It was perhaps the biggest Sri Lanka related news story of the year that is about to end. It should have been picked up by the international media but unsurprisingly it wasn’t – though it would have been, once. More shocking however is that it made the local media but the biggest news was not focused on. There has not been, for instance, a single editorial on it or feature spun off from it.
Let me back up a bit. It was the doyen of foreign correspondents in Sri Lankan, a true Sri Lankan hand of the old school, PK Balachandran of the New Indian Express, who surfaced it, it was the Daily Mirror that ran it first in Sri Lanka and it was the best reporter-cum-journalistic commentator on Sri Lankan affairs, DBS Jeyaraj, who gave the story the treatment it deserved.
What was the story? It was the confirmation that the USA (and Norway) had attempted to evacuate Velupillai Prabhakaran, at the time one of the deadliest terrorists the world knew and had ever known. The confirmation came from Shivshanker Menon, former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of India, in his newly released memoirs.
“Leaders of Tamil Nadu, across the political divide, privately but effectively supported the Indian government’s policy of opposing efforts by the US and Norway to rescue Velupillai Prabhakaran so that his Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) lived to fight another day, says Shivshankar Menon, India’s former National Security Adviser (NSA) in his book; “Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy”.
(PK Balachandran, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/50313#more-50313, my emphasis -DJ)
Jeyaraj smartly ran the story under the caption “Tamil Nadu Politicians Supported New Delhi’s Policy of Opposing Attempts by USA and Norway to Rescue Prabhakaran and LTTE says Indian Ex-Foreign Secretary”.
The spin that Norway always consulted Delhi on every move and went ahead only with Delhi’s concurrence is proven false. Amazingly, the US attempt to save Prabhakaran’s skin was due to some factor, some ‘driver’ which made the US feel that it could make the move without India’s concurrence.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa did not blink. Instead he played the Delhi card with the US to block the evacuation attempt when the goalposts were changed by – and in—Washington DC, from an evacuation of civilians to an evacuation of the
The goal posts changed because Hillary Clinton had been successfully lobbied by David Miliband. They were trying to secure a UN mandate at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva which they knew could not be obtained in New York due to the Russian and Chinese vetoes. We held the line in Geneva, preventing a UNHRC special session in April, until the war was won in mid-May.
As the New Indian Express story says, such an evacuation of Prabhakaran by the US would have meant that Prabhakaran “would have lived to fight another day”. The evil terrorist monster Prabhakaran would have lived on, giving orders from exile, planning attacks and returning to the fray as he did in 1987, massacring more Sri Lankans for many more years, perhaps decades, as he already had.
As the delightfully shrill, melodramatic and hypocritical Samantha Power, a good friend of Mangala Samaraweera and no friend of Sri Lanka, said recently in the Security Council, “doesn’t it creep you out even a little bit?”
Menon seems to conclude that on balance Rajapaksa’s decision could not be faulted. “The way the Sri Lankans fought the war, though criticized for its brutality in the final stages, might have taken a higher toll if delay and stalemate were brought about, Menon feels in his assessment of the war.” (Ibid)
Shivshanker Menon’s confirmation sheds more light on the famous hypocrisy and double standards of the US on the matter of terrorism. It sheds light also on the Norwegian tilt to one side in the conflict. Perhaps most importantly it shows that the US attitude to Prabhakaran betrays a certain nexus with the Tamil cause, the extent of which one does not know. Perhaps the Tamil separatist project or the Tamil ultranationalist movement is seen as a future strategic asset in contentious Asia. Or it could be the Washington-London “special relationship” being leveraged by the UK Tamil Diaspora. One can only speculate as to motivation.
Here for instance is a statement by John Stockwell, former CIA Station Chief in Angola in 1976, former head of the CIA’s Angola Task Force serving under then Director of the CIA George Bush Sr., and among the highest level CIA officers to testify to the Congress about his actions. Having turned whistle blower, he said the following in the course of a public lecture (on video) in 1987: “…In Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, the Congo, Iran, Nicaragua, and Sri Lanka, the CIA armed and encouraged ethnic minorities to rise up and fight.”
(http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4068.htm - my emphasis, DJ) Now this may or may not be true, but what is demonstrably true, both from the highly credible Shivshanker Menon’s revelation and the significant absence of a contradiction/denial from any official US source, is that the US was willing to make an exception for Velupillai Prabhakaran, whom the FBI had fingered as having pioneered the suicide vest and US Prof Robert Pape’s extensive data base had identified as having dispatched more suicide bombers than all the Islamist groups put together! So maybe Prabhakaran knew some people who knew some people.
What does all this mean anyway? What’s the main lesson? At the very least it is that we must understand the limits of US friendship and any partnership with the US, because our enemies, those who wish to carve out a separate state from our little island and those who support them, have effective connections and/or significant weight in Washington DC, and always will. The US is therefore a fickle, unreliable friend and ally. By contrast, we know those who staunchly supported us in our years of greatest danger. Our foreign policy must be based on a strong relationship with these firm friends. These are our real friends, allies and partners. They are located in Eurasia and the Global South and adhere to the “Eastphalian” notion of national/state sovereignty.
It was in this context and for this reason that my reminder from Geneva came; a reminder to the Government of the urgent imperative to settle the bill by implementing the 13th Amendment to enable Delhi to keep Tamil Nadu neutral, and preserve or at least prolong the broad wartime alliance that gave us the space to win the war. It was ignored. We had been protected by an alliance in which India was a crucial factor in presenting and maintaining a unified Asian and Non-Aligned front which balanced off the West’s vengeful calls for accountability.
Of course President Rajapaksa’s choices and the devolution roadmap were no cakewalk. Shivshanker Menon’s book reveals that “Rajapaksa was correct in telling India that there was no one he could work with on the Tamil side. Such Tamil politicians as had survived the war in the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) were either complicit with, or indebted to, the LTTE and the most radical elements in the Diaspora. But Rajapaksa did not use his effective and overwhelming power to promote a moderate Tamil leadership.” (Ibid).
Rajapaksa’s error paved the way for but is vastly outstripped by the sheer grotesquerie that is Sri Lanka’s foreign policy today under the RW-Mangala-CBK dispensation: we have co-sponsored a resolution at the UNHRC in Geneva, the prime mover of which is the superpower that unsuccessfully attempted to evacuate the Butcher of the Sri Lankan people of all ethnicities, Velupillai Prabhakaran! Doesn’t it creep you out just a little bit?