Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Letter to the EAST

Letter to Manmohan Singh, Hu Jintao, Dmitry Medvedev, Mohammed Ahmadinejad, Taro Aso, Asif Ali Zardari.

Writing to you with the utmost gratitude for helping our nation wipeout the scourge of terrorism from our shores.

Dear Sirs,

I grew up in the streets of Colombo (over 350km from the conflict zone) as an adolescent and late teen in the fear of death.

On my way to the school the school bus would pass road blocks every few hundred meters manned by young Sri Lankan soldiers and police nervously cradling their T56s or AK 47 assault rifles. Once we reached the school gates every student, teacher, parents and visitors bag was searched for bombs. It was the same routine on the way out, the same routine to go to the bank, airport or any other public place where people congregated. Every time you hopped on a bus you were not sure whether it was going to blow up. If you were driving a car you would keep your distance from any public transport just in case, if the bus blows up in front of you, in the hope you and your family do not get killed. When your loved ones go to work in the morning you are never sure whether they are going to make it back in one piece. There were not guarantees. Images of bombs, guns and blood drenching corpses are carved into our mind by the regular occurrences of violence witnessed both first hand and daily on the news reports. I was born with this cursed war, grew up with the war and have never visualized my country without the war in the background.

And distinguished Sirs, if you ever asked anybody in your country about Sri Lanka, no doubt they have heard about it and first thing that would come to their mind is the Tigers. I, we, my fellow Sri-Lankans thank you for helping to eliminate that cursed animal the ‘Tiger’ from this beautiful land.

Now Sirs, with all the trials and tribulations we have gone through can you imagine how we felt when the President declared the War is over. Young and old, men and women, they all took to the streets and celebrating this great day. To be honest I don’t know whether it is really all over or whether this scrounge will come back and haunt this beautiful nation again.

But hope, just the mere idea of hope, the renewal of hope is enough for us to celebrate till the wee hours and dream about a new dawn in Sri Lanka.


Dear Sirs, I know you are fully aware of the context of this war. But I will take the liberty of giving everyone a perspective on what really happened in a few words.

Over the last twenty six years over seventy thousand people have been killed due to this war. The end was never in sight and for all we know there could be more bloodshed in years to come. Innocent civilians were getting blown up to pieces in every corner of the country. It is the duty of all democratically elected governments in a sovereign nation to protect its people from all evil. I know, you are fully aware of this Sir, that’s exactly you would do if this happened in your country and it would be your duty too. (Mr Hu Jintao, I am also aware that you are not democratically elected, but who are we to tell you what works in your country). The great American General Dwight D Eisenhower once said ‘We are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it’, this is exactly what Sri Lankan government did. They fought a bloody war against the world’s most sophisticated and the ruthless terrorist organization and came on top.

September 11, 2001 was a tragic day in which 2974 American citizens were murdered by terrorists in their homeland. Like any nation protecting its citizens, The United States of America declared war on Terror and invaded two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq. In order to protect the US of A and its people, troops went over 11000km to reach Afghanistan and to Iraq. They invaded two sovereign nations, deployed over a hundred thousand military personnel, billions of dollars worth military hardware and they are still fighting the war which started on the 7th of October 2001. Furthermore they had the backing of their western allies UK, Australia and others (even though these countries did not have first hand experience of terrorism of this magnitude within there borders at that time).

Sirs, for us Sri Lankans, terrorism was not merely a one-off event; it was literally a lifetime of suffering. Every Sri Lankan knows somebody who’s been killed due to this bloody war. Finally the Government of Sri Lanka and the people they represented, the people who had voted them into power, had had enough. Never forget that they did not invade another country, they simply protected the borders of the sovereign nation of Sri-Lanka and crushed an outlawed terrorist organization which was banned in most countries including EU, UK and USA.

Casualties and War crimes claims

At a time when the world is battling to win the war against terror, the Sri Lankan government’s win against the terrorism should be welcomed by everyone. It is a long overdue example of triumph over terrorism; of resolve and steadfastness in the face some very long odds. But this does not seem to be the case. Most world leaders are reluctant to congratulate Sri-Lanka due mainly to the civilian casualty figures waved around by the LTTE sympathizers. They say that there were over 7000 civilian casualties in the final phase of the government push. Keep in mind that the Government categorically denies this number, and their figure is in the low hundreds.

Sirs, I honestly do not know which number is the correct figure and I am no expert but from what I understand there is no war in the world that is fought without there being regrettable civilian casualties. Now if you look at the current wars around the world, the even the most exaggerated numbers look to be in the junior league. Depending on the which website or paper you are reading civilian casualty figures for Afghanistan seems to be varying from 50,000 to 100,000 and in Iraq it is said to be anything between 150,000- 200,000 deaths (some say this number is over 1 million)

So, why is the case of Sri Lanka so unique? Well Sirs, I think its come down to the Propaganda war and the diplomacy, which I must admit the Sri Lanka has not been good at.

Sri Lanka doesn’t have CNN and BBC on our side, in fact quite the opposite. Sirs, it is very scary if you manage to get these two news channels on your side, you can do whatever you want and get away with it. Look at the US led Iraq invasion; we all (including me) were lead to believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (now proven to be a false pretence) which gave them the premise to invade a sovereign country and get away with it.

Furthermore, we don’t have outspoken, enigmatic diplomats like Robert Blake around the world, our Diplomats are living the luxurious expat lifestyle with back room diplomacy. In the meanwhile the sixty million strong Tamil Diaspora have infiltrated into the mainstream politics and media of the western world and they make sure their voices are heard. Due to the size of our country and to our small economy nobody cares about our foreign office. I mean there is big difference to when Hilary Clinton or David Miliband picks up a microphone, to when Mr. Rohitha Bogollagama makes an announcement. With no offence intended towards Mr. Bogollagama, Sirs do you even know him? He is our Foreign minister.

In addition the problem lay in our foreign policy. Having a foreign office alone is not enough, you need to have a well defined, consistent Foreign policy, which we did not have. Since 1977 various SL governments have chopped and changed their policy to gain short term political rewards. With exception of Lakshman Kadiragamar we have not had a foreign minister with the long term vision and the fortitude to deal with complex geo-politics.

Next big thing is the votes. There are over 125,000 Tamils living in UK and at least another 100,000 Tamils living in neighboring France. When 100,000 British Tamils took to the streets Gordon Brown and David Miliband had to do something. They did not need to know about the context, they simply needed to do something for their constituency. David Miliband did not have to know about the tigers blowing up buses full of students while he was attending prestigious Oxford. He knew his constituency was asking for the Tigers to be saved when he made the trip to Sri Lanka, asking for a ceasefire to lessen the pain of the civilians caught in the conflict zone. Bernard Kouchner of France is politician in the same nature who even betrayed his own socialist party to land in the foreign minster position in Sarkozy’s government. They are politicians, so the votes do count.

Sirs, I do not pretend to understand how the United Nations investigates war crimes. But how can anyone in their right mind call for a war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka? Even if you go by the Tiger sympathizer’s numbers there are 7,000 civilian casualties (Government figure is in the low hundreds) but 350, 000 people have been rescued and over 15,000 square kilo meters has been liberated. Furthermore there are over 10,000 (ex-terrorists) POWs that are getting vocational training and not the torture (in military bases of foreign countries) like some of the big nations do.

Sirs, has anyone been investigated for war crimes over the invasion of Iraq? Close to 200,000 people being killed and counting and there are no UN resolutions being passed on this. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006 killed over 1000 civilians and displaced over one million people within one month but there was neither war crimes allegations nor UN resolutions being passed. Are there any war crimes investigations on ‘Dick Cheney’s’ torture policy on Guantanamo bay prisoners? So why do the western nations like to bully countries like Sri-Lanka? I think I know… Sri Lanka is a $40 billion economy and depends heavily on foreign aid. Hence the West believes that they are entitled to be teachers of the poorer nations like Sri Lanka.

Friends in Need

Sirs, at this juncture Sri Lanka has discovered who her real friends are. We all know our best of friends will not leave us when we are in trouble. In this case India, China, Iran, Pakistan, Japan and Russia (the countries of which you are heads of state) came to our aid. Put simply the West abandoned Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka needed someone to listen to her and back her up in her time of need but the West thought they knew better than to listen and instead they tried to teach lessons that do not apply in our neck of the woods and continue to do so. Due to this what is continuing to happen is that the West is making more enemies and alienating its friends by adopting the same policies as they did when they colonized them.

Discrimination and the need for a political solution

Sirs, if anyone is top say that there is no discrimination of Tamils in Sri Lanka they could not be more wrong. There is ugly division of the people which was initially created by our colonial masters and has since it gotten wider due in no small part to the corrupt and short sighted politicians adopting erroneous policies to get more votes by creating division among the people. This has become more exaggerated since the eighty’s due to the LTTE. Now the trust between the two races has been shattered for a long time.

But Sir, if you look at it in context, it is not any different from Whites and Blacks in USA or France, or the Whites and the immigrants in UK or Australia. These comparisons of course do not make it right. This situation needs to change. No, it must change.

In terms of racial equality the world has come a long way. We have a black president in the white house and you would think USA, the beacon of democracy has got it right in the race war. But have they? Even as I write to you today, in every socioeconomic statistic, infant mortality, literacy, life expectancy, home ownership, Black and Latinos are far behind their white counterparts. Furthermore, average Black and Latino wage is less than 75% of the White folk’s wage, Blacks have far less university degrees than the their white counterparts, In corporate America at executive level you will not find many minorities either. America is not unique in this; you can have the same statistics extrapolated across UK and France too.

What happened in July 23, 1983 is ugly and abhorrent and should never happen again. Over 500 innocent Tamil civilians were killed by politically motivated criminals. This created a bad name and bad blood between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. When you talk about this incident we as a nation and ethnic group are all sorry for what happened and vow never let it happen again.

In the course of human history countries have made big unbelievable mistakes. Invasions of another sovereign countries (colonization), World Wars, Atomic bombs, the stolen generations and more recently the Hurricane Katrina response and the Iraq invasion. These things are done and you cannot change history but the most important thing is not to let it happen again and to make sure you put the measures and policies in place to ensure that this is the case. 1983, Black July is one of those big mistakes that should never be repeated. It is not only good policy and common human decency to make sure we stop such acts but it is also good politics.

The Sri Lankan Government has defeated the LTTE militarily and there are now over 300,000 displaced people in the North. The government should now keep its promise and resettle these people as soon as possible. It should also negotiate an acceptable political solution for the moderate Tamil population. They should be given the equal opportunity and be able to live with the dignity that they deserve as this is their country as much as it is mine. We should get rid of the divisions in this country and embrace all ethnicities under the one flag. There need not be a Sinhala Country, Tamil Country or Muslim Country. It should be only the one glorious Nation, Sri Lanka.

Dear Sirs, On behalf of all Sri-Lankans I would like to say that we are eternally thankful to you and the Nations that you represent for helping to make our country a safer place.

Yours Respectfully,
Ranga Welaratne.