It was on August 12, 2005 that Lakshman Kadirgamar was assisinated by a LTTE sniper from the house of an unsuspecting neighbour. LK, as he was affectionately referred to by us, was without doubt the best Foreign Minister we ever had.
It was way back in the 1950s that I first met LK when he came to visit his classmate and friend Terrance Unamboowe, who was residing then in the home of my grandmother at Selby House in Wellawatte. I recall that, from the time that we heard that LK was coming (we were boys
then) we looked forward to seeing this school boy hero and we were not disappointed, he was indeed an inspiration at that time too. I met him twice thereafter but it was only in 1994 that I met him again when I was posted back to Colombo from Belgium where I had been Ambassador,
and assumed duties as Additional Foreign Secretary. I was delighted to have the privilege of working with an absolute professional and a gentleman.
During my career of thirty eight years in the Public Service I had the privilege of working with many ‘greats’ including Shirley Amerasinghe and I would place LK as having been on par with the best of them. He was most certainly the best Foreign Minister we have had, none before
him or after him could ever match him. I had the absolute privilege of travelling extensively with the Minister and I am aware of how he was received and treated with respect by those with whom he interacted in many countries. I recall vividly some of our meetings with Foreign Ministers of Western countries. On one occasion the Foreign Minister of a Western Country who received us, was ‘cold’ in more ways than one; he was almost rude when the Tamil issue was brought up, but after the Minister had spoken, he showed such understanding of his counterpart’s position that at the end of our meeting the Minister, LK and self were invited to have breakfast with the Minister the following day when the Minister thanked our Minister and said, “thanks to you I understand your issue now.” On another occasion we called on the US National Security Adviser Anthony Lake at the White House, and he too, after giving us more than one hour of his time was profusely thankful to LK for the balanced ‘briefing’ he had received.
LK met all fifteen Foreign Ministers of the European Community, as it was then, in Brussels, and the discussions were most cordial and mutually helpful (this was the European Community’s Parliament which had passed no less than 18 resolutions relating to the situation in
Sri Lanka between 1984 and 1994). The EC Ministers interacted extremely well with him; I can bear testimony to the fact that he did much to change the international opinion of our country. It was not only in the West but also in Japan and China that the Minister was well received; our visits were always most productive.
LK was certainly a ‘gift’ to our country; we never had any Minister of his ilk to manage our foreign relations; he was an internationally respected statesman, a man who dedicated his life to peace and national unity. Though he was a Tamil he always said that he was first
a Sri Lankan. I could vouch for the fact that he was deeply concerned about the conditions of the Tamil people who were caught up in the conflict and looked forward to the day when peace could be achieved so that the Tamil people could live in peace with dignity and as equal
citizens and also have a say in the management of the whole country.
He was indeed committed to finding a lasting solution to the conflict and believed that the then President Kumaratunge was one who could do so, if only she had the support of the opposition which, most unfortunately she was denied. LK, who was even considered by CBK to
be appointed Prime Minister which would have helped us reach out better to the West. He was the inspiration behind her efforts to reach out to the Tamil people, she not only wrote a large number of letters to Prabakaran himself but also sought to have a new Constitution which effort was negated in Parliament itself much to the disappointment of LK, who was of the opinion that a new Constitution, which had accommodated the minorities and made them feel that the country belonged to them too would be a basis for a permanent solution to our ethnic problem. Neither the LTTE nor many other Tamils knew how hard he worked behind the scenes to find a lasting solution to the problem and to give the Tamil people their dignity.
LK’s greatest achievement to my mind, was his having the incorrigible LTTE proscribed in the West. The Tamil Diaspora was well entrenched in the West, where they enjoyed much sympathy because of the denial of language rights from 1956 and the discrimination that followed and
particularly because of what happened to them in 1983. World War Two resulted primarily because of the ill treatment of Jews by the Nazis, there is hence a natural sympathy for all minorities who claim that they are being discriminated, the UN conventions against racial discrimination is evidence of that. The Diaspora who left Sri Lanka after 1983 were mostly professionals who were welcomed by the west and Australia; they had only hate for Sri Lanka; they very easily settled down in the West and they had the means to retain professional lobbyists to advocate their cause; they also enjoyed immense financial support from their community. In the light of this, having the LTTE proscribed was indeed a phenomenal achievement and this
contributed in no small measure to their ultimate defeat; another achievement of LK: was that it was he who had the UN recognize Buddhism and the Buddha’s contribution to peace in a Resolution adopted unanimously by the UNGA.
No appreciation of this man would be complete without a reference to his effort to transform the Foreign Ministry into a really professional institution. It is with much sadness that I recall an
effort of mine which did not see realization; I did much research and prepared a draft of an Act to secure the Foreign Service but certain politicians had taken up the position that a separate Act was not necessary and that the Service could be secured administratively, and LK did not pursue the matter for whatever reason; in recent years, we have witnessed how his work was undone by persons who neither understood the essence of diplomacy or the fundamentals of managing
foreign relations. LK, a professional himself, sought to transform our Foreign Service into a truly professional service like those in other countries, I was most surprised to be invited by the present Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who had come across the Foreign Service Act which
I had prepared over two decades ago for a discussion. He stated that he had appointed a committee to study my draft and had requested the committee to submit a new draft to him to place before Parliament. I do hope he follows this up and has an Act to protect the Service.
We need a truly professional service to manage our relations with the rest of the world. LK, wherever he is, must be shedding tears saying “save us from ourselves”.