Groping Towards Rational Foreign Policy Thinking?
Posted on September 3rd, 2014

Susantha Goonatilake

A window on the state of our foreign relations thinking is provided by several recent meetings. This take reflecting my own interests is a rather personal and selective account.

Let me begin with New Delhi where TNA representatives who had earlier fronted for the Hitlerite LTTE, met Indian Prime Minister Modi and her External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to complain about Sri Lanka. This was just a few days after a delegation from Indian Kashmir was at the Pakistani Embassy in Delhi. In response to meddling in her internal affairs, India called off talks with Pakistan and soon, cross-border shooting began. But, Modi’s views of non-interference in internal affairs did not apparently apply to Indian interference with us.

Days earlier, Subramanian Swamy in an interview with Ada Derana” said that India was not insisting on the 13th Amendment and was not a hegemonic bully. Modi’s India seems to be talking in twisted tongues in the reset of foreign relations which Modi promised.

The next meeting was one directly out of Hollywood’s Central Casting of a banana republic. The US Embassy, reminiscent of the Ugly American” of the novel by that name was there at the Centre for Society and Religion” (CSR) together with representatives from the British, German, French, Swiss and European Union. And so was present, so-called civil society funded by several of these western states and led by Nimalka Fernando. The meeting was to hear about alleged disappearances in the North.

The meeting was stormed by allegedly elements from the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) who wanted to present a 15,000 long list of other disappearances done by the LTTE – Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim. With which demand I also agree. But let me also distance myself from the general activities and campaigning style of the BBS, especially because either through naivety or foreign design, it had associations with the Norwegian Arne Piertoff, the man behind the anti-Sri Lanka YA TV. A Norway news outlet had once reported that in Sri Lanka, Piertoff was as popular as the Buddha and Karl Marx, indicative of the arrogance of the new colonialists. And further, the BBS antipathy towards Muslims could not be understood because historically, the Muslims unlike colonial Christians had co-existed well with Buddhists in Sri Lanka. If the BBS was battling Wahabi infiltration, its tactics were wrong. The CSR meeting ended in disarray with the US Embassy calling the BBS intruders as shouting hate-filled slogans, … unfounded accusations,” and behaving” threateningly towards the families of the disappeared,”.

The CSR is now virtually a fringe group. But I knew of the CSR well during its early heyday in the late 70’s and early 80’s. This was the time I had launched the Peoples Bank Economic Review with its Third World stand (unfortunately this Journal has now drifted from its earlier style as well as objectives). I had also helped that excellent Nawaz Dawod launch as its first Director, the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies BCIS. Unfortunately Nawaz died in his 30’s and our joint Asian dreams for BCIS were stilled, till perhaps now being revived. It was also the time that in the same mode, I launched the first foreign relations study in Colombo University termed Third World Studies”. We often exchanged speakers and ideas between the BCIS, Colombo University’s Third World Studies” and Father Balasuriya’s CSR with some of their outcomes published in the Economic Review.

Thus I, and later my wife, closely collaborated with the CSR believing that it was multicultural and genuinely socially oriented. At its beginning, CSR had no academic contacts and it was the two of us who acted often as recruiters of speakers and even partly the audience.  And my wife was criticised by some of her Buddhist colleagues at her University as promoting Christianisation. Later the National Committee for Communal Harmony was formed with her and Father Balasuriya as joint secretaries, but later she resigned suspecting a hidden strong Christian agenda.  Around the time, Father Balasuriya who once said that there was no need for virginity in the presumed mother of Christ” had to go on his bended knee and ask for forgiveness from the Pope. But the recent meeting of Nimalka was not the first time rights violations in the North and in the rest of the country were seen differently. Once, Charles Abeysekera a semi resident” of the CSR had a foreign funded NGO, the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CROPP) in the North. But when prisoners were piling up in southern jails in opposition to the Indian incursion,

Abeysekera’s CROPP went silent and he called those protesting at the loss of our sovereignty chauvinists”. But before his lucrative NGO career for rights, Abeysekera had been chased out by his workers in a nine-month strike in the Steel Corporation for stealing from the workers’ welfare money. Later his daughter Sunila was to take up his NGO baton.

In the reporting that followed the recent Nimalka meeting, the CSR was termed as founded by Father Balasuriya. He was labelled as being part of the Liberation Theology movement that had begun in Latin America. At its prime, Liberation Theology was considered pro-Third World, anti-American, and anti-capitalist. In fact in CSR’s heyday, one of the meetings that I helped Father Balasuriya organize was on Sri Lanka gaining control of the plantation sector from foreign hands. Liberation Theology founders would have winced at Western ambassadors being present at this meeting under their name.

Nimalka in an interview in 2006 to a small foreign media outlet had claimed that in Sri Lanka, there was a spread [of] hate speech” against the Tamil leadership fighting for self-rule. Translated, this meant that there was opposition to the breaking up of Sri Lanka. Now, one of the new vocabularies introduced by the presumed Washington Consensus that came about after the collapse of the Soviet Union was that of a failed state”. Such failed states might require R2P” Western intervention reminiscent of what colonial powers did earlier as what the NGO, ICES had wanted for Sri Lanka. In that same interview, Nimalka stated that Sri Lanka is a classic example of a failed nation state”. The major characteristic of a failed state was that it would not have control over its own sovereign territory. Nimalka was advocating separatism which would bring forth a failed state while at the same time labelling Sri Lanka as such, preparing consciously or unconsciously for a possible new colonial intervention. Jayadeva Uyangoda of Colombo University had been the first to propagate this notion of Sri Lanka as a failed state. Just before the government’s crushing of the LTTE and regaining of our sovereignty, Jawaharlal Nehru University’s anti-Sri Lanka expert” Sahadevan went on international TV trying to stop the Sri Lanka government’s advance. Sahadevan had told me months earlier in Delhi that he had gone to lecture at Colombo University invited by Uyangoda.

The Western interventions during the last few decades of the Washington Consensus had actually resulted in failed states. It had uprooted secular Arab dictators, like Muammar Qadhafi and Saddam Hussein under false pretexts including having weapons of mass destruction and saying that they were introducing democracy. Instead, the West had introduced a set of failed states that now threaten the US. The major Arab country, Egypt experimented with democracy but with an Islamic tendency and was overthrown by its Western backed military, once again introducing a pro-Western dictatorship. As an aside, I should mention that in a Sinhala Sunday newspaper, I recall Nimalka with a picture of her posing with Saddam Hussain.

This brings us to a well-attended meeting a few weeks ago at the OPA on solutions to the ethnic problem where TNA’s Sumandiram and Vasudeva Nanayakkara were the speakers. At question time, I remarked on how TNA’s Sumandiram who had fronted for the Hitlerite LTTE calling it the sole representative of Tamils” could speak without blushing on democratic rights. To Vasudeva, I said that one of the close advisers in his Ministry had told me, while literally sobbing that Nimalka and Sunila Abeysekera were advisors in his Ministry and were giving lectures there based on their anti-Sri Lanka views. I used another nugget of information that had been given to me by the former Solicitor General Mr Douglas Premaratne who was staying in the same set of flats as Vasudeva. This was that Nimalka was living in Vasudeva’s flat. I popped the obvious question that both Nimalka Fernando and Sunila Abeysekera had been regularly caricatured in Vasudeva’s government TV channels as virtually foreign agents who campaigned against Sri Lankan independence. At this Vasudeva went on his lawyerly firebrand” mode by which adjective he had been once called before being claimed and tamed by MR. He asked rhetorically what was wrong if Nimalka was even staying in his own room saying that she was entitled to her antigovernment views. I had made my point and I did not mention that she was not only anti-government but also anti-Sri Lanka. I did not remind also to this firebrand” of the left wing feminist slogan personal is political” which he and his anti-Sri Lanka flat mate should have known.

The next meeting was at the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) Social Sciences Section F in which there were three speakers on Ethnic integrity and challenges”. Unfortunately, the time when SLAAS Section F would have around 300 in the audience was no more but to fill the empty chairs the current Sectional President had brought in his Kelaniya students. The first speaker, a historian spoke on the Muslims and I think he made a grave error in not pointing out that historically, the Muslims had been living with us amicably since the 8th century and unlike the Christians who came with the colonialists did not try to destroy the local culture. He could have of course mentioned current Wahabi threats but unfortunately did not. The second, a good Buddhist scholar wondered why he was asked to speak on this issue but went on to say, among others that from a Buddhist perspective, Sri Lanka should have allowed the LTTE also to commemorate their dead. A few weeks earlier, the Western Allies of World War II commemorated the D-Day landing which led to the defeat of the Nazis. But there was no remembrance there of the millions that died among the Germans.

Perhaps, a Buddhist scholar would not know that. The third speaker a lecturer from our universities doing a Ph.D. at JNU emphasised said that Sri Lanka was a small country forgetting that small countries varying from Singapore, Korea to the UK had developed great clout. He said he was looking at our foreign policy through the theories of the French post-modernist Derrida. Gayatri Spivak the person who translated into English Derrida’s first work and I had been contributors to a book titled The Decolonization of Imagination: Culture, Knowledge and Power and had interacted well for a few days in the company of other contributors in Amsterdam. Now, post-modernism denies macro theories and definite perspectives. Sri Lanka must be the only country where its scholars look through post-modernism at our foreign policy which requires a Sri Lanka perspective. Post-modernism in social sciences which arose largely from France was once fashionable but is almost dead for the last 10 years. When I mentioned that there was a more current famous French philosopher for foreign relations, he did not know of him. I meant Bernard-Henri Levy who has advocated many neocolonial armed interventions. In Sri Lanka, it was NGOs like ICES that advocated such foreign intervention.

Anti-national NGOs had once found deep connections with Colombo University. Colombo academics, for a package including foreign money and trips, were deeply connected with antinational NGOs. ICES which wanted to bring foreign troops to the country was connected, but also the other rogue elements like International Alert (IA) which was thrown out of Sierra Leone for staging a coup had an office in Colombo University. IA had propagated a map encompassing over two thirds of Sri Lanka as the future Tamil Eelam for which IA was campaigning. You name them; several Colombo University academics had connections with similar antinational NGOs. And this pro-Western spy idiocy was occurring while in countries like the UK, beset as it is by anti-British Islamic extremism has laws where even downloading or disseminating such anti-British extremist material is a criminal offence.

That is why when the Colombo University held its first International Relations Conference I thought it had finally made a pro-Sri Lanka turn. The chief organiser told me that she had got inspiration from the annual conferences of the Royal Asiatic Society which I had initiated and which was attracting about 400 abstracts. I and my wife who also had extensive international academic relations in women’s and Buddhist cultural studies submitted papers. Unfortunately, maybe because it was the first time, much of the papers had no particular pro-Sri Lanka perspective which should by definition be the attitude of a country’s foreign policy conference. And several papers were actually quite prosaic.

One spoke of soft power but was of India” exercising it in the Asokan period by introducing Buddhism to Sri Lanka. There was no mention of India and China currently using Buddhism as a soft power tool. Worse, there was no recognition that India” as such did not exist during the Asokan period and that Asoka introduced Buddhism simultaneously to both his newly conquered lands and Sri Lanka. Historians know of Asoka from his few rock edicts, but in more detail from Sinhalese chronicles which latter in the 19th century gave India its early history. This Peradeniya University teacher seemed not to have an idea of such basic facts and did not know the tremendous Buddhist soft power Sri Lanka, the world’s oldest continuous Buddhist majority country had in Asia, especially in Southeast Asia. (The latter was the subject of the paper by my wife). Significantly, an academic this Peradeniya don cited was one of her teachers whom I knew as a Ph.D. student at Sussex University (I believe he took nearly 10 years to complete it) when I was on the staff at that University. When I had then told him that we had had close connections with Southeast Asia and that this region should be our natural allies, it did not resonate at all with him.

My own paper I thought should have brought some excitement in that it was using current publications by Indian Dalit academics. My presentation showed that the South Indian Tamil political movement in the form of the DMK and the AIDMK who campaign against our sovereignty as well as their predecessors who had demanded a separate Dravidastan was the eventual result of a Buddhist movement that at the turn of the 19th century Anagarika Dharmapala had initiated in South India. The only response to my paper was by a senior historian who had turned into an international affairs expert asking whether there weren’t Buddhists in South India at the time. There weren’t which he as a historian should have known. But he missed the central point, namely that the South Indian Tamil movement which was threatening us was an indirect product of the 19th century Sinhalese Buddhist revival.

In this rather personal and selective account done in the absence of all the abstracts because the organisers did not provide them (presumably because this was their first conference), there is another important point. This was the chairmanship by an academic from Uppsala University of Sweden at the session I made my presentation. It was Uppsala that gave us Peter Schalk the most prominent pro-LTTE academic in the West as well as Wiveca Stegeborn, an eccentric (my view uninformed and unbalanced) advocate for the veddahs who was brought into monitor the Norwegian CFA. I used my own presentation to give this background information on Uppsala interference on us. But this had no resonance with the audience. When I once taught the Third World Studies” course at the same Colombo University, I am sure the students would have become agitated and badgered the Uppsala person who was now chairing. Our critical faculties seem to have been dumbed out, probably through nearly two decades of anti-national NGO infiltration and spy money” of Colombo University.

International relations are vital for an island nation like ours. Today, with the internet most documents and literature are available for easy reference and unlike previous generations, one does not have to go abroad to study our foreign relations. But it appears that judging from these recent meetings our international” minds had become infantile. Or, had been sold to foreigners for the lowest international price through Western NGOs.

But there was, however, one silver lining, namely a meeting organised by the BCIS for some BJP ideologues and later a smaller more intimate meeting with Ram Madhav, the RSS leader and General Secretary of the BJP. At the BCIS meeting, the BJP ideologues including from Tamil Nadu generally supported Sri Lanka’s integrity. This included Subramaniam Swamy who implied that our constitutional arrangements are our own business. But Swamy, now some sort of darling of Sri Lanka has had a chequered history as indicated by the recent book by former Army Commander Gerry de Silva who mentions that Swamy had once wanted Sri Lanka to be part of the Indian federation, in fact going beyond LTTE demands which Swamy was recently opposing. The BCIS meeting was marred in a seeming follow-up article in a government website. The article was a superficial take on Indian internal politics and unfortunately the government had to make an abject apology. This incident emphasises the fact that our analyses of international relations are much to be desired.

The more intimate meeting with Ram Madhav, RSS leader and BJP General Secretary indicated perhaps that India and Sri Lanka could ideologically come together in a common cultural soft power alliance towards Asia. Information also came about that in the coming months, both India and Sri Lanka could simultaneously issue commemorative stamps on Anagarika Dharmapala, the founder of international Buddhism and whose Maha Bodhi Society had also helped nurture BJP’s early ideologues. Perhaps, the most significant outcome of the recent meetings is that the BCIS after decades is perhaps coming back to its original position as a pro-Sri Lanka think tank. If it does so, it could well be an antidote to the foreign NGO spy institutions that had produced paid mercenaries of our international relations academia. The coming Asian world demands such a shift.

7 Responses to “Groping Towards Rational Foreign Policy Thinking?”

  1. AnuD Says:

    I don’t agree to this opinion or some one’s words that this greater Dravidasthan movement began as a result of the Anagariaka dharmaplala’s buddhist movement.

    IF I want to explain it, it is a long history. Public domain has all the information needed to understand it.

  2. AnuD Says:

    IF all these anti-lankan NGO individuals lived in a democratic, and human rights respecting western country, sleuths would be behind them 24/7 to check what they are doing and they would be arrested in no time for anti-state activities.

    Here even what we write in the computer are screened.

  3. Christie Says:

    I thought BJP is the RSS. Modi or Vijayapayee they are overseen by the Third Eye the same way it looked after the Congress mob. Step out and you will be a Desai or a Shastri.

  4. Senevirath Says:



  5. Marco Says:

    Groping Towards Rational Foreign Policy Thinking?
    And here I was thinking that our Foreign Policy Thinking and smoothing was done by foreign company (PR) lobbying firms in the US and Uk.
    Any PR lobbying company worth their salt should have been able to obtain “space” in the NYT for our US Ambassador to refute the editorial. I have yet to see the rebuttal in NYT.

    “This take reflecting my own interests is a rather personal and selective account.”
    Thank you for your honesty.

  6. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    The Tamil National Alliance cannot continue to seek the aid of foreign nations regarding extremely sensitive domestic issues. To do so is an act of treason. If any US political party sought the advice of Moscow or Beijing to deal with a sensitive domestic issue that party would be facing the courts.

    NO Indian elected any representative of the Tamil National Alliance. India is not part of that organization and if the TNA continues to engage India the very nation that not only armed the Tamil Tigers but went out of her way to create a full military, navy and air force for that terrorist organization.

    India then used the vulnerability of Colombo to pressure Sri Lanka to create Amendment 13. When the Sri Lankan military defeated the Tamil Tigers India continued to attack Sri Lanka using the UNHRC. Even now pro LTTE NGO’s are given full protection by India.

    India would not tolerate such actions from any of her neighbors who actively sought to divide her. Take Pakistan for instance. If Pakistan did to India what India did to Sri Lanka then any Indian party who goes to Pakistan for advice on any sensitive issue such as the state of Kashmir would be disbarred as a party working for Pakistan and not within India.

    That can be said of the Tamil National Alliance. Either they work with Colombo and give up India or Colombo takes the action to dismantle them as agents of India working to dismantle Sri Lanka

  7. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    Sri Lankan Tamils by and large elected the TNA. No Indian Tamil did. No Indian did. The TNA is only accountable to the Sri Lankan Tamils, to the Sri Lankan people and to Sri Lanka. The TNA are NOT beholden to anyone or any nation outside of the nation of Sri Lanka, especially to India who supported the Tamil Tigers and their cause for the division of Sri Lanka.

    Considering the extremely sensitive issue of the integrity of Sri Lanka no party that is elected by the Sri Lankans has the right or support by the law of that land to seek the support and advice of any nation especially India who worked so hard to make sure Elam is created and Sri Lanka is divided. For the TNA to do so is an act of treason. An act of betrayal to the Sri Lankan people and to Sri Lanka and should be treated in that manner.

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