Simple Blundering Simon: Gideon Haigh’s Venture into Sri Lankan Political History

Michael Roberts

Gideon Haigh is an incisive and formidable researcher. He is a whiz-kid on the financial underpinnings of the business of cricket in India and even more adept in analysing the processes surrounding cricket matches in Australia, India and beyond. But in his recent excursion into Sri Lankan politics, he has dived into a morass he is not familiar with.[1]

He has seized on the standard interpretations in the western media world and, willy-nilly, become an agent of US-UK-EU imperialist designs. Take note of this summary survey on his part. “In noting that 2018 was a bad year for Sri Lankan cricket, we should note also that it was a very bad year for Sri Lankan democracy, rocked by President Maithripala Sirisena’s attempts to install his notoriously authoritarian predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister over the head of incumbent Ranil Wickremesinghe……. by the estimate of The Economist Intelligence Unit, in no country did the cause of democracy retreat so far as Sri Lanka last year.”

As it happens, parliamentary democracy is still surviving in Sri Lanka when the conditions at the end of 2018 could have, say, promoted a military coup.[2] Events then were certainly disturbing and question raising, but Haigh’s brief news-grab illustrates the power of the Western media machines in blanketing the world with their picture of the Yahapaalanaya government led by Ranil Wickremasinghe (2015-19-ongoing) and their picture of Eelam War IV and the Rajapaksa government (2006-15).

What Haigh does not know

In summary, and thus inadequately, let me sketch the events and processes in 2008-15 that Haigh needs to attend to by absorbing some of the supporting literature I attach to the assertions.

A = As Eelam War IV turned in favour of the government of Sri Lanka (GSL) in 2008, the LTTE encouraged/forced its citizenry to move eastwards ahead of the troops till they were eventually reduced to the Vanni Pocket by February 2009 and then to a narrow strip of coast.

B = The LTTE plan was to deploy the civilians as (a) a defensive formation of so many human sandbags and (b) a rallying cry for the intervention of humanitarian forces led by the West. The strategy was simple: as the Tiger political commissar Pulidevan told a friend in Europe, “Just as in Kosovo if enough civilians died in Sri Lanka the world would be forced to step in” (quoted in Harrison 2012: 63).

C =The scheme was to induce a Western intervention that would enable the rescue of the LTTE leadership and their transhipment to Eritrea, South Africa or East Timor.[3]

D = Towards this end KP Pathmanathan (restored to the post of Tiger maestro of its international set up) convened a secret meeting at his secure ‘home’ in Kuala Lumpur in mid-February 2009 which was attended by key Tiger representatives from USA and Australia, two Norwegian officials and Hattrem, the Norwegian ambassador in Colombo.[4]

E = USA and is Ambassador Blake were central elements in this secret plan and the Pacific Air Command even sent a recce team into Sri Lanka in great secrecy to chart the military possibilities.[5]

KP Pirapahran in 1987

 KP (in front0 in Thamililam in 2001 with the talaivar + Anton Balasingham + Sorna Chief

F = At different moments in March and April Ambassador Blake politely but firmly warned the Defence and Foreign Ministers of Sri Lanka and demanded the cessation of ongoing military advances — his intent here being the rescue  of the Tamil civilians [which was one pillar in a scheme with other pillars].[6]

G = In early May 2009 Mike Owens, no less than an US Under Sec-of-State in Washington, admitted that the plans for the rescue of civilians included the Tiger leadership.[7]

H = In other words, the LTTE leaders would thereby become instruments in USA’s grand design for Sri Lanka: devolution and a federal state in north and east — a plan that is now being actively pursued with the willing assistance of Ranil Wickremasinghe as well as civil rights activists in Sri Lanka whose hatred of Rajapaksa and the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists in the south overrides common sense.

I = In parenthesis let me stress that around  110,000 Tamils (both civilians and fighters) streamed out of their Tiger-ed corral in late april and another 80,000 survived the fighting in mid-May — thereby making up the figure of circa 290,000 persons that were then kept in special IDP camps.

J =Once this design was effectively denied by the Rajapaksa-led war effort, the West set out to overthrow the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration after it was re-elected in 2012. Towards this end the US embassy and US AID cultivated potential Presidential candidates. One such was one Maithripala Sirisena who was offered a Harvard Health Leadership Award in mid-2013, (the first to any Sri Lankan).[8] Sirisena eventually defected from the Rajapaksa-led party and joined the UNP and other elements as Presidential masthead in a campaign presented as “Yahapaalanaya” (good governance) at the Presidential Elections of January 2015. This combination won, with the support of the Tamil and Muslim parties being some of the pillars in this result.

I = It was Sirisena’s change of mind in disgust at the processes around him over the years 2015-18 and his scheming attempt in October 2018 by deploying powers within his hand to transform the situation that brought on the recent crisis.

J = The complexities of that crisis, and the labyrinthine dimensions of a badly-drafted constitution that ‘seeded’ Sirisena’s actions, need not detain us here. What matters is the fact that the New York Post and the Western media made hay and dominated the airwaves with the sound-bites that have seduced Haigh and others.

K = Haigh is a man of industry and acumen. He should also examine a Marxist analysis of Sri Lankan events by Tamara Kunanayakam, an internationalist[9] residing in Sri Lanka at present. She focuses on the complementarity and commonality between neoliberals and neoconservatives” and outlines interventions on their part to facilitate the global expansion of capital … transferring decision-making on all aspects of social relations to a handful of Western oligarchs.” This agenda, she insists, “is supported by the neoconservative interests observed in modus operandi of the UN Human Rights Council (led by US neoconservatives) who promote direct, unilateral, preventive, and pre-emptive intervention, including military, in the internal affairs of sovereign States.”

L = In Kunanayakam’s reading, this agenda “is inimical to the sovereignty and independence of nation-states.” This thesis, admittedly, is contentious ground. But it is an argument worth considering and Haigh has the capacity and diligence to weigh it (unlike reporters devoted to sound-bites). Significantly, Kunanayakam’s essay has got the nod from no less a person than Ashley de Vos[10] who has also directed us to a recent study by David Vine entitled Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia. Given China’s growing interests in the Indian Ocean via its belt-and-road programme, one can reasonably conjecture that Sri Lanka figures strongly in USA’s present strategic plans.

***  ****

SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

De Vos, Ashley 2019 “America’s Looming Interference and Dominance in Sri Lanka,”2 February 2019, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/02/02/americas-looming-interference-and-dominance-in-sri-lanka/#more-33884

Dharma-wardana, Chandre 2018 An US Commando Force was at Katunayake in April 2009 prepared for a So-Called ‘Humanitarian ‘Intervention’,” 7 May 2018, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2018/05/07/an-us-commando-force-was-at-katunayake-in-april- 2009-prepared-for-a-so-called-humanitarian-intervention/#more-30266

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2010b “Downfall of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,” South Asia Defence and Strategic Review, May-June 2010, pp. 10-15.

Gamage, Daya 2014 “The American Agenda for Sri Lanka’s National Issues, 1970s-2014,” 5 July 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/the-american-agenda-for-sri-lankas-national-issues-1970s-2014/

Gamage, Daya 2019 “How Washington Nurtured Maithripala Sirisena in 2013-15 to serve Its Ends,” 20 January 2019, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/01/20/how-washington-nurtured-maithripala-sirisena-in-2013-15-to-serve-its-ends/

Donaldson, Tony 2018 “Western Neo-Colonialism Today: An Incisive Note from Tony Donaldson,” 12 June 2018, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2018/06/12/western-neo-colonialism-today-a-g-string-revelation-from-tony-donaldson/

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2011 “KP’ Speaks Out. An Interview with Former Tiger Chief, Vavuniya: NERDO.

Haigh, Gideon 2019 “Crisis of Cricket and Democracy in Sri Lanka,” Weekend Australian, 19-20 January 2019, https://www.theaustralian.com.au/sport/opinion/gideon-haigh/crisis-of-cricket-and-democracy-in-sri-lanka/news-story/bdf50a263144842ba263c86bc3890f99

Haigh, Gideon 2019  https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/01/21/both-the-cricketing-and-political-dispensations-in-sri-lanka-are-in-deep-shit-says-gideon-haigh/#more-33687

Harrison, Frances 2012 Still Counting the Dead, London: Portobello.

Kunanayakam, Tamara “Introduction” to her academic article “Neoliberalism versus Sovereignty: The Case of Sri Lanka” in Sri Lanka Journal of Economic Research, Volume 6(1,) November 2018, pp.125-146…. [without the footnotes … and with underlining imposed]

Kunanayakam, Tamara 2018 “Neoliberalism versus Sovereignty: The Case of Sri Lanka,” Sri Lanka Journal of Economic Research, Volume 6(1,) November 2018, pp.125-146.

Kunanayakam, Tamara 2010  Creeping Imperialism in Sri Lanka via Neoliberal Impositions and the UNHRC,” 27 January 2019, reproduced in https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/01/27/creeping-imperialism-in-sri-lanka-via-neoliberal-impositions-and-the-unhrc/

McGranahan,  Carole review of Island of Shame, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 11(1) · January 2010,  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/29901174_Island_of_Shame_The_Secret_History_of_the_US_Military_Be_on_Diego_Garcia_review

David Vine 20i6 You Tube presentation, “Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World,” 3 June 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fR_TvmwNmJc

Roberts, Michael 2013 “BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,” 8 December 2013, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/bbc-blind-misreading-the-tamil-tiger-strategy-of-international-blackmail-2008-13/#more-1122

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014, http://groundviews.org/2014/04/10/generating-calamity-2008-2014-an-overview-of-tamil-nationalist-operations-and-their-marvels/

Roberts, Michael 2015 “Ambassador Blake in Never-Never-Land: Misreading LTTE Capacity in Early 2009,” 26 August 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/ambassador-blake-in-never-never-land-misreading-ltte-capacity-in-early-2009/

Roberts, Michael 2016 “Saving Talaivar Pirapāharan,” 5 April 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/saving-talaivar-pirapaharan/

Roberts, Michael 2016 “David Miliband’s Imperious Intervention in Lanka left in Tatters,” 5 July 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/david-milibands-imperious-intervention-in-lanka-left-in-tatters/

Roberts, Michael 2016 “The Western World’s Cumulous Clouds of Deception: Blanketing the Sharp Realities of Eelam War IV,” 16 October 2018, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2018/10/16/the-western-worlds-cumulous-clouds-of-deception-blanketing-the-sharp-realities-of-eelam-war-iv/

Roberts, Michael 2018Where USA sought to arm-wrestle Sri Lanka in March-April-May 2009,” 11 May 2018,  https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2018/05/11/where-usa-sought-to-arm-wrestle-sri-lanka-in-march-april-may-2009/

Roberts, Michael 2019 “Pathos. Comedy. Revelation. President Sirisena’s Sermon to a ‘Captive’ Cabinet,” 29 January 2019, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/pathos-comedy-revelation-president-sirisenas-sermon-to-a-captive-cabinet/

Salter, Mark 2016 To End a Civil War, London, Hurst and Co.

 

END NOTES

[1] See Haigh 2019.

[2] Note my laconic comments on these lines in a recent review: Roberts, “Pathos,” 2019.

[3] Email note from David Jeyaraj to Roberts, 24 November 2015. See Jeyaraj 2011: 34 for details. In my conjecture (based on the Blake despatches) Pirapaahran and Pottu Amman would have been handed over to India for prosecution.

[4] See Salter 2015: 348 & 354 and Roberts, “Saving Pirapaharan,” 2016.

[5] Dharmawardana 2018 and Roberts, “USA … arm-wrestle …,” 2018

[6] Note Blake’s Despatch Despatch No. 283 of 12 March 2009 .and No. 418 of 15th April 2009 (derived from Wikileaks) and quoted or cited in Roberts, “Saving Pirapaharn,”

[7] For pertinent quotations see Gamage, “American Agenda,” 2014 and Roberts, “Saving Pirapaharan,” 2016.

[8] See Gamage 2019 and Roberts 2019.

[9] Educated at Ladies College, Colombo, Kunanayakam travelled overland to Europe in the 1970s and furthered her education in Geneva and Heidelberg. She is married to Jean-Pierre Page from the French Communist Party. She served as Ambassador for Sri Lanka in Cuba and Geneva for short spells during Rajapaksa’s Presidency.

[10] De Vos is a chartered architect who is presently the President of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka.

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Filed under accountability, american imperialism, centre-periphery relations, China and Chinese influences, conspiracies, devolution, economic processes, foreign policy, historical interpretation, human rights, Indian Ocean politics, landscape wondrous, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, politIcal discourse, power politics, prabhakaran, Rajapaksa regime, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, Tamil Tiger fighters, the imaginary and the real, truth as casualty of war, war reportage, world events & processes

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