To Escape the Geopolitical Knot
Posted on November 16th, 2020

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe Courtesy Ceylon Today

As early as January 2015 Teresita Schaffer predicted in her blog, ‘South Asia Hand’ Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s entrance to politics. This was an amazing forecast from one who was the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka from 1992-1995. It is especially so when according to Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s close associates, he did not at the time entertain any political aspirations. Until the very last days of the 2019 Presidential Election, he refused to be identified as a politician, but as a nationalist. Even as President, he prefers his Prime Minister and older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa be the politician, thereby freeing himself to be the administrator. 

Schaffer’s blog post coincided with Professor Ryan Goodman’s ‘Helping Sri Lanka’s New Democracy’, published also in January 2015. He noted that neither Mahinda Rajapaksa nor his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa are politically dead. However, the two Americans with an interest in South Asia advocated complete opposite strategies for their Government to follow. 

Schaffer, still an influential voice on South Asian matters, advised Washington to lower its voice” and for the UNHRC to suspend its probe on Sri Lanka’s alleged war crimes to overcome the impasse between US and Sri Lanka. The two countries are talking ‘at’ and not ‘with’ each other, she noted. She did not want Sri Lankans to see the Washington hand in the so-called reconciliation efforts. 

Different counsels, same objective

Goodman on the other hand observed, The United Nations investigation doesn’t have any teeth — the panel leading it doesn’t have the powers of a criminal tribunal, and cannot even impose a financial penalty.” Thus to eliminate the threat of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s return to power, he advised the US Government to target him specifically over the alleged war crimes. The United States has a perfect justification to go after Mr. Rajapaksa individually,” he notes as Gotabaya Rajapaksa was then a US citizen. Eliminating political opponents with the potential to challenge the Government is a very strange recommendation to promote democracy. 

Regime change

These two very different counsels however were to achieve the same objective. The objective was to strengthen then newly elected President, Maithripala Sirisena. As admitted by then State Secretary John Kerry, installing Maithripala Sirisena as the new President of Sri Lanka was a US-backed project. Others, including our closest neighbor, was suspected to have been part of this project. However, none took credit the way John Kerry did. He was quite proud of the role the US played in ushering democracy back to Sri Lanka after, what he claimed, a lapse of about ten years. He was very confident that the US-backed regime change would begin a new chapter for Sri Lanka.  It certainly was a new chapter for Sri Lanka – but not a happy one. From the word, go, it was a disaster. Maithripala Sirisena, who came as the champion of all those who oppose Mahinda Rajapaksa, realised the danger he was in of been turned into a puppet. He needed his own team and needed it urgently. 

It is also worth remembering the reason for Maithripala Sirisena to support the regime change operation. It was not because he genuinely believed the Mahinda Rajapaksa Administration was autocratic. It was because President Mahinda Rajapaksa did not then fulfill Sirisena’s long cherished dream of becoming Prime Minister.  

Bicephaly partnership

This was the root of the conflict between Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe. As far as Wickremesinghe was concerned Sirisena’s role in the regime change operation had been fulfilled. He underestimated Sirisena’s own political ambitions. Their political ambitions and egos prevented either to fully understand their bicephaly partnership. 

Sirisena could not have become the President without the UNP’s block vote. However, that block vote alone was insufficient for Wickremesinghe to win the presidential elections. It was Sirisena who attracted the Sinhala votes that Wickremesinghe through his anti-national, separatist sympathetic policies lost forever. 

Thus, without either, they would not have been in power. Yet, once in power, instead of working together they began to undermine each other in a bid to gain a foothold in the power struggle. This became both the curse and the blessing. It was a curse because it put the country in jeopardy both in terms of economy and security as neither could agree with the other and spent the better part of their tenure either ignoring or attacking each other, and only agreeing grudgingly when forced to do so. The power struggle was a blessing because it acted as the hand brakes to the treacherous agenda that threatened the very sovereignty of Sri Lanka. 

Understanding geopolitics

Sirisena, an essentially local politician who had risen through the party ranks without an education to boast of, did not understand geopolitics. He thus did not realise who was buttering his bread. He did not even realise until October 2018 that he had lost the West’s support or that he could not lose Wickremesinghe without the blessings of the West. As far as the West was concerned, Sirisena had done his part in the regime change” operation and were waiting politely for him to exit from the scene at the next Presidential Elections. The hand brakes Sirisena applied from time to time to veto Wickremesinghe’s agenda and the constant whining of Wickremesinghe’s faults that discredited his own Government was a buzzing mosquito in the room for Western diplomats. 

Conversely, Wickremesinghe, who is worldly, educated and a neo-liberalist found a chord with the Obama Barack’s neo-liberal policies. He thus understood the need to show loyalty to the West. As a result one of the first things his Yahapalana Government did was to antagonise China by halting or terminating all of China’s investments in Sri Lanka. 

Playing fast and loose

It is assumed by many political analysts that at the time Wickremesinghe thought investments from the West would flow in and cover the hole left by the ousted Chinese. This writer however is doubtful that this was the case for two reasons. 

For one thing Wickremesinghe, despite his incompatible politics, is actually a man well versed in matters of the world. He would know that the West does not have China’s financial strength. With his long political experience he would also know that with China’s investments and loans the only thing the recipient government has to worry over are interest and repayment. The West on the other hand always tries to tie the recipient Government into obligations that are often unacceptable to the people of the country. This often puts the recipient Government into an embarrassing situation politically. 

Yahapalana financial mismanagement

The second reason for this writer’s doubt is the financial mismanagement of Yahapalana Government. Before the first three months were completed, the Yahapalana Government had:

Scuttled the operations of Avant Garde Maritime Services and deprived the Government coffers from some serious revenue. This action also weakened the security of the sea routes;

Increased the public sector salaries to amount to a whopping USD one billion annual bill for the Government;

Reduced taxes on imported commodities and fuel. This with the increased spending capacity from salary increments led to greater consumerism. This in turn put a huge strain on the FOREX, which caused the Rupee to depreciate unprecedentedly during the Yahapalana era;

The first Central Bank bond scam was committed. This caused the carefully managed interest rates by the Mahinda Rajapaksa to rise to two digit numbers and thereby affected all. 

Playing to the western gallery

None of these were accidents nor can be put down to wrong or foolish policies. It is just not possible for a Government, especially one that worked in consultation with the West to make such a muddle with our economy. Our growth rate was on free fall and there was not even an attempt to stop it. Wickremesinghe also had a need to discredit the victory over the LTTE. As the Opposition Leader during the most successful phase of the war, he continued to ridicule the  Sri Lankan military efforts. Hence, when the war was won he stood politically discredited. His only way to claw back to respectability” was to discredit the war itself. 

This worked with the Western agenda as well. The cries over war crimes” and human rights violations” work for the West on many fronts. It gives the Tamil Diaspora a voice to provoke a reaction within the Tamil expatriate communities domiciled in the West. By keeping this conflict alive, the Sri Lankan community stays divided in the West. This is a tactic the West uses to keep the colored” from becoming one community. That is the reason why Caucasians living in the West are only identified by nationality. The others are also with the prefix or tag to identify the origin. 

Tact and creativity

These allegations also give the West leeway to intervene in Sri Lanka’s matters to help” Sri Lankans to be inclusive”, tolerant” and not tribal” or xenophobic”. In Schaffer’s blog post she states that Sri Lanka’s foreign friends will need tact and creativity” to help Sri Lanka build stronger relations with US and India. When the kind of relationship that these countries need is unacceptable to Sri Lankans, tact and creativity are indeed needed. 

India and US can no longer be seen as two countries but as partners with the agenda to subdue China. The insistence of the 13th Amendment, one that had failed from all fronts, the ACSA-SOFA-MCCC that paints an incredulous scene needs to be viewed from this angle. This indicates that the economic disaster carried out diligently by the Yahapalana Government was in a bid to put Sri Lankans in a position that makes these solutions acceptable. 

New slogan and target 

The regime change operation was defeated on 18 November 2019 by the people in the most peaceful and democratic fashion. However if we think even for a moment the geopolitical project vis-a-vis Sri Lanka has been binned, we would be mistaken. The campaign to discredit the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa began almost immediately after the war. Using his own Army Commander, the project was initiated by calling him The Thief” (hora). Over the years this campaign steadily grew in momentum. 

Today, that campaign with a new slogan and a new target has re-emerged. The target is President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He is steering the country better than most other countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, it’s not his success that is noticed. Instead the running commentaries are on draconian measures”, the Muslim burial issue which are cast as racial discrimination, the need for lockdown, social calamities because of lockdown and the list continues endlessly. When his Administration’s economic management ought to be applauded, doubts are cast over the country’s credit worthiness. In short, the new slogan is ‘The Failure’. 

As citizens, we have a huge duty before our country. That is, to understand the real story and not just get carried away by headlines and never allow a replay of  the ‘Regime Change’.

Views of the writer

For the benefit of Dr Dayan Jayatilleka: these are the views of the writer alone and do not reflect on any organisation that the writer may be attached to. 

One Response to “To Escape the Geopolitical Knot”

  1. Ratanapala Says:

    Short and sweet, Ranil Wickramasinghe’s task with regime change in 2015 was to pave way for a Failed State in Sri Lanka. This was to be the precursor for the US take over and make Sri Lanka the next Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

    It was with this intention that he tried to destroy the economy. The immediate action was the hit at the Central Bank and this happened within weeks of him taking over as the PM and then a part of the Finance Ministry under his command. This daylight White Collar Crime resutled in increased interest rates, increased taxes and eventually drastic devaluation of the Rupee and virtual bankruptcy of the small and mediumm scalte investor / entrepreneur.

    The drastic increases of salaries givento the public sector added to the state’s woes. No country in the world meddles with the minimum wage and the taxation of the rich willy nilly, for these measures have serious repercussions on the economy in terms of unemployment, inflation and many other.

    He then went on to sabotage the Agriculture in Sri Lanka by depriving the farmer of his fertilizer subsidy. The farmer was vilified when the rice harvest was thrown into the Mattala Airport and later turned over for making beer and animal feed. The tea and rubber industries as well as the spices industries suffered similarly. Ranil W’s target was to bring in an import-dependent nation of paupers – eventually to be made into wage slaves of the American Empire.

    Final nail on the coffin of Sri Lanka was the MCC Compact which is nothing more than handing over the sovereignity of our nation to America. Can anyone in his right mind understand the sudden US interest in improving our land laws, improving our roads etc. Why the sudden love for Sri Lanka. What is the need for a super highway to Trincomalee from Colombo? How high up on the priority list of Sri Lanka is this super highway. Reading through the compact only thing one can see the need of the US to have logistical highway for US Forces from Colombo to Trinco and other areas for its domination of the island for her warlike intents.

    One has only to see the long list of other countries in the world that have profited from her largesse to see and understand what is in store for Sri Lanka if this US enterprise is to succeed.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.



Copyright © 2022 All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress