The Great Game

Dushy Ranetunge in London


The pressures that the Sri Lankan state is under at present are its own creation in failing to strategically position Sri Lanka in a rapidly transformed post LTTE landscape. It is remarkably similar to the predicament of the LTTE, which was also its own creation.

Long before May 2009, the demise of the LTTE was quite obvious as the international community began losing patience with LTTE intransigence and violence. The writing was on the wall, but the LTTE and its Diaspora supporters could not see it. They had faith in the invincibility and superiority of Tamil nationalism against insurmountable odds.

 A mirror image of this now exists in Sinhala society, but do the Sinhalese see what is before them?

If it was the Tamils who felt isolated and at the receiving end of international law enforcement, sanctions and hostility a few years ago, it’s now, the turn of the Sinhalese.

Then the LTTE condemned, that the Sinhalese, the "Sinhalese" government and some "Tamil traitors" were behind "anti-Tamil" activity in the international arena.

Now the Sinhalese say, that the pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora, the LTTE and some "Sinhalese traitors" are behind "anti-Sri Lankan" activity in the International arena.

The "Sinhalese" received GSP+, the tax concession, which is on the verge of being removed. The Tamil tax concession was the charity status of the TRO (Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation), which was their conduit to transfer EU funds tax-free into Sri Lanka.

 The Sinhalese reaction to loss of GSP+ is almost identical to the Tamil reaction to the loss of TRO charity status, with the resultant loss of millions of EU tax-free funds inflow.

 The Sinhalese reaction to "war crimes" charges is identical to the Tamil reaction to the LTTE being listed as a "terrorist" organisation.

 The United States has also begun the process of reviewing its version of GSP+ tax concession to Sri Lanka. After the removal of the TRO charity status in the United Kingdom, similar action was taken against the TRO in the United States.

 Already it is reported that Next, one of UK’s largest clothes retailers, has pulled out from Sri Lanka. It seems that they don’t have confidence in the utterances of Sri Lanka’s central bank that has been engaged in a damage limitation exercise.

 Tamil nationalists think that their side were not "terrorists" but "liberators" from Sinhala oppression. The Sinhala nationalists think that their side were not "war criminals" but "terrorist fighters" who "liberated" the Tamils from LTTE oppression.

 The similarities are mind boggling, and even President Rajapaksa quite unintentionally drew parallels in an interview with the "Hindu" when he stated "He is from the jungles of the North. I am from the jungles of the South. Let’s see who will win!’ It was very prophetic."

 The reactions of both communities are almost identical but each tries to deny the other, and try to convince themselves and the international community that they are better than the other, because Prabakaran is like Mandela or because Sri Lankan action in the North is like American action in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is hilarious at times to observe the two sides of the ethnic divide.

 If the "Sinhalese" perceived that India had learnt its lesson, after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, and is now on the side of the Sinhalese "mindset", they are sadly mistaken.

 Indian policy in relation to Sri Lanka remains constant. Only the "modus operandi" has changed. India, then and now is pursuing the establishment of a devolved Tamil unit in the North and the East to secure its own security. Then Indian intervention in Sri Lanka was overt. Today it is covert, and the Sinhalese are unaware of Indian initiatives.

 Rajapaksa’s China policy is ringing alarm bells in New Delhi and increases Indian priority to establish a devolved pro-Indian Tamil unit in the North and East, to stabilize Tamil Nadu and secure Indian interests on its Southern flank by keeping the Sinhalese in check.

 The war crimes initiative of the UN Secretary General and the removal of GSP+ by the EU brings pressure on Colombo to the same extent that the removal of TRO charity status in Europe and the listing of the LTTE as a terrorist organization brought pressure on the LTTE.



 Rajapaksa’s China policy is also raising concern in Washington and NATO.

The interests of Washington and New Delhi converge in respect of Sri Lanka and they will and are working closely as they did in respect of the LTTE. It must be noted that Washington has publicly welcomed the Secretary General’s appointment of the war crimes advisory panel, while India has remained silent. Sri Lanka has over reacted and is in the process of shooting itself in the foot, after ordering the police out of "paththa-palatha", which is the vicinity of the UN offices in Colombo on Buller’s Road (Bauddhaloka Mawatha).

 Sri Lanka has since independence been failing to pursue pragmatic socio-economic policies to create conditions for employment growth and business friendly policies to generate wealth. Instead it has been relying on the Middle East to provide employment to its citizens and foreign aid to fund development. This aid dependency compromises the nation’s integrity and sovereignty. China is today Sri Lanka’s largest donor and over dependence on nations such as China and Iran comes with its own set of complications.

 With the exception of brief periods, Sri Lanka has consistently allowed religion and nationalism to override prudent socio-economic policies that generate employment and create wealth.

 Sri Lanka’s rulers have preferred to greedily retain power by pandering to religion and nationalism, with inefficient socio-economic policies, rather than strengthening the republic’s sovereignty and integrity by reducing reliance on foreign aid and employment.

 The response of the Rajapaksa administration to the loss of GSP+ and the UN Secretary General’s "war crimes" initiative are identical to the response of the LTTE to the loss of charity status of the TRO and the listing of the LTTE as a "terrorist" organisation. They both lightly engaged to see if they could have their way and then, blow hot air and ignored the issues and continued on their destructive path.

 Without addressing the issues at hand, the Sinhalese are playing cat and mouse, talking about "instant noodles". Others are having devil dancers and voodoo on the tarmac outside the UN compound in Colombo. Perhaps the Sri Lankan army serving in the UN peace keeping force in Haiti, the nation that made voodoo famous, was not in vain. They are now practicing it on Bullers Road. 

These we are told are "legitimate democratic" demonstrations.

 Equally "legitimate democratic" demonstrations by Sri Lankan citizens outside Temple Trees have been met with Police brutality and disruption. The regimes version of the "legitimate right to demonstrate" itself lacks consistency as does the mobilization and withdrawal of Police from demonstrations. All these activities highlight and confirm to the outside world Sri Lanka’s "impunity" and "accountability" problem.

The regime is trying to maintain and prolong the "LTTE" militarized mindset to thwart the "foreign" hand, while India wants to open offices in Hambantota and Jaffna.

 Under the circumstances the future is uncertain. The cold war continues, until perhaps the emergence of a new leadership with new thinking, who can lead the Sinhalese and the Tamils out of the quagmire.

Sri Lanka urgently requires normalization, rational, thoughtful debate and reasoning with a view to address all outstanding political and governance issues on the basis of equality and citizenship. There is no room for tribalism or religious/tribal hegemony.

Instead of sanity, we have fire fighting, and in the near future more enforced, pressurized fire fighting which will mean mistakes and more terrible mistakes, just like what the Tamils and the LTTE made.

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