Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Why is the West Being Unexpectedly Sympathetic to the Tamils?

by GeeKay, Northeastern Monthly, May 19, 2007

Even as the West began taking steps to bargain with Rajapkse by using international aid as a weapon, Sri Lanka’s president began displaying an affinity to China, which automatically raised his bargaining power against the West and not vice versa...

We should understand clearly that by using international opinion as a weapon the West is attempting to suppress the Rajapakse regime’s bargaining power and reinstate its own in a position of dominance. This is a part of the Western agenda in Sri Lanka, nothing less. It is important for the Tamils to be aware of the true character of this exercise and not be fooled into believing that a sea change has occurred in international politics in dealing with the Tamil question.

In occurrence more unexpected could not be imagined at the Cricket World Cup 2007. The defeat of the Sri Lanka cricket team in the hands of the mighty Australians was less surprising than the campaign launched by the international human rights organisation Amnesty International.

Amnesty’s campaign that used dummy cricket balls which said, “Sri Lanka, play by the rules,” was distributed at the playing venue. Other material that exposed the government’s dismal human rights record and democratic practices as the state intensified its war against the LTTE was also distributed but not at the cricket matches.

The government expressed its indignation: “One expects international human rights organisations to respect the spirit of cricket and not intrude the game with such slurs,” Lucian Rajakarunanayake, director of the Sri Lankan president’s Media Division, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.

“One would like to ask Amnesty International whether it plans to take up the issue of human rights violations by the U.S. government in Iraq or in Guantanamo Bay at the Super Bowl match or the National Basketball League championship,” he said.

Though the government’s rejoinders in the past to international issues that place it in an embarrassing situation have been to adopt an air of injured indignation, the bluff did not work on this occasion. No sooner than Amnesty’s campaign played the spotlight on the problem than an avalanche of international criticism began pouring out from different quarters.

Critical appraisals of human rights and democracy in Sri Lanka came not only from international human rights organisations such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch (HRW), but from international research bodies whose opinions matter such as the US-based Freedom House. Inadequate performance by Sri Lanka against the Freedom House benchmarks influenced the US government to withhold financial assistance to Colombo from the Millennium Challenge Fund.

The question arises as to why human rights violations that have been committed by the government against the minorities for decades should suddenly tug the heartstrings of the international community. At a time when the international community is greatly concerned by the LTTE’s air force bombing military targets in southern Sri Lanka and Palaly, such a response by the international community would indeed appear amazing.

The response by the global community however is very rational. It is important that we in our ignorance should not misinterpret the stance of the international community as in any way sympathetic to the suffering of the Tamils.

It is unlikely there was any issue that distressed the West in recent years as the news that Mahinda Rajapakse had become president of Sri Lanka. All the diplomatic moves that were made to prevent it from occurring failed. But faced with this crisis, the West however persuaded itself, it had a failsafe weapon in its hand – using foreign aid as a lever to compel Rajapakse to amend his ways or face the possibility of the regime being overturned. Much to their chagrin Rajapakse taught them they were wrong.

Even as the West began taking steps to bargain with Rajapkse by using international aid as a weapon, Sri Lanka’s president began displaying an affinity to China, which automatically raised his bargaining power against the West and not vice versa. He signalled his bent by affording Beijing openings and opportunities in Sri Lanka. This might have come as a shock to the West, which is a past master with international experience at transforming the influence that accrues from controlling the purse strings into political patronage.

By indicating that China was prepared to extend him the hand of friendship, Rajapakse had the West eating out of his hand very soon. This meant that contrary to a threat of withholding aid, the western coffers were unlocked. It is remarkable diplomatic feat how Rajapakse was able to turn on its head an attempt by the West to bargain with him from a position of strength, to one where he held the aces, and his adversary forced to accept his terms.

Though forced to eat humble pie and keep foreign aid flowing to the Sri Lanka government, Rajapakse’s deft diplomatic stunt only increased the distaste and fear western capitals had of him and deepened their conviction to see the back of the Rajapakse government. A scheme had to be worked out with this objective in mind.

The logical next step was to discover an element, which the West could use as a lever that Rajapakse would not be able to counter by resorting to Chinese help. The West believed this would put an end to Rajapakse’s ability to bargain from a position of strength.

An area dominated by the West completely is international opinion. The West decided to use this to make good its needs. It realised that if the image of Sri Lanka is tarnished in the eyes of world opinion no countervailing measures taken by Rajapakse using Beijing would be good enough. If India cooperated in the campaign the task would be made simpler.

The international media, globally powerful and renowned research organisations, international NGOs are all in the hands of the West. The West uses them to dominate global knowledge and information. Therefore, there was no difficulty for the West to manipulate these instruments to influence the opinion of international actors against Sri Lanka and use that to staunch the flow of aid to the country.

The West planned to manoeuvre the weapons at its command in such a way that the economic and political pressure on the Rajapakse government would not allow it to stray, and force Colombo to bow to the wishes of the West.

We should understand clearly that by using international opinion as a weapon the West is attempting to suppress the Rajapakse regime’s bargaining power and reinstate its own in a position of dominance. This is a part of the Western agenda in Sri Lanka, nothing less. It is important for the Tamils to be aware of the true character of this exercise and not be fooled into believing that a sea change has occurred in international politics in dealing with the Tamil question.

If indeed such a sea change is to occur, the Tamils should know it can only come about by the blood, sweat and tears of the Tamils themselves.