that support for peace building was not given to government, but to a couple of Non-Governmental Organizations. However, when the current Minister of Defence, Liam Fox, asked a question about this, the answer came out quite different. And, sadly, unlike in India, we have no way of tracking such funding, no way of checking on the projects for which it is given, no way of ensuring that tax is paid and accounts supplied and value received for money – not even for the donors, let alone the Sri Lankan people.

The point – at least, let us give them all the benefit of the doubt - is that, in this world of interlocking directorates, people lose sight of whom they are funding, and for what. So I found UNDP money going without any accountability up to the terrorists, whereas similar funding for peace building to in theory the Sri Lankan government was given only to NGOs selected by NGO personnel. Conversely 1 million dollars was given by UNICEF direct to the terrorists, in theory to rehabilitate child soldiers. It was used without any accountability, and it was only a year after asking that I was assured an audit had been done, though I was not permitted to see this.

Meanwhile the terrorists had convinced the UNICEF head, five years after they had pledged to stop their use of child soldiers, that they would now actually release everyone under seventeen. Those under eighteen they claimed they could not release until they had amended their legislation, a term the misbegotten woman accepted until I pointed out that terrorists could not claim to legislate, at which point she became tearfully apologetic. Having to head back soon to retirement, it was no wonder that she enjoyed so much being placed at the very end of her career on the top branch of the murunga tree, as the terrorists doubtless graphically positioned her.

Am I simply being anecdotal at this point? If so, I make no apologies, since we have lost sight I fear of the manner in which policies are made. The Times correspondent, when I told him that the UN had repudiated his figure, claimed that his informants, youngsters in the UN service, had told him that their elders and betters were too pally with the Sri Lankan government. Whether the opposite held true of the youngsters presumably the Times correspondent did not want to check.

Sadly, Sri Lanka being so small, it is the youngsters who provide the materials on which decisions are made. And, as the Indian Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva so perceptively told me, all these youngsters come out of the same type of stable, namely NGOs to which they wish to return. Indeed, sometimes they come out of the very same stable, as I found when it transpired that Alan Keenan, Tonto to Gareth Evans’ Lone Ranger, was well acquainted with Charu Latha Hogg, who wrote the HRW report, and who is one of those expatriate Indians who thinks Chatham House a better flagship than any Indian institutions. I have already mentioned the strange creature who moved from HRW to Amnesty, an Iranian who seems to see the West and its particular version of Human Rights as his passport to fame and fortune. Interestingly enough, it was another Iranian, now ensconced in Canada, who actually applied to be a member of the War Crimes tribunal he believed the UN was about to set up last May, with David Miliband announcing in the House of Commons that that was the aim of the motion the British were pushing against us in Geneva.

Payam Akhavan, as that Iranian was called, came out of one of the stables still run by Louise Arbour, who has now taken over from Gareth Evans at the ICG. Earlier, when she came to Sri Lanka, her Tonto, a bizarre Australian called Rory Mungovan, argued as Evans had done that the Scandinavian Monitoring Mission was useless. He wanted it replaced by a UN body, in which doubtless he would play the proconsul, and was upset to find that I had full confidence in the Mission as constituted then. Indeed I was touched by its Head telling me that often youngsters came out with a romantic view of the terrorists but, working with them to a set of principles, they were soon disabused. Fortunately the SLMM conditions allowed only short stays, and did not allow these youngsters to think they were embarking on a long permanent career in which they could be the arbiters of all excellence in a failed state.

Unfortunately careerists like Keenan and Mungova, shrewd, dedicated to their own vision of themselves, exercise disproportionate influence. Paul Scott, in the Raj Quartet, pointed out how the idealistic British forgot their ideals because they stood by their own. So, when one youngster issues a virulent press release, it is rarely that it is repudiated by the UN, even though they will assure you that that is not the UN position. I found this with the ICRC, for instance, when they had agreed that tendentious pronouncements to the press were inappropriate, and immediately afterwards there was a particularly nasty interview with the BBC. The ICRC assured me that the man had been misquoted but, instead of issuing a denial, they simply put up on their website the real text of the interview, which was certainly much more balanced.

The next day the UN was quoted as having said the same thing, but the UN head assured me that his press officer, another nasty ambitious piece of work who is now peddling his denigratory stories busily back in Australia, had merely directed the press to the purported ICRC interview – even though by then the actual text was on the ICRC website. And to cap this brilliant exercise in irresponsible disinformation, the BBC assured me later that the man had said what he was initially quoted as saying, though obviously he had then lied to his superiors.

So with all this going on, the West is unlikely to pick up the lessons it so sorely needs, if its efforts to destroy terrorism are not going to fail miserably. Where commanders and policy makers in Afghanistan and Iraq and much of Africa now should be learning from the Sri Lankan example, how to be tough with terrorists but careful and inclusive about the civilians through whom alone terrorism can flourish, they ignore the most successful operation against terror and go on and on in their sad fashion, allowing patent double standards to destroy the moral perspectives that are essential to success in such a situation. This is a pity, because some elements in the terrorist networks the West opposes are as bad as the Sri Lankan terrorists in their ruthlessness and their lack of concern for the civilians they purport to promote. But, sadly, the Western approach to international relations has so hopelessly privileged the opponents of state sovereignty that the Sri Lankan example will not be permitted to serve any salutary purpose.

And perhaps there is more. Perhaps, given the desire to patronize that was so marked a feature of the last British administration, its anxiety to still play a commanding role on the world stage, whether directing the activities and the attitudes of the European Union with regard to its former colonies or striving to present itself as a not entirely inferior partner to the Americans, Britain was anxious to have a client administration in Colombo, and a state that was not quite stable. That desire was also I think directed towards India too, given the glee with which the BBC was predicting an election without a result last year, with separatist tendencies gaining strength in various states.

Fortunately we now have what seems a comparatively sane British government, concerned with better relations based on equality all round. Sadly there has recently been yet another attempt to disrupt improving relations between Sri Lanka and Britain, with more pictures emerging just when our Foreign Secretary was going to meet the British Foreign Secretary. These seem of a piece with the preposterous Channel 4 programme last year, when a dead man’s legs moved, leading to the splendid claim that he might have been inebriated.

Two such outbursts in eighteen months suggest that there is really very little to the repeated allegations about War Crimes that were so dear to David Miliband’s heart, such as it is. But if Britain has any sense, they will recognize these effusions for what they are, and will not let them stand in the way of a better relationship. That relationship should include a proper study of the strategy and tactics we employed during the war, which I think apart from India Britain is best equipped to do, through its academic agencies dedicated to War Studies. I can only hope, for the sake of the West in its efforts to contain terrorism it spawned earlier, that such study leads to better practice all over the world, and a move towards the inclusive pluralist peace we have at last achieved in Sri Lanka.


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