By Dr Kumar David
One can’t blame the Rajapakses for climbing into bed with the Burmese military gorillas, they were following in the footsteps of India which turned venal for Burmese gratification much earlier in 1993; and of course China has been wallowing in similar sin for decades. But there is a difference between our government and the other two; they did it out of pure greed, panting for treasure, mineral wealth, teak and oil. With the Rajapskses it was birds of a feather flocking together, dictators and near dictators of the world huddling in each others arms, codling for comfort. The love nest embraced others of similar ilk, the late unlamented Gaddafi and the soon to be skewered Bashir al-Assad. Now the clump is falling apart like a house of cards; five or six down and just two or three to go. True the road to democracy in the Maghreb, the Middle East and even Asia is erratic, chugging along like an old bus, a start-stop process; vide Egypt. But forward movement there certainly is.
America played its Burmese card coolly and is lining up for political pay-off. Obviously, Obama and Clinton are setting Aung San Suu Ki up to take the helm and the current civilian government, though cobbled by the military, seems reconciled to the inevitable. As sure as morning follows night, Suu Ki will storm back on a tidal wave at the next free election and that will leave China with a bowlful of egg on its face and New Delhi looking morally more decrepit than ever since its under the table complicity in war crimes in Sri Lanka. The aces in the long-term game are stacked in American hands. While only broad brush comments can be made this early, for sure Washington will cash in on China’s soft underbelly much to the latter’s discomfiture. Actually I do not belong to the school that holds that Obama’s new Asia-Pacific strategy is military encirclement of China on land (from Australia to Burma through Thailand, Korea and Japan), and in all the surrounding waters. No, it’s a more complex strategy aimed at drawing China out, economically, into Asia-Pacific and global financial markets and expanding imports into China, while holding the strategic aces in US hands.
India will not lose out all together since it already enjoys a goodly share of Burmese imports and exports, and tied to America’s apron strings, as she is, India will collect crumbs from America’s Burmese kitchen when it opens for business. It is the moral decrepitude in foreign policy of Rao, Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, now exposed in the toilet bowl of the market, the alter at which all three worship, that makes one retch.
Lanka plays a different game
This was a long introduction but needed to drive home the point that the Rajapkse game plan was something different – note the past tense, it’s all in shambles now and the regime has no game plan anymore, anywhere, internationally or locally. An uprising led by the sangha came to life in Burma in mid-September 2007 and the junta responded by killing, gassing, beating and brutalising monks and civilians. Worldwide condemnation of the military dictatorship has long been ubiquitous and reached a crescendo in those days, but with two singular exceptions, China and Sri Lanka – or was it three, I cannot remember whether New Delhi remained dumb. General Than Shwe, leader of the monstrous regime was greeted with fanfare in Colombo by President Rajapkse after the bloodbath and touted as a good friend when he visited. Lanka they say is a Buddhist country! The Rajapakses they say are a devout Buddhist family! So I do admit feelings of considerable amazement when the Burmese junta was massacring the sanga and the UPFA government remained silent. Strangely though there were no big demonstrations of anger by the Sinhala-Buddhist public either.
Lanka has no trade or security concerns to make Burma important; she has no motivation to play the Indian, Chinese or American game and has not at any time been subjected pressure by China or India to be nice to the gorillas. The motivation was entirely psychological as in the choice of Arab dictators to befriend. Lanka’s leaders are embarassed in the company of democratic counterparts, what are they to talk about, whether the moon is made of green cheese? There is a relaxing comfort zone in the company of leaders of kleptocracies, ‘thugocracies’ and ‘drugocracies’ though I don’t know whether they exchange tips about white vans and the butt-end of rifles.
Rajapakse is facing international isolation, which will be compounded by the loss of another friend, when a new democratic government takes over in Rangoon. (I guess the capital will move back from the jungle, where it was taken for the convenience of the gorillas). Burma and Lanka are countries with enduring Buddhist ties and no way will that bond erode, but as for the Rajapskse regime, that’s another story. It matters little if things erode for a while before getting better again.
Burma was an example, let me generalise now. The Burma, Gaddafi, al-Assad episodes are only one side of the isolation of the Lankan regime caused by international changes. The antagonism of the Americans, the Europeans and recently a very aggressive Canada and Australia is the other, and in the longer term far more serious factor. If we want to be cut and dry about it let’s face the fact: The West does not like the Rajapakse regime and would say good riddance when it goes. What is holding its hand is the simple fact that there is no credible alternative acceptable to the Sinhalese masses – at least not yet. The other major Sinhalese party, the UNP, stands for no alternative policy and represents no difference in outlook. And to boot this lot won the war and Mahinda Rajapakse is more popular than Ranil Wickremesinghe. Therefore there is no reason for the Sinhalese masses to throw one slime ball out and give its place to another mud ball. For this reason the West holds its hand and the regime, though frightened by criticism of its human rights violations and terrified of exposure of corruption and complicity with thugs and drug peddlers, has not become unstable inside the country.
In summary, the Achilles’ heel of the Rajapakse government is the international dimension. My guess is that the government will face an increasingly difficult international scenario both because of the antagonism of the West as well as its local blunders in relation to war crimes and human rights issues. Let me quote just one example to drive home the point that the government has quite lost the plot and is not in control of itself.
Journalist Uvindu Kurukulasuriya made a rather sensational disclosure on the web on December 3-See http://colombotelegraph.com/2011/12/03
It relates to a minion of ex-LTTE Eastern Province leader, now cabinet minister, Karuna. His name is Inyapaarathi (alias Pushpa Kumar). This person was recently awarded Sri Lanka’s highest national honour by the President, Deshamanya, reserved for people of great distinction. To quote, Inyapaarathi, the web site says: “Is a man accused of war crimes by the United Nations . . . Accused by the public for playing a role in the abduction and disappearance of people . . . About 90% of the affected families (in the Amaparai area) gave evidence before the LLRC” alleging abductions and disappearances. The allegations, to the best of my knowledge, have not been denied by the government, and even if they turn out to exaggerated, surely it is unthinkable that such high honour be conferred on a dubious character! Many incidents of this nature make one wonder whether the regime is in control of the various and nefarious internal forces and factions, pulling in different direction, and pursuing different agendas.
I believe that the international community will become increasingly disturbed by the irrational malfunctioning of the regime. Locals, unfortunately have become thick skinned and immune; for them this lunacy is nothing more than a topic of social conversation over drinks.