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Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Sri Lanka.
Forecast 2017: Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Foreign Policy: Diaspora and Lobbying
Securing Sri Lanka's National Interests
Understanding our “Blindspot” to Make Peacebuilding Comprehensive
Oceans of (Dis)trust
Death and Democracy
The Island and the Mainland: Impact of Fisheries on Indo-Lanka Relations
New Delhi-Tamil Nadu Relations and Indias Sri Lanka Policy
Remembering Tagore in Turbulent Times
Politics of Promise: Between Sirisena and Rajapaksa
Conflict to Co-existence: Debating Heritage and Homogenisation
Forecast 2016: A Roadmap for Sri Lanka
China Prepares for a Modern War
Riot and Responsibility: Governance in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka and the World: Terrorism and Effective Reconciliation
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Sri Lanka: Brain Drain, 'Connection Culture' and National Development
Finding a Path to True Democracy in Sri Lanka
Politics of Correctness: The Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew
Sri Lanka: President Sirisenas First One Hundred Days
Sri Lanka: A Silent Revolution
Sri Lanka: Stability in 2015
Sri Lanka: Making a Case for Change
Connecting Sri Lanka: Train to Jaffna
Stronger Democratic Values for a Better Tomorrow
Sri Lanka and China: Towards Innovation Driven Economies
India-Sri Lanka: Strengthening Regional Cooperation
Sri Lanka: A New Melody for Nation-building
Asia Pacific: Reset for Qualitative Change
Ethnic Reconciliation: Learning from the Rwandan Experience
#5237, 18 February 2017
Forecast 2017: Sri Lanka
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
 

It was less than half a million votes that restored democratic order in Sri Lanka and set the nation in the correct direction three years ago. 8 January 2015 saw the dawn of good governance locally and a recalibration of the island’s foreign policy. The draconian 18th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution was scrapped by an (extra) ordinary man who took on the challenge to topple the existing government. Expectations were and are high to change existing political cultures. Adoption of new ways is difficult for individuals who believed deeply in a set of values because it represents a shift from an established zone of comfort and influence. Fresh recommendations, new methods of fighting corruption and much more have to be absorbed and proven instead of rejecting every idea.

On the economic front, in Sri Lanka, 2016 began with the visit of George Soros. While his visit did not bring with it the anticipated investment, Prof Riccardo Hausmann from Harvard University shared valuable insights. The appointment of the new governor to Sri Lanka’s Central Bank was appreciated by many due to the controversy surrounding the former. 

The bipartisan unity government with deep differences in political ideologies experimented with different methods of working together throughout 2016 but failed to deliver on many promises. However, the effort to work together with differences must be appreciated. The biggest challenge is in finding a common ground to execute differing ideas. Civil society experts could perhaps educate the government on bipartisan methods and models instead of destroying the new model. The nation will have only one choice if the present model is reset. The Sri Lankan governance model is evolving towards a technocracy. People expect a technocratic rule by technical experts to deliver results in areas such as infrastructure, clean air, water management, reliable transportation, public safety, ease of conducting business, good schools, quality housing, freedom of expression, access to jobs etc. Result oriented technocratic governance structures and high quality civil servants with delivery of results is what the country requires and what the people seek.

President Sirisena’s Third Year
At a ceremony to mark the beginning of third year in office, Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena invited Chandrababu Naidu, chief minister of India’s Andhra Pradesh state, as his special guest. The visiting chief minister shared lessons learnt from the technological development of Andhra Pradesh’s economy, particularly on water and power management. According to President Sirisena, poverty in Sri Lanka stands at between 25 to 27 per cent. This is ample reason to declare 2017 as the year to eradicate poverty – a challenging task given the present economic situation. 

Looking back, in the past two years, there has been an improvement in the human rights situation in the country, particularly with regard to media freedom. There has not been a single incident of murder or incidents reporting on journalists departing the nation due to fear during President Sirisena’s time in office. However, the perpetrators of the murder of veteran journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga  - who was killed on 08 January 2009 – are yet to be brought to justice. Social media comments regarding this delay raise questions that as to whether this investigation would meet the same fate as that of Richard de Zoysa, another veteran journalist who was assassinated in 1990. Not all solutions can be found in 24 months but the media is highlighting the people’s frustrations.

Cyber crime and threats to state security domains on this frontier remain. The hacking of the president’s website and the recent Muslim Cyber Army claim for hacking the Health Ministry website are incidents the government should immediately curb. There have been multiple incidents of hacking by the same group in India and other places but these were a first in Sri Lanka. Rise of violent non-state actors in the cyber domain has become a complex geopolitical problem that threatens many countries today. 

Sri Lanka and the New World Order
China’s rising naval power has built one of the largest submarine fleets. Their fleet is causing a tense situation in making port calls in the Indian Ocean, which sets to further unfold in next few years, especially in the South China Sea. In this global power tapestry, Sri Lanka has to find its path to gain the best geopolitical and economic benefit; but this is a challenge, because of the strategic interests of the global powers. According to Prof Indra de Soysa “Our strategic position is likely to be of great political interest to great powers that will be tempted to meddle in the internal politics of Sri Lanka. This means that Sri Lankan policy must synchronize with regional and extra-regional powers with an interest in the region. On this count, Sri Lanka could potentially take a lead role in establishing a movement that demilitarizes and de-securitizes the Indian Ocean by building a regime for peaceful cooperation.”

Challenges in 2017
In 2017 the nation will face 3 key challenges: 

First, is its debt crisis. According to the governor of Sri Lanka’s Central bank, the country is still in the hospital but not in ICU. FDI remains at a very low rate compared to last year. Two global reports were unfavorable towards Sri Lanka: Bloomberg ranked it among the highest risk countries in the world for investors; and the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) placed the island-state at the 95th place – from 94th in the previous year. The primary focus should be on the economic crisis the nation is facing. 

The second challenge is the human rights issue that the government has to face in March 2017. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, there are credible reports to show white van abduction has taken place under Sirisena government. International pressure on these baseless allegations questioning the island country continues by the same individuals accusing of no structural reform to tackle systemic failures of the justice machinery. The Sri Lankan government needs to effectively counter these challenges. The Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM) appointed by government recommended a hybrid court with foreign judges, and was endorsed by the Global Tamil Forum and the Tamil National Alliance. Reportedly, the president expressed his displeasure towards the idea of a hybrid model. This position was clearly expressed even in the past. 

The third challenge is the local government elections and the new constitution with internal political pressure created by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The recent political rally and protest by the villagers and the joint opposition members at the opening ceremony of the Sri Lanka-China Industrial Zone in Hambantota near the Chinese built port Hambanthota is a clear indication of the same. The government’s decision to lease 15000 acres of land to a Chinese company was viewed as a serious threat to the nation’s sovereignty. The project is moving forward despite the protest. Clearly the island country holds substantial strategic value due to its geographical position and the Sri Lankan government owes Beijing $8 billion (more than 12 per cent of its total $64.9 billion debt).

2017 began with the loss of one of the country’s most eminent jurists and visionary for peace. Justice CG Weeramantry was instrumental in introducing peace education to the world and although he was a recipient of the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education, he failed to introduce the same to his own country. Peace education and global dignity are programmes that are operational in over 60 countries. Such programmes should be introduced to Sri Lanka. Given the right set of universal values, children may one day unite the broken country.

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#5209, 26 December 2016
Sri Lankan Foreign Policy: Diaspora and Lobbying
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Director General, Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), Sri Lanka & Columnist, IPCS
 

No foreign policy - no matter how ingenious - has any chance of success if it is born in the minds of a few and carried in the hearts of none.”

Henry A Kissinger

7 December this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbour attack – a reminder of a history of imperialism and fascism, and how the world order moved toward bipolarity with the onset of the Cold War. Now, China and many other countries, some with nuclear weapons capabilities, are emerging as the new powers in a multipolar world. According to Professor Amitav Acharya of the School of International Service, American University, "a multi-polar world includes many powerful individual groups apart from governments." The US however remains a superpower. Its foreign policy could undergo dramatic adjustments with President-elect Donald Trump’s administration. His recent phone call to the Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen - not a standard practice since 1979 - has hinted at this change.

In a threatened neo-liberal world order, Sri Lanka should craft its foreign policy to suit the international environment of the day. Sri Lanka was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). During the period when smaller nations had to commit allegiance to either the US or the Soviet Union, Sri Lanka’s first women Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, showed courageous leadership to the world, and her foreign policy was guided by a combination of interests, values and power. 

Today too, President Sirisena’s government has balanced the country’s relations with the west and the east. The Asia-centric foreign policy spelled out by the president clearly prioritises relations with Asia while balancing the rest. Sri Lanka has a policy of equidistance with global powers including India, China and the US. While gaining support from foreign governments, the Sri Lankan government should also reach out to the three million-strong Sri Lankan diaspora, which includes Sinhalese, Tamils and other ethnic groups who live overseas.

The term ‘lobby’ in this case implies a loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to achieve a positive outcome for their nation of birth. A lobby might not be a unified movement with a central leadership, and individuals within the coalition might also disagree on certain issues. Certain sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora are still engaged in lobbying for a separate homeland, ‘Eelam’. A diaspora has the ability to maneouvre the nation’s policy so that it advances their interests. Voting for candidates, writing and commenting, making financial contributions and supporting individuals who could contribute to achieve their goals are among the diasporas’ key functionalities.

Sri Lanka’s diaspora is pivotal for three reasons. First, a Sri Lankan diaspora that is re-aligned with the county helps to project the country’s positive image. What is therefore required is a re-alignment strategy that opens strong communication channels for whoever is disconnected from Sri Lanka for various reasons. Second, the diaspora could act as a powerful lobby, hitherto an untapped asset. Third, the diaspora could contribute to economic prosperity if Sri Lanka opens its doors to expatriates with professional expertise to join the ailing government enterprises and assist other sectors of the economy and to bring investments.

To benefit from the support and strength of the diaspora, Sri Lanka can learn a lot from Israel. The Israeli diaspora is a much larger and powerful group that receives huge donations and assistance from the US. This diaspora also acts as a lobby group and exerts influence on US foreign policy. The Chicago School scholar, John Mearsheimer, and Stephen M Walt of Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School, have brilliantly explained this in their book, ‘The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy’: “Israel receives about $3 billion in direct foreign assistance each year, which is roughly one fifth of America’s foreign aid budget. In per capita terms, the United States gives each Israeli a direct subsidy worth about $500 per year. This largesse is especially striking when one realizes that Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to South Korea or Spain.”

The overseas Indian diaspora is yet another example of a group that contributes immensely to the Indian economy, especially through the Information Communications Technology (ICT) sector. Indians account for the second largest student population in the US, after the Chinese.

The Sri Lankan diaspora too can become a positive force. The communal riots in Sri Lanka’s history led to a brain drain. Even today, many youngsters are leaving the country because of political uncertainty and weak economic conditions. The emigrating population is in fact a loss of wealth and resource for the nation. The diaspora should be transformed into a valuable lobby group instead of spending millions on lobby firms.

It is important for Sri Lanka to take strategic steps in readjusting its foreign policy in a multipolar world, and these steps should include an important role for the Sri Lankan diaspora. Rather than wasting resources on projects like building the tallest Christmas tree in the world and re-painting the yellow pedestrian crossing lines to white in the name of beautifying cities, it is important to focus on critical issues facing the common people and the nation.

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#5173, 10 November 2016
Securing Sri Lanka's National Interests
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Director General, Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), Sri Lanka, & Columnist, IPCS
 

One set of rules for Mosul and another for Aleppo; there are double standards when it comes to Syria. The international community justifies one bombing while condemning the other. Russia’s operation in Aleppo against extremist groups are denounced by some Western officials and media as “war crimes.” In contrast, the civilian casualties  as a consequence of the US-led operation to recapture Mosul in October this year are defined as unavoidable collateral damage.

While innocent children and civilians in Iraq and Syria fight for survival, double standards seem to prevail everywhere. For example, the furore over the email scandal involving Hillary Clinton. If a junior US government officer with less power was caught, they would have been treated in a different way.

In Sri Lanka, meanwhile, a  Committee on Public Enterprises report on the Central Bank bond issue has been the topic of discussion. The well-known bond issue has created tremors in the political arena of the prime minister’s party. The report, which was meant to be confidential, is now under strict public scrutiny. Apparently, the watchdog, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, has done its duty. Hopefully, global double standards that rule to protect a few powerful people will not be used in this situation if the key people involved are found guilty. The trust deficit between the government and public will widen if the corrupt are not punished, especially since battling corruption was a central electoral theme for the government during the election campaign. According to Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, investigations into the Central Bank issue will be free of political interference, and he will initiate an impartial and independent judicial process.

Recently, President Sirisena presented gallantry awards to war heroes. At the award ceremony, many recipients were young children who have lost their fathers at a very young age. This was a clear reminder of the sacrifices made by Sri Lankans for the next generation's better future. The state should give top priority to assist these young victims and ensure they receive proper education.

Major domestic developments and an ever-challenging economic situation looms ahead. This will be further highlighted on 10 November, when the national budget is announced, marked by a rise of debt stock with high level of fiscal sustainability risk.

Moreover, developments in Sri Lanka’s neighbourhood should also be a matter of concern. India is building the INS Arihant, its nuclear submarine propelled by a 83 MW pressurised light water reactor at its core. The 6000-tonne nuclear submarine with nuclear tipped long-range ballistic missiles in its four silos, which is capable of lurking underwater for months without being detected, is a most effective and deadly platform for a retaliatory nuclear strike.

India has already begun to utilise space for military purposes, evident from the launch of the first Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) reconnaissance satellite in 2009. In 2013 and 2015, India launched two military communications satellites. According to some experts, the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System launched in 2013 is also meant for military use. Japan will also launch in 2016 and 2017 two next generation X-band communications satellites - owned by the Ministry of Defence and Self-Defense Force (SDF) - which will enhance its capabilities in space.

With such military capabilities developed in close geographical proximity to Sri Lanka, and around the world, it is important for the Sri Lankan government to invest its time and encourage the youth’s participation, in the productive sectors. The fourth industrial revolution has arrived with self-driving cars already on the roads, to artificial intelligence defeating the human player on the ancient board game GO (wéiqí), to many other great developments.

Sri Lanka has a role to play in this hi-tech arena, and this can only happen with strong vision and by collaborating and working as a community focused on achieving targets, and not by political rhetoric.

Views expressed here are personal and do not reflect those of the Government of Sri Lanka or the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS).

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#5152, 13 October 2016
Understanding our “Blindspot” to Make Peacebuilding Comprehensive
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Director General, Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), Sri Lanka, & Columnist, IPCS
 

“The sailor cannot see the North —but knows the needle can.”

– Emily Dickinson, in a letter to a mentor, TW Higginson, seeking an honest evaluation of her talent (1862)

The young soldiers and Tamilians who sacrificed their lives to a cause that was created by a previous generation perhaps did not know the underlying politics of why they had to fight. The younger generation has taken a burden passed to them by certain political leaders that they have not seen nor heard. At the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, one could study the past life during the apartheid period and understand what had gone wrong. Photographs of racial discrimination such as separate walk ways for transport to the most horrific pictures is exhibited. What if Sri Lanka had a museum to educate our younger generation of the mistakes done during the past such as the burning of the Jaffna Library, the bombing by the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at the Central Bank, and the several other atrocities? 

The modern world is at the fourth industrial revolution. Our lives, however, still revolve around the slogans of old and ideas of the yesteryears. A white officer shooting an African American and many other incidents around the world are still heard of and looked at from a racial bias view because most of us are wired in that way due to the environment we live. 

The recent “Eluga Tamil” (Arise Tamils) demonstrations will not do any good for the younger generation and the Sri Lankan nation at large. This slogan, which was used and given much hype by the Chief Minister of the Northern Province, CV Wigneswaran, is a lie to elevate his position for his own benefit and not that of the entire society or the nation. How does a rising of one ethnic group help another at a time when the nation is going through reconciliation in a mode for ethnic harmony? The very same slogan was used in the past by Chelvanayakam and Amirthalingam, which was neither helpful to the community they represented nor the nation. The 76-year-old CV Wigneswaran, a former judge of the Supreme Court, needs to get an honest evaluation of his conduct before he utters such words.

The Race Implicit Association Test (IAT) (bit.ly/TtkoCZ)is a good test to examine how biased we are towards our own race and how we see others. As a nation, we Sri Lankans have been living with these biases for a long time. According to Mahzarine Banaji and Anthony Greenwald, we all have hidden biases, and the phenomenon is called “blindspot.”  Blindspot is the metaphor for the section of the mind that houses hidden biases. For example, the IAT test gets you to mark pleasant words and African American children’s faces on one side and unpleasant words with European American children faces on another side which gives us results to understand the biases we do not see clearly by ourselves. The association of words association to race, such as hatred, grief, agony etc. could be more with the faces of African American children than those of European American children. 

A progressive society would look at words and deeds towards ethnic and religious harmony and not the other way. “Eluga Tamil” definitely does not look at the correct path. Good people are those of us who strive to align our behaviour with our intentions. Well intentioned people should not speak of a rise of one ethnic group but the rise of a common identity, a Sri Lankan identity. This is the new identity President Maithripala Sirisena wishes to establish with his new vision. 

Stereotyping – i.e. associating a group with an attribute – is another area. Assuming that all Tamils want Eelam is one of them. The first scientific research on stereotypes was published in 1933 by Princeton psychologists Daniel Katz and Kenneth Braly. They found that one could identify a group with an attribute that could evolve over time into a different attribute. The 1933 stereotype of African Americans did not include associating the word ‘athletic’; but modern studies would do so prominently. ‘Scientific’ and ‘technical’ were not part of 1930s stereotype of Chinese origin people but almost certainly appear in modern day stereotypes. A race with one set of attributes could evolve to be different one with societal changes over time. Certain issues of the world have unfortunately remained static and have not evolved in a positive direction even after brutal battles. For instance, India and Pakistan are still lost in the past trying to figure out the difference between borders and frontiers. 

Indian columnist Dr. Miniya Chatterji rightly points out in assessing the situation of recent military attacks of India and Pakistan, that “The reality is that we have placed ourselves in a conundrum of our own making. Political institutions were made by us to grant us order in society so that we can be busy ourselves with more instinctual activities.” It is important all South Asian leaders refer to this statement and establish order before launching whatever the political vision.

Views expressed here are personal and do not reflect those of the Government of Sri Lanka or the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS).

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#5126, 14 September 2016
Oceans of (Dis)trust
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Director General of the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS)
 

“No cause justifies the deaths of innocent people” 
Albert Camus

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivered a lecture at the Kadirgamar Institute, Colombo, on ‘Sustainable Peace and Achieving Sustainable Development Goals’.  Referring to the lack  of UN intervention in Sri Lanka, the Secretary General said, “Had we been more actively engaged, we could have saved much more, many more human lives.”

On a recent visit to Singapore, Harvard University scholar Dr NeelanTiruchelvam’s son spoke about the death of his parents by the LTTE over false promises on unattainable goals.  Dr N Tiruchelvam was a peace loving man who wanted nothing more than a political settlement, but he was assassinated by the LTTE leader Prabhakaran,like late Hon Lakshman Kadirgamar, Tamil lawyer and former Foreign Affairs Minister. The institute where Ban Ki-moon delivered his lecture was named after Kadirgamar and the irony of his statement, under the late statesman’s photograph, was not to be missed. The Sri Lankan situation was clearly different to Rwanda or Serbanica or another place - and this has to be established and understood. 

“Sri Lankan Army lost 5600 officers and soldiers with over 25000 battle field casualties during the last two years of the battle, thousands of soldiers are still lying on beds like vegetable. All Sri Lankans are happily and peacefully living today because of the sacrifices that they made to bring about a future with no bombs and blood” says Maj Gen Kamal Gunaratne, who fought the 45-minute final battle that killed LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, in an interview for his latest book titled “Road to Nandikadal.” He further says, “I wrote this book for the poor parents who sent their sons to fight with the ruthless LTTE, the elite people in Colombo and abroad and the human rights activists who were misled by a wrong picture.”

On 4 September, 2016 a few LTTE sympathisers and supporters attacked the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Malaysia, Ibrahim Sahib Ansar, at the Kuala Lampur Airport. This clearly demonstrates how certain LTTE sympathisers have forgotten the struggle that they subscribed to in past. The disgraceful act of attacking Sri Lankans, including the Buddhist priest in South India, cannot be ignored. 

2 September 2016 concluded the two day conference organised by the Sri Lankan army. The central theme for this Colombo Defence Conference was the importance of using soft power as a powerful tool in post-war Sri Lanka. To combat this rise in radical elements, soft power strategies need to be implemented on a urgent basis. Soft power as a tool has been used extensively in Sri Lanka and has been an inherent part of Asian culture for many years. As a nation we have used soft power positively and there are times we have failed to use. Kadirgamar used soft power to ban the LTTE, and to promote art and culture, he commissioned the book The World of Stanley Kirinde, however he was killed a few days before the book launch. Soft power was used by Sirimavo Bandaranayake to position Sri Lanka in the global sphere. Another example of a different use of soft power is when Michael J Delaney, Assistant US Trade Representative for South Asia, at the last minute, turned down the lecture at the Kadirgamar Institute. There was a time when the Monitor overruled Principal. These small waves of displeasure and disappointment ended up creating a narrative surrounding the negative image of Sri Lanka.

During the Indian Ocean Conference in Singapore, 1-2 September 2016, with 250 delegates from 21 nations, US Assistant Secretary of State, Nisha Biswal explained the importance of soft architecture for the Indian Ocean nations and referred to Sri Lanka’s ports with their impressive performance as an example. Prime Minister Wickramasinghe who made the keynote speech made some important points starting from a geopolitical view: “Single power and duopoly appears to be a thing of the past and for the first time in five centuries economic power in the world is moving again towards Asia” to the “US is proposing the furtherance of a single combined security strategy for the two Asian oceans - the Indian and Pacific,” warning of implications for Asian security. For the Indian Ocean countries, many scholars highlighted  past heritage and unique contributions owing to the geographical locations. Asian soft power and our Asian foreign policy did exist in the past and rediscovering the same is essential. It also brought forth cooperation is essential to bring human capital together to develop the Indian Ocean agenda. 

In understanding a polycentric Asia with no uniformity in terms of geopolitics and culture, each country is a separate world to itself, according to Fukuyama. It is important to understand the multiple layers of dispute, historical backgrounds and strategic mistrust before commenting and drawing parallels with other nations. 
 
*The views expresses here are personal and do not reflect those of the Government of Sri Lanka or the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS). 

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#5097, 9 August 2016
Death and Democracy
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Director General of the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS)
 

In 1991, even when half a million American troops were a few hundred kilometers away from Baghdad, President Bush restrained from invading Iraq. This was a wise move on his part - to control Saddam Hussein’s aggression, by stopping the invasion of Kuwait and not completely dismantling Iraq. 

After 9/11, probably the second largest attack on US soil after Pearl Harbour, the US operation 'Iraqi Freedom' in 2003 deposed Saddam Hussein on the grounds of possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). 

The US intervention to overthrow Saddam Hussein has created a situation that remains untenable forthe people living in Iraq. An important question that needs to be addressed is whether the supporters of the US-led invasion had a plan to rebuild the country after dismantling the Saddam’s regime. The political climate worsened after the invasion and Iraq has been at the receiving end of innumerable suicide attacks. During Saddam Hussein's reign, radical and jihadist elements were not present and Shias and Sunnis co-existed. Jihadism crept into Iraq when its borders were forced open from all directions. Al Qaeda, which was already present, paved the way for the Islamic State (IS). 

Since the US-led invasion in 2003, one of the deadliest attacks on Iraq was few weeks ago in the Karrada district, which targeted innocent civilians and killed over 100 while injuring over 300. The bombing happened when a lorry with explosives detonated while families were out in celebration of Ramadan. 

In July 2016, around the same time as the blasts, the Chilcot report was released. The Chilcot report or the Iraq Inquiry report clearly stated that it was a mistake to disband Saddam's army and that this led directly to the insurgency and that there was no imminent threat from the then Iraq leader Saddam Hussein, the strategy of containment could have been adapted and continued for some time. It also categorically said that military action at that time was not a last resort." Finally, the report claimed that the Iraq invasion was made on the basis of flawed intelligence assessments, which it were not challenged, and should have been. 

Considering the findings of the report in a country with democracy at its helm, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s behaviour was clearly undemocratic, bordering on dictatorial. Looking at the chain of command and the decisions taken, there was no representative democratic practice evident. In such an instance, it is interesting to contrast it with the Sri Lankan war crimes issue raised by Western governments, who are keen to investigate the chain of command in the Sri Lankan war against terrorism. As the Iraq Inquiry's findings indicate a complete lack of democratic process, the British law firm, Public Interest Lawyers, has already presented many cases of violation by the British forces before the ICC and has not refused to rule out prosecuting anyone held responsible, including Blair. The ICC reported, in Preliminary Examination Activities 2015 (pg 9), that it had received 1,268 allegations of ill treatment and unlawful killings committed by British forces, and of 259 alleged killings, 47 were said to have occurred when Iraqis were in British custody.

How do the US and the UK undo the damage done to Iraq and its people? It was evident that Iraq lacked a post-war strategy and an appropriate counter-insurgency strategy. Thousands of lives have been lost during and after the Iraq invasion. Iraq taught a crucial lesson to some Western policy experts who believed that invasion and the dismantling of the state was the last resort. 

There are certain geopolitical values that are important and should be given the highest priority. German historian, Oswald Spengler in his 1918 work, The Decline of the West pointed out the rise of the urban Western civilisation and it morphing into a world civilisation would be increasingly divorced from the soil and this will have serious consequences. This is evident in the present day, with the rise of violent non-state actors and economic inequality which have created an unjust world which in turn has lost trust in the present global order. 

What is seen now are people appreciating their own civilisation, their own geography, their own values and, to further quote Spengler, “each springing with primitive strength from the soil of a mother-region to which it remains firmly bound”. A one-size-fits-all approach to overcome the geopolitical challenges will be unsuccessful and it is essential to find homegrown solutions in partnership with local communities as the way forward. 
 
*The views expressed here are personal and do not reflect those of the Government of Sri Lanka or the Institute of National Security Studies(INSS).

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#5076, 11 July 2016
The Island and the Mainland: Impact of Fisheries on Indo-Lanka Relations
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Former Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Sri Lanka
 

At the southern tip of India, in a narrow stretch of water where the seascape begins, is one of the region’s geopolitical hot spots.

The waters between India and Sri Lanka are rich in history and mythology. According to Valmiki’s Ramayana, there is only one point of connection between the two nations: the man-made bridge that Rama and Hanuman used to reach Sri Lanka and rescue Rama’s wife Sita from the demon King Ravana of Lanka. This bridge was renamed the Adams Bridge by British cartographers at the beginning of the 20th century. The geographical stretch of water here, called the Palk Strait, has served as a rich fishing ground for fishermen.

The thirty-year war that devastated Sri Lanka has had many implications for the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India. Often, Indian central government policy highly influences popular Tamil Nadu party politics and vice versa, which has threatened Indo-Sri Lanka relations on many occasions. Post war Indo-Sri Lanka relations have been challenging and have sometimes threatened the sovereignty of Sri Lanka. For example, the recent announcements by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha on claiming Katchatheevu island and establishing a separate state, “Eelam”.

Despite this, the most pressing issue remains state sovereignty and the fishermen dispute. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa plays a pivotal role as a sympathiser of Tamil Nadu fishermen who encroach Sri Lankan fishing grounds, and also as a protector of the fisheries’ business owners who own and operate mechanised industrial bottom trawlers. Indian fisherman ripped out the rich seabed using the bottom trawlers; a practice now banned globally. There is also evidence of a few Sri Lankan fishing boats being converted with this method; the justification being, if India can do it in Sri Lankan waters, why can’t Sri Lankans themselves? The authorities should take strict measures to confiscate these trawlers as they destroy the rich biodiversity of the ocean.

The fishermen claim they are ignorant about the existence of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL). There are reports that more than 3,000 Indian fishing boats engage in illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing in Sri Lankan waters. Both governments had met many times to resolve this dispute with arrests of fishermen from both sides. During Sri Lankan President Sirisena recent visit to India, Prime Minister Modi stated the need to find a permanent solution to the issue of fishermen straying into each other waters. As a solution, the issuing of licenses to a few Indian fishing trawlers with limited catch - to minimise mass scale fisheries and resource depletion – is on the anvil. A technical proposal will be drawn up and submitted to the Indian Government, according to Sri Lanka’s Secretary of Defence. This method is not new - in 1976, the maritime boundary agreement between the two countries was to issue up to six permits to Sri Lankan vessels with 2,000 tons per year for three years at Wadge Bank, south of Kanyakumari. A recent newspaper reports the Sri Lankan Fisheries’ Minister as having said, “At present 2,000 to 3,000 Indian trawlers fish in our waters. The aim is to reduce it to 250 and to issue license to them.”

If these licenses are issued to the Indian mechanised bottom trawlers, there will be objections from Sri Lankan fishermen. If it is for ordinary fishing vessels, templates such as New Zealand’s Quota Management System (QMS) could be looked at. In the past, when fisheries’ resources in New Zealand were depleting, the authorities set up a QMS to allocate fishing vessels to demarcated zones inside the Exculsive Economic Zone (EEZ), with an annual quota that could be traded at an electronic trading market. If a fisherman had stocks left, he could trade with another. Sri Lankan fisheries officials studied this system in 2008.

The Sri Lankan fisheries association and its Indian counterpart could study a system like the QMS to resolve the issue, as the former has reservations about granting licenses to Indian trawlers to fish in Sri Lankan waters. A customised QMS and the creation of a joint fisheries association with a registered database of fishing vessels is an option. As it stands, the existing GPS device used by Indian fishermen, which indicates proximity to the IMBL with a beep, is of no use if the transponders are switched off to engage in illegal fishing. Any effort to resolve the issue will fail if certain standards are not followed and rule-breakers are not punished. In Malaysia, for example, if the transponders are switched off, the authorities automatically fine the fishermen.

There is still no legislation in Sri Lanka banning bottom trawling, and this should be taken up immediately to preserve the rich ocean ecology. The department of fisheries has currently stopped issuing licenses but this is not sufficient - introducing the right law is essential. In fact, this situation involving bottom trawlers has worsened this year in comparison to the last, with a serious increase in the number of boats. More than 50,000 Sri Lankan fishing families in the north have been affected and huge revenue losses are incurred everyday due to illegal fishing by Indian trawlers.

The Governments of India and Sri Lanka should come together to find a comprehensive and sustainable solution that takes into account both the challenging geographical space and the rich biodiversity in this area. If left alone in the present state, the issue could create a serious strain on the India-Sri Lanka relationship.

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#5058, 13 June 2016
New Delhi-Tamil Nadu Relations and Indias Sri Lanka Policy
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Columnist, IPCS, & former Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Sri Lanka
 

“Could a state hostage the central government’s decision especially affecting its foreign policy towards another nation? State can’t put pressure for the central government decisions. I am tired and like Muhammed Ali I will allow them to punch me continuously but wait for the right moment to strike,” said Salman Khurshid, the then Indian external affairs minster, at the Asian Relations Conference held in 2013 at the Indian Council for World Affairs, New Delhi.

He said this the same day India voted for the UN Human Rights Council resolution against its neighbor Sri Lanka due to much pressure from south India. It is worth remembering the incident and the statement to forecast how much pressure the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has and could lay on New Delhi in the future regarding relations between the two countries. India’s Sri Lanka policy had for long been hostage to the Tamil Nadu political parties’ stand on the Sri Lankan Tamils issue.

During the election campaign, the recently reelected Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha, had promised that her party would pressure the Centre to provide dual citizenship to Sri Lankan Tamils in Tamil Nadu and to create a separate Eelam (state) in Sri Lanka. This would fulfil the dream of the defeated terrorist leader of the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Prabakaran’s dream. With Jayalalitha’s victory in the state elections, the Sri Lanka South India relationship is back to square one. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena would have to navigate his New Delhi-Colombo relationship with all these external political pressures.

Over her election campaign in 2009, she had said, “We will fight to attain that independent, separate Eelam. Till today, I have never said that separate Eelam is the only solution. I have spoken about political solution, this and that. But, now I emphatically say, a separate Eelam is the only permanent solution to the Lankan conflict.” This demonstrates clear indication of repetition in each election of a promised land with much better hope to the Tamils. The poaching and acquisition of Kachativu Island is also played up during the election time. Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, Chief Minister of the Northern Province V Vigneswaran congratulated and admires her statement. Furthermore, both chief ministers will meet in the near future most probably without the consent of their central governments.

Seeking external assistance from Jayalalitha for Sri Lankan Tamils is a comical move while previous government and this government has provided so much assistance to the northern Tamilians. The recent request by Chief Minister Vigneswaran to evacuate the army from Sri Lanka’s northern peninsula could antagonise the national security of the entire country. Sri Lanka has come out of a three-decade war with deep scars and security should still be a top priority. Strengthening intelligence and security of the island nation should not be compromised for any political gains of individuals. On another dimension, we could see another threat slowly emerging with over 50 Sri Lankans having joined the terrorist group, Islamic State.

If one looks at regional geopolitics, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has elevated the US-India relationship to significant heights. Sometime back, Modi was barred from entering the US due to concerns of the 2002 riots, but is now a favorite of the US. Few days ago, during his visit to the US, speaking at Capitol Hill, Modi expressed his interest in deeper US-India security relations, especially combating terrorism together. Both India and the US have lost many civilians and soldiers during the fight against terror and the need of the hour is to deepen our security cooperation. The prime minister also stated the regional concerns of Chinese expansionism – a much discussed topic at the recent Shangri-la Dialogue. 
When asked as to what India’s position will be if Sri Lanka gets another Chinese submarine port call, the Indian defence minister said it will be looked at case by case. Yet, it is necessary to have a proactive defence strategy among the two nations than firefight in such situations.

There are 48 warships under construction for the Indian Navy, including one aircraft carrier, one nuclear and six conventional submarines, and a variety of destroyers, frigates and corvettes. By 2027 the capacity will be expanded to hold 198 warships. While a silent yet aggressive naval build-up is taking place in Sri Lanka’s neighborhood, Colombo should be ready to proactively face any future challenge as the Indian Ocean security environment is expected to remain complex. On 20 June, the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting will take place in Seoul, South Korea. India is supposed to step in as a member of this group with the assistance of the US, which China has already resisted. If given membership, the regional geopolitical tension on the Indo-Pakistan and Indo-China fronts will be tense.

President Sirisena with his decades of political experience has so far clearly mastered his decisions on foreign policy with his short time in office. The India-Sri Lanka relationship has strengthened in a positive way than his predecessor. The success of the G7 and his last visit to China show clear indications of perfect balance of foreign policy. These events could only predict a scenario where a positive sum game will be played by President Sirisena, who could bring back the golden age of Sri Lankan foreign policy or even do much better than late Madam Sirimavo Bandaranayake, a close political friend of President Sirisena for many years.

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#5028, 13 May 2016
Remembering Tagore in Turbulent Times
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Sri Lanka
 

I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can't make it through one door, I'll go through another door - or I'll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.”

Rabindranath Tagore

One hundred and fifty five years ago, the greatest and most illustrious son of Asia, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, was born. Tagore’s work inspired many individuals around the world including many Sri Lankan scholars and musicians. Tagore believed in creating an enviroment of multiculturalism and tolerance. He spoke of the importance of world peace, dialogue and non-violence. This vision remains unfulfilled. The value of Tagore’s vision – the restoration of human values - is more relevant today than ever.

Had the essence of Tagore’s philosophy been practiced, Bangladesh, one of the countries he wrote the national anthem for, would not be going through its present crisis. There have been more than fifty terrorist attacks in the last few years and out of this, the Islamic State (IS) was responsible for 13 of these, including the recent killing of a Sufi Muslim spiritual leader.

The IS has clearly stated that the “soldiers” of its declared caliphate have also been murdering targets in Bangladesh, and that it would expand further in South Asia and would “continue to terrorise the crusaders [westerners] and their allies until the rule of Allah is established on the earth.”

The South Asian region has been devastated by terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and now, Bangladesh. Providing security to civilians has become the top priority for many countries around the world. From Sri Lanka, more than fifty individuals have joined the IS, according to experts. The government must invest in focused strategic and security initiatives to keep track of such activities and work closely with Muslim organisations, particularly Muslim youth, to prevent them from joining the IS.

The region indicates all clear variables for a geopolitical nightmare as states surrounding India show much instability. All South Asian countries face similar and in some cases common economic challenges. Weak institutions, weak political culture, unemployment and inequality are potent triggers for youth unrest. From Naxalism in India to other domiciled terrorist entities, it can be predicted that they will take the advantage provided by weak states.

Weak states surrounding India are a direct threat to Indian security. It is important to strengthen small and larger states in South Asia through economic and social revival and through regional cooperation and global integration to address problems, particularly those of poverty and deprivation.

President Sirisena of Sri Lanka delivered the Lalith Athulathmudali memorial lecture recently. The legacy of the Oxford and Harvard scholar-turned-politician who was brutally gunned down in 1993 remains. The President addressed the importance of intellectuals such as Lalith in today’s politics. Lalith was ethical and the yeomen service he rendered to Sri Lanka was immense.

He initiated “Mahapola,” a scholarship scheme to ignite many young minds from rural villages by giving them access to university education. Speaking at the event, Lalith’s only brother said, “Lalith was offered an important place by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to serve Singapore but he declined to serve his own country.” Had he accepted this offer, his life would have not ended with assassin’s bullets - a clear explanation of Sri Lankan political culture.

President Sirisena was elected to change this culture. Dighting corruption and introducing transparent methods of governance remain top priority. This week in London, world leaders including Sri Lankan President and many economists will meet at the Anti-Corruption Summit to discuss measures to tackle corruption. This coincides with the revelations made by the Panama Papers, in which many global leaders including British Prime Minister David Cameron, the host of the landmark summit, feature. While large-scale initiatives are important, citizen-centric stakeholder movements have created better results, such as ipaidabribe.com in India, to quantify corruption data and educate the public.

All South Asian countries except Bhutan rank below the score 50 on the corruption scale – qualifying as ‘highly corrupt’ - according to Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International. Corruption increases the cost of doing business up to 10 per cent globally, says the World Bank. With corruption and the absence of transparency, market growth and sustainability cannot be attained.

Addressing another social issue, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe initiated a high level dialogue on Ragging and SGBV (sexual and gender-based violence) in Sri Lankan Universities. This is a very important step – a few days ago, another incident of ragging was reported at Kelaniya University. This is a violation of individual dignity and it is important to teach dignity at the school level and at universities. The Education Minister could introduce a programme such as Global Dignity, running in 65 countries, that teach values of dignity to school children.

With all these social implications, the much forgotten words of Tagore could help reinvigorate efforts to change society as it is now. No matter how dark the present, optimism is crucial.

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#5012, 7 April 2016
Politics of Promise: Between Sirisena and Rajapaksa
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Sri Lanka
 

Those that are most slow in making a promise are the most faithful in the performance of it.” 
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

On Easter Day, a day of rejoicing and celebration for Christians, shrapnel and ball bearings pierced through innocent civilians in a children's park in Lahore, where a majority of the victims were children. This disgraceful suicide attack, which killed 69 and injured nearly 400, was a sad day for Pakistan and the region. Days before, another terrorist attack, in Brussels, targeted innocent civilians. The world has become unstable due to terrorism across the globe and the highest priority on the global agenda should be towards combatting it. Without a safe environment, it is difficult to talk economic prosperity, a lesson Sri Lanka learned from its brutal three-decade war. The physical and mental scars that terrorism causes are deep. They are not easy to forget as victims.

For this, consensus at the highest political level is important. The daunting task of bring the two different political parties with different values - United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) - together, was established a year ago in Sri Lanka. The recent developments within the political party of President Sirisena have not been so positive, with some members being questioned for supporting the former President Rajapaksa at a rally organised in Colombo's Hyde Park. With the recurring electricity failures, the advantage has moved to the former President, with the creation of the slogan, “Rajapaksa is the President of the street and Sirisena President of the country… give it to me if you can’t.” Sri Lankan civilian engagement with social media on this has been negative, especially given the billions of losses incurred by Sri Lankan Airlines being exposed by a Government Minister. The sentiment is, 'we have given you the power, so fix it'.  

High expectations and promises were set at the beginning, and the delivery has been slow but steady. From 8 January 2015, beginning with the 100-day reforms, until now, demonstrates 16 months of the new Government. The Right to Information (RTI) Act was tabled in Parliament last week - a considerable achievement - but this needs further amendment as it prevents access to some important areas that de-feat its main purpose. The RTI act could take a considerable amount of time to take the proper shape, as it did in India, with many amendments and public debate. This exercise would have been impossible un-der the former regime with its control and censorship of the media, and attacks on media outfits and individuals. 

Some people are now looking at change that could bring back the former regime. They tend to forget the environment of the past where power revolved around one individual who took over the independent commissions, including the bribery commission, under his control, further extending Rajapaksa's political term by more than two terms. His once powerful family member has now taken a back seat at the Hyde Park rally, giving front seats to other SLFP seniors, which was not the practice in the past as all the senior party members had to get the blessings from the family member. One senior Minister and a party leader, now a supporter of Rajapaksa, who had a small Ministry office and a nominal budget, showed his displeasure during the Rajapaksa period but is now a front runner in the campaign to bring Rajapaksa back to power. Another senior politician from SLFP who got many more votes than several other candidates elected from the national list spoke to this author of his displeasure at the giving of positions to the rejected lot by the people.

Despite all obstacles, the triple power centres of the Government - President Sirisena, PM Wickrama-singhe and former President Kumaratunga  - have found a working order for some crucial subjects de-spite their differences and public disagreements with one another, which is a great achievement. Even within the Government, a Sirisena faction Minister recently made some harsh comments against the Prime Minister, calling him an enemy of the SLFP, which angered the UNP Ministers.

Internationally, there has been much praise for the Government’s efforts to move towards introducing good governance, minimising massive spending, and working towards a more citizen-centric government. The colossal spending included expenditure for state events foreign visits filling entire flights, establishing overseas missions at places that have no direct benefit for Sri Lanka. Now, restructuring in all these areas can be seen, and they cannot be fixed overnight. The case Rajapaksa is trying to create is weak and does not have much support, especially from the youth who believe in creating a society with less corruption - the central theme that toppled Rajapaksa's regime. If the delivery of the central theme, anti corruption, is as equal or worse than the past regime, things could go against the present regime. Still there is much positivity in the present regime, with attempts to correct the economic downturn created by the former regime, with massive loans and financial misappropriation at all levels.

A perfect balance in Sri Lanka's foreign policy will be sought after the PM’s visit next week to China, “a time-tested friend” that has assisted the country during many difficult times. Geo-strategically well posi-tioned with its centrality in the Maritime Silk Road, Sri Lanka will thrive economically if this perfect foreign policy balance is achieved. 

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#4996, 8 March 2016
Conflict to Co-existence: Debating Heritage and Homogenisation
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Sri Lanka
 

“From amidst the Samanola’s montane rings

And sprawling glades there serenely springs

The Lotus-the Buddha’s Sacred Feet,

Ushering Loving-kindness wide, in surfeit

This is our heritage and birth-right

And our eternal Guiding Light”  

- Mahagama Sekara

translated by Prof Vini Vitharana

The singing of the Sri Lankan national anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil at Sri Lanka’s 68th national independence day elicited much discussion. Introducing the singing of the national anthem in Tamil was a sign of reconciliation. However, this led also led to hurt sentiments in certain sections of society.

Despite the criticism, the operatic version of Danno Budunge Opera version gained much popularity; with Youtube hits of more than seventy three thousand - an earlier version by Nanda Malini stands at eleven thousand hits.

One should also remember that the internationally reputed musician James Ross who has conducted over 950 works also played this beautiful song at the Nelum Pokuna Theater, which was breathtaking to most in the audience. This author was fortunate to meet Ross a day before his performance, when he explained the beauty of this song and that he would play with much respect. Kishani Jayasinghe who sang the operatic version did perform well in her own sphere, however, this author feels that this particular song should by sung or played with a resemblance to the traditional culture which is unique to Sri Lanka. This is because the soul of the song revolves around Buddha, Dhamma and the sacred Anuradhapura, the heart of Buddhism.

What is unique must be preserved. This includes the cultural mythology of a nation that to an extent still stands as the reference point to Sri Lankan identity. Anything global is often seen as a homogenisation of the local, and the tension with rising globalisation is the collision between what is considered global versus what is local. Preserving local culture is a challenge for many nations nowadays. The cultural fabric of Sri Lanka, which is closely knit with village temple, irrigational water tank and the mythology is far more embedded than newer movements emboldened through modern slogans.

Mythology derived from the Greek word ‘Mythos’ meaning the story, which is significant from earlier socialisation to shape cultural values and behaviour. What exists should be preserved as it is, and the great poet Mahagama Sekara paints the picture of this birth right clearly. This message must permeate to all levels, including Sri Lankan youth.

The youth bulge in South Asia is an asset for countries but unfortunately has not fully tapped in the field of economic development. The youth population below 30 years is around two-thirds of the global population. Last week, Sri Lanka witnessed a massive youth demonstration by degree-holders in Colombo demanding jobs from the government. The protest had to be aborted forcefully by the police using water cannons and tear gas. At the same time, within the city of Colombo, Young Global Leaders, a youth group of the World Economic Forum discussed solutions to many issues including providing a better future for the youth in South Asia.

According to the World Bank’s latest report, more than 40 per cent of the population lives on less than Rs. 225 a day. This is a very low figure, which needs serious attention from the government. A top priority of policy-shapers should be creating better living conditions for the less privileged of society. While the affluent of society including ministers can afford to fly to Singapore for medical treatment and higher education, not many ordinary citizens can afford the same health care or education - it is therefore important to provide first class services within the country.

In a move to introduce positive reform to increase women’s representation in political office by 25 per cent for the forthcoming local government elections, Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe managed to get the relevant bill passed with much criticism from many parliamentarians. It is a great deed and a move towards women’s engagement in decision-making, which is required. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda is an example of bringing more women to his cabinet and parliament to recognise the importance of women’s representation in Rwanda. Rwanda has achieved an impressive level of gender equality; no country in the world has a larger percentage of women in its parliament than Rwanda - more than 50 per cent. Going further in amending the constitution to support women, representation-setting limits should not have less than 30 per cent in cabinet with 64 per cent of people in parliament being women. 42 per cent are in the judiciary with women mayors and women ministers.

In Sri Lanka, the number of female MPs stands at 5.6 per cent, which is less than 15 of the 225 members of the House - among the lowest in South Asia. This is an important area for improvement in Sri Lanka which has more than 40,000 war widows and many other women involved directly in economic activity. 

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#4978, 31 January 2016
Forecast 2016: A Roadmap for Sri Lanka
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
 

“Our objective is to make Sri Lanka the most competitive nation in the Indian Ocean and to develop the island as a mega city for the region that will go between Singapore and Dubai, thus make it competitive and the time has come for us to think how we are going to do it.”
 
- Ranil Wickremesinghe
Sri Lankan Prime Minister, at the Sri Lanka Economic Forum 2016

A year since the victory of incumbent Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, the rainbow coalition, despite huge promises of reform, has not delivered on everything. However, to its credit, it has managed (with some success) to introduce newer and more outward-looking policies. First, freedom of expression has been fully restored. The trend of blocking media sites has ended, and the safety of media personnel, restored. Second, independent commissions such as the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption have been fully restored. Third, a foreign policy rebalance between West and China is in the process of being re-established.

Economy
The January 2016 Sri Lanka Economic Forum brought with it some excellent thoughts from global leaders such as Ricardo Hausmann, Joseph Stiglitz and George Soros. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe stated, “Sri Lankans who voted for the change and those who didn't vote should unite to build this nation to the height achieved by nations like Singapore.” Soros said that Sri Lanka should lower its expectations as there is a clear sign of global economic slowdown this year. The US$27 billion Soros Fund Management (SFM) is looking to invest US$300 million initially in the economy – a good start at the beginning of the year. Economist Montek Singh Ahluwalia said that revenue as per GDP was 12 per cent when it should be 20 per cent. Comprehensive tax reforms are needed to increase revenue to 18 to 20 per cent of the GDP in the next few years.

Containing the fiscal deficit to 5 per cent of the GDP should continue to stabilise the economy. To reduce fiscal deficit, it is important to focus on increasing revenue and decreasing government expenditure – a difficult task to undertake in the present political context. Losses incurred by public enterprises are a huge fiscal burden that need to be addressed.

Politicians who offer employment merely to satisfy the electorate should be stopped. An example is that of the Ceylon Fishery Harbours Corporation, which had a little over 800 employees in 2009. Today, 1800 people are employed for the same lot of harbours. Once a profitable Corporation, it is currently incurring losses with its extensive employee numbers. In the same way, a large cabinet with nearly 100 ministers leads to the wastage of state resources.

It was against this socio-political and economic backdrop in mind that Wickremesinghe participated in the World Economic Forum in Davos – a conference where he could interact with top minds, investors and political leaders – to plan his strategic economic agenda for the country. For the first time in 10 years, Sri Lanka had high level political representation at Davos. In fact, this author, during two visits to Davos, was the only government representative from Sri Lanka, and without much support from the government. The tide has changed, and it is for the positive.

Standard of Living
The government should focus on improving the citizens’ quality of life by providing the best possible solutions to problems, instead of discussions about unfruitful political gossip. Unfortunately, most of Sri Lanka's headlines have been to the contrary.

For instance, 2,700 people, i.e. an average of 7.5 people every day, were killed in road accidents in 2015 – an increase compared to 2014. Given how there were numerous references to Singapore at the Sri Lanka Economic Forum, an example from Singapore is in order. On 25 December 2015, the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, opened the Downtown Line 2 (DLT2), an extension to their existing public rail network, that is set to ease traffic. As Lee stated, “With a new MRT line and extension to be opened next year onwards the network will double to 360 km by 2030. It will be comparable to London, New York and Tokyo, this means eight in 10 homes will be within a 10 minute radius.” There are several important lessons and practices Sri Lanka could import from Singapore.

The World Economic Forum has categorised Sri Lanka as an efficiency-driven economy (stage 2) in this year's global competitiveness index. It is an achievement, for Colombo has moved up from factor-driven (stage 1). Almost all South Asian countries are still on stage 1 or in transition. Sri Lanka should aim to move from efficiency-driven to the next stage of transition, and then to innovation-driven by 2030. A goal to double per capita to reach US$7000 by 2020 and to improve all sectors of the economy, should be set.

Given its tremendous human resource potential, Sri Lanka has the capacity carry this out. However, in order to become the region’s top workforce not just in terms of size but also quality, this valuable resource requires training. Investment in research and development and improvement in educational systems and universities should be the government’s priority. The Moratuwa University could be Sri Lanka's own MIT or IIT.

Governance
Improving transparency and strengthening mechanisms to fight corruption are important areas that require focus. Optimising the productivity of the government’s loss-making institutions, strengthening and encouraging the private sector to expand, combating sexual abuse, and enforcing child protection rights, are among the neglected areas that should be addressed.
The government will announce the new constitutional assembly to draft the new constitution with public participation. After this, it will be sent for approval, and then, referendum. It is a task that will reset several core areas of the present governance structure; and therefore, should ideally be undertaken after debate and dialogue with the public. Malicious campaigns to create fear could be created and government should steer through this carefully with stakeholder participation.

The recent surge in nationalism resulting from a Sinha Le (Sinhalese blood) campaign that has gone viral on the internet is definitely not a positive sign as it could manifest in the worst form of nationalism. Instead, nationalism should be used to preserve one’s languages. This sort of appreciation for languages will create interest among theyounger generations to learn and appreciate a language such as Sinhala – a dying language according to UN.

Reconciliation
As a nation, Sri Lanka has suffered tremendously in the past, and should now move towards uniting all ethnic groups via genuine reconciliation processes. President Sirisena demonstrated a sincere sign of reconciliation on the day he completed a year in office: he pardoned the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam assassin, Sivaraja Jenivan, who had attempted to assassinate the former in 2006. The pardon was an act of remembering the past but also forgiveness in order to create a better future. This is a great deed and signals the kick-starting of brave and genuine efforts towards the reconciliation process.
 
Overview
Sri Lanka possesses the potential to achieve great heights. With correct processes in place, and collective effort to create a better political culture, the country could spur its economic growth to overcome its challenges, both internal and external.

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#4948, 18 December 2015
China Prepares for a Modern War
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, LKIIRSS, Sri Lanka
 

"Under the leadership of the Communist Party, our military has gone from small to big, from weak to strong, from victory to victory. On this road, reform and innovation steps have never stopped."

President Xi Jinping

In 1919, Halford Mackinder wrote in Democratic Ideals and Reality that China would eventually guide the world by “building for a quarter of humanity a new civilization, neither quite Eastern nor quite Western.” Mackinder’s prediction so far has proven accurate, according to Robert D Kaplan, the geopolitical analyst.

President Jinping recently announced breakthrough military structural reforms to China’s military administrative structure and command. According to him, the current regional military commands will be adjusted and regrouped into new battle zone commands supervised by the Central Military Commission (CMC). The reform will establish a three-tier "CMC - battle zone commands - troops" command system and an administration system that will run from CMC through various services to the troops.

The reforms will enable China to win a modern war. Modernisation of the command structure of the world's largest armed force is significant and will impact the security apparatus of all of Asia. With rising global security threats, China as an emerging superpower is definitely on the right track by adopting structural military reform. China’s international standing and interest in security and development is seen as a priority with this reforms taking place. Jinping stated, "As the country progresses from a large country to a large and powerful one, defense and military development stands at a new and historic starting line.” In the next five years, China is expecting concrete results from these new reforms, and breakthroughs in the overhaul of the leadership and joint command system. This is a serious step to improve the military strength and capacity of China.

Against this backdrop, the third ASEAN-US conference was held with tough security measures in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with 4,500 soldiers deployed on standby, on 21 November. The ongoing security threat from the Islamic State (IS) has escalated and over 30,000 foreign fighters from 100 countries have joined the terrorist group. Malaysian officials have arrested over 100 citizens suspected of links to the IS, from ordinary citizens, lecturers, civil servants, and even security forces. This is an emerging threat as Malaysia, Indonesia and Filipino affiliates of the IS could unite to form a Southeast Asian branch of the terror outfit. Some officials say it is only a matter of time before a major attack occurs.

It is also against this backdrop that President Obama has announced his government’s new strategic partnership with ASEAN. The US and ASEAN have elevated their partnership to a strategic relationship to support each other in five important areas: economic integration, maritime cooperation, transnational challenges including climate change, emerging leaders, and women’s opportunities. The action plan has been set from 2016 to 2020.

The statement directly refers to China re-affirming the importance of maintaining peace and stability, ensuring maritime security and safety, and freedom of navigation including in and over-flight above the South China Sea. Some scholars see this strategic partnership as an attempt to control and limit China’s role with ASEAN countries. The partnership does not mean that ASEAN members have now teamed up with the US against China. The preferred strategic option for most countries is balancing US and China and finding a way. The elevation of this partnership between ASEAN and the US should not be dismissed either.

To counter the ASEAN-US joint statement, China immediately launched a “five-pronged” proposal aimed to keep the South China Sea issue between China and ASEAN. With these developments, whether China has directly violated the key areas of the ASEAN-US statement when it comes to mutual respect for national sovereignty should be questioned.

In this context, the structural reform of the Chinese military in the next few years will affect the security of all of Asia, as China has already established its political and economic partnerships with many nations including Sri Lanka. This is the first indication that China is preparing for a modern war.

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#4934, 17 November 2015
Riot and Responsibility: Governance in Sri Lanka
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, LKIIRSS, Sri Lanka
 

One of the greatest Buddhist monks of Sri Lanka, Most Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha, who spoke fearlessly to overthrow the previous Government to usher in a better political order, has passed away. The entire nation mourns the loss of this great human being. In his speech at the book launch of this author’s “Towards a better world order,” a clear statement was made: “politics in Sri Lanka is a direct ticket to hell.” 


The first serious shock to the new Government was the resignation of the Minister of Law and Order Hon Thilak Marapana over an issue about Avant Garde, a floating armoury. While political stability should remain a priority, looking at the present state of the economy, Sri Lanka should spend time working towards the economic vision indicated by Prime Minister in his economic policy statement. 

In Colombo, 39 students from the Higher National Diploma in Engineering (HNDE) were arrested after an intense battle with the police. The student protest was to reinstate their Higher National Diploma to a B Com degree for recruitment and promotion purposes as well as a few other demands against privatisation of education, increasing levels of university intake, and upgrading existing infrastructure. All these demands could have been discussed and peacefully worked out but unfortunately it turned to a violent police attack. The opposition and some members supporting the 18th Amendment are now requesting the National Police Commission to investigate the incident. It was the present Government that re-installed the independent commissions that were Government scrapped by the previous. 

It is important that the Government address the student issues. Unfortunately, the Education Ministry’s portfolio is split across many Ministries and due to this it will be difficult to take policy measures. The university student intake would be increased to 40,000 and this should be increased further with adequate infrastructure. Producing the best competent graduates that could contribute to the economy should be the priority just as the example of Singapore which invested heavily to create a world-class labour pool during the time of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Investment in education and R&D is essential as a nation and getting the right education policy to introduce a single qualifications authority to certify this is essential. Most students that graduate are not qualified for jobs or have an opportunity as graduates to find work. These challenges have to be addressed by the government as student unrest can lead to serious complications if unheard. Sri Lanka has previously faced two insurrections before as a nation in 1971 and 1989.  

The gruesome pictures from the protest were available in all social media. This is a significant negative blow to the country and the administration that promised to introduce good governance. Some comments from media were a re-visit to the past regime. However, authorities have now taken measures to address the issue. 

Sri Lanka with its new administration needs to fix many areas in the economy, ignored by the previous Government. As a nation Sri Lanka is the only South Asian country that has moved to stage 2 - an efficiency-driven economy - this year according to the Global Competitiveness Index report. All others are in Stage 1 – factor-driven - or in transition to stage 2. This shows that Sri Lanka has done comparatively well with other South Asian countries to improve the basic factors of the economy. It is time to start competing with the East Asian economies, as it should aim to achieve a per capita of US$ 8000 in 2020. For this several wheels of the economy need to be strengthened. 

Value-added exports need to be increased from the existing low percentage to a higher value. Sri Lanka should aim to map as a regional financial centre such as Singapore and Dubai, to be planned out by Finance Ministry. Improving university infrastructure and providing space to more students to get a world-class education is a priority. The recommendations from Chamber, IPS and all top think-tanks in the country and outside need to be carefully looked at and considered. 

After more than a decade, there will finally be high-level political representation with the Sri Lankan Prime Minister present at Davos 2016. This is a great opportunity for him to spell out the new Government’s economic policy to win investment and build confidence. The first top-level foreign conference Daw Aung San Suu Kyi attended after being in house arrest was the World Economic Forum in East Asia where she clearly spelled out her political vision for the people of Myanmar. This author was honored to meet her in person at the conference where she shared her view on the importance of national reconciliation in Sri Lanka after a three-decade war. 

When a fearless voice dies, another is elevated to victory. The late great priest Ven. Sobitha Thero and the force of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and their desire for change is what helps instill good governance in their own societies.

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#4922, 12 October 2015
Sri Lanka and the World: Terrorism and Effective Reconciliation
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, LKIIRSS, Sri Lanka
 

“There is no other solution to the Syrian crisis than strengthening the effective government structures and rendering them help in fighting terrorism.”
- Vladimir Putin, President, Russian Federation
 
With the ongoing Russian bombing campaign in Syria, for the first time, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has shown confidence in defeating the Islamic State (IS). The sustained destruction caused by the IS in Syria is nothing short of a human tragedy, and according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, over 200,000 Syrians have been killed since the start of the country's civil war in 2011. Millions of refugees fleeing Syria has become one of the biggest issues in Europe. The IS’s brutality has drastically affected important infrastructure and has also caused the destruction of historical sites such as that of the Arc of Triumph in Palmyra.

Survival overpowers the Syrian population’s interests above power play between the global actors. The Syrians and the surrounding nations want a safe and better life. Unfortunately, the global institutions have miserably failed to address this crisis so far. A grand alliance to defeat the brutal terrorist group could create a measure of hope. However, dismantling the supply of weaponry to the terrorist outfit and weakening the group will be key to the defeat the IS. A Sri Lankan lesson is relevant in here. Valiant armed soldiers and the Sri Lankan military and intelligence defeated the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam (LTTE), cutting off all weapons supplies to precision.

Sri Lanka proved to the entire world that any terrorist outfit can be destroyed with will and skill. In his recent remarks at the UN, incumbent Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena clearly stated that his country’s experience could be studied by other developing countries affected by terrorism and Sri Lanka was prepared to engage in an active dialogue with those affected countries and would continue to campaign against terrorism.

Recently, the UNOHCHR released its report containing disturbing outcome on Sri Lanka. Several groups in the country have voiced their opinions on the matter. Some opposed it, it a threat to the country’s sovereignty and viewing it as undermining the Sri Lankan judicial system. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Tamil diaspora organisations such as the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) have praised the report and pressed for recommendations to be implemented.

GTF spokesperson Suren Surendiran urged the 47 members of UNHRC to implement recommendations to setup the special court for criminal prosecution. Surendiran added that the GTF won't compromise under any circumstances and expects a full implementation of recommendations. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera has assured a domestic mechanism to probe the issue within eighteen months. According to Samaraweera, the government is ready to accept international support.

It is evident that the previous regime with its more hard line nationalistic, illiberal political decisions such as the 18th amendment to extend presidential powers and include independent commissions under the president, and the removal of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake are indirect incidents that have taken our nation to this state. As Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe correctly pointed out during the national management conference in Colombo last week, the Geneva OHCHR report highlights the role of the judiciary as above other areas. A clear stumbling block of the previous political regime was their not engaging with the Tamil diaspora and underinvesting in the reconciliation process.

The termination of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute’s reconciliation conferences was a grave mistake on the part of the authorities. At a ‘Role of Religion’ conference held at the Institute, when Rev. Father SJ Emmanuel chose to engage, the previous government disallowed this freedom. Reconciliation requires engagement to progress. The challenging word is the Hybrid Court used in the OHCHR report.

According to few opposition members of parliament, “there is nothing called Hybrid, it will be same as in Sierra Leon and other places.”

It is important to involve and obtain international technical assistance from globally reputed agencies such as Interpeace. Assistance in reconciliation should come with a Terms of Reference (TOR) of the way the government would agree and be comfortable to work together. If had been was done earlier, we would have submitted a credible reconciliation report during this time. Taking lessons from the past, we should engage with the international community while also always protecting our sovereignty as a nation. The process towards the final outcome should be carefully orchestrated. Any truth and reconciliation model requires time and patience to find solutions.

The 2014 joint discussion between South African and Sri Lankan experts should be made available for public access to better understand what the best practices we could adopt are. Unfortunately, these fundamental areas of national and public interest were shelved as the nation turned its attention toward electing representatives for an entire year. Sri Lanka should design its own process of reconciliation with sufficient national budget allocation and technical assistance from the outside world.

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#4910, 8 September 2015
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, LKIIRSS, Sri Lanka
 

"Don’t think the enemies are weak as there are pro-Eelam forces on one hand while forces belonging to the last regime are also waiting to sabotage the destiny of the national government,” Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena.

One of the largest catastrophes in modern human history is unfolding in Syria owing to the meteoric rise of the Islamic State (IS) that is now in control of more than half of the Syrian territory. According UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the country has lost the equivalent of four decades of human development.

The suffering of the Syrians running from the IS trouble and a picture of a lifeless Syrian boy on the beach has caught the attention of the entire world. According to reports, one of every five Syrians lives in poverty. The Syrian nation is in chaos, thus leaving no choice but to flee. It is time international communities collaborate in crushing the root cause, which is the IS. With Western and Middle Eastern political will, the IS infrastructure can be dismantled and by building international partnerships, global harmony can be restored.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka was going through its own political transition. After the January 2015 presidential election which overthrew the Rajapaksa regime, Sri Lankans reaffirmed their verdict in the recent August 2015 parliamentary election, defeating Rajapaksa yet again. This secured a clear victory for the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) that took 106 seats while the opposition could secure only 95. The new government with the leadership of the new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will be ready to introduce good governance and fight corruption to bring economic prosperity. It is time he executes the promises made while electioneering, with the right kind of cabinet ministers. Sri Lanka is seen by the outside world as a shining example of democratic peaceful elections and political transition. The democratic values in our society are far superior to an individual politician.

R. Sampanthan, a minority party leader was appointed opposition leader. 48 Cabinet Ministers were elected from the two main parties, the UNFGG and United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). For the first time, Sri Lanka’s opposition leader, who should have been according to the people’s mandate of more than 4 million UPFA voters, has been moved to a minority regional party due to the MoU to create a national government. This move garnered both positive and negative reactions but at this critical juncture, with the upcoming decision on Sri Lanka at the UNHCR and the absence of a clear majority government, this was the best option chosen, because the people had not given enough votes to form a majority government.

However, the Sri Lankan government, under UNSC Resolution 1373, proscribed 15 Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam fronts with effect from 1 April 2014. The order enabled funds, assets, and economic resources belonging to the listed persons and entities to remain frozen until the removal of their names from the designated list. It is important to continue the ban and to not review it this point because these fronts still could be a threat to our national security.

In the next few days, some members of the Tamil National Alliance will leave for Geneva to pressure for an international investigation. Sustaining the national government model will be the next challenge as we know what the capabilities of some of our politicians are and how fast they move from one side to another. For a country that has gone through peaceful political transition, it is now important to quickly move towards the nation-building process to double our per capita income by 2020. To this end, two important factors need to be considered:

First we need to move as a nation to a higher collective outcome. The four-time prime minister who understands and knows most politicians in his political sphere would have to find the art of moving away from playing prisoner’s dilemma as he needs to get everyone to cooperate and move forward instead of stagnating.

“If you and I were to change our ways together, we could both get to a better place. However, if I was to change and you were not, I’d be much worse off. And because I can’t be sure that you will move, I won’t make the move either,” Lutfey Siddiqi, Adjunct Professor, National University of Singapore.

These words demonstrate a classic ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ where groups of people settle for a sub-optimal outcome because they cannot ensure coordinated action that could take them all to a better outcome. Great leadership, especially in the context of national leadership is about orchestrating coordinated movement away from the prisoners’ dilemma to a higher collective outcome.

We need to introduce meritocracy into our system, which, in essence is appointing suitable and qualified individuals for the job and ensuring strong government appointments to strengthen our institutions. All appointments will go through a recommendation committee of president and prime minister – a brilliant move to screen the most appropriate person for the job, in the absence of which one will witness ad hoc appointments by some ministers. Chairpersons, directors and all executives’ political appointments need to be carefully decided as they are the key individuals who will work in the ministries and developing the institutions that run losses.

As a nation, we have underwent a lot of pain, firstly during the independence struggle and then fighting terrorism for nearly three decades, and secondly through the youth insurrections and the many political transitions over the past several decades. It is important to develop a national plan by all political parties for the next several decades to take our nation towards prosperity.

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#4905, 11 August 2015
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, LKIIRSS, Sri Lanka.
 

“People who live in Sri Lanka are first and foremost Sri Lankans, then we have our race and religion, which is something given to us at birth.”
- Lakshman Kadirgamar

On 17 August, Sri Lankans will elect their new parliamentarians for the next five years. It is important to elect the best candidates to transform this nation towards prosperity. The current situation in the country thrives on fundamental blunders made by some of the nation’s politicians. Today, most parliamentary proceedings have little or no bearing towards the direction and development of the country. The discipline and intellect displayed by some members are heinous. The use of inappropriate language and the conduct are clearly out of character and absurd. It has become a vicious circle of uneducated people elected to lead. Out of 225 parliament members, 192 has failed GCE A/L.

This has resulted in poor policy decisions towards the staggering unemployment rate, the rise in numbers of drug peddlers and barons with powerful connections, the depreciating economy, the brain drain and the spiraling socio-economic status of the country.

Today the people are deceived by the beautifications and development to cityscapes, major infrastructure, highways and buildings that promote development. However, in the midst, the poverty-stricken villagers suffer. Some rural areas are still not equipped with basic facilities such as roads and drinking water. Some children walk for miles over dangerous neglected bridges to receive basic education. Furthermore, now we have nearly 50 per cent students failing the GCE O/L mathematics – which is tragic. This has resulted in mothers, sisters and wives working under inhumane circumstances as housemaids in West Asia. According to recent news, a Sri Lankan maid was advertised in Saudi Arabia for sale at the price of 25,000 Riyals. Producing domestic help to West Asia has become a popular industry within Sri Lanka and also the only option of income for most families.

We need to change the present system and introduce meritocracy to our government institutes. If you assign the suitable person with due respect to their intellectual expertise to govern, it will be a positive step towards increasing the efficiency of the institutions. One cannot dream of a developed nation without strengthening government institutes. The vision for Sri Lanka needs to be followed-up by the development of a national strategic plan, one that doesn't change from one political party to another.

According to Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, “We have got to live with the consequences of our actions and we are responsible for our own people…When I went to Colombo for the first time in 1956 it was a better city than Singapore.”

We need to focus on moving towards the position Singapore and other such developed nations occupy in the world. It is important to improve investment in education for teachers and student’s classrooms and research. As we move to achieve a knowledge economy, we should develop our most precious resource: our human capital. We underinvest in these important areas and go for quick fixes. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) needs to be the primary focus to achieve the technological heights we wish to achieve by 2020 and/or beyond.

The development of STEM is a priority in countries such as Singapore that have already developed a world-class education system. Singaporean universities are listed in the top 75 slots of the ‘world’s best’ rankings.

Entrepreneurs, young leaders and innovators are nurtured and facilitated by the country with resources and supporting environments to achieve greatness. Many Sri Lankan youth are sent to foreign countries to study and most are encouraged to stay on and serve those countries.

In the end it is a losing battle. Our country is deprived of talent that could truly make a difference. We need to create an ecosystem for our educated youth to return to their country and include these young professionals in our force for change. According to US President Barack Obama, it is important for us to pave the way for the next generation. He says “I don’t understand this phenomenon of leaders who refuse to step aside when their terms end…No one is above the law, not even the president,” he continued. Similar to any other occupation, it is important to provide an opportunity for the youth to lead the political arena whilst the seniors willingly and peacefully leave office when their terms end. Unfortunately, politicians do not retire in Sri Lanka to pave way to our young leaders.

Sri Lanka is slowly but surely rising from the ashes and into the development of the postwar era. In order to truly reap the benefits and move towards development, the political arena needs to be cleaned up. We need to refrain from pointing fingers at each other and focus on rebuilding the country. We need to gain the strength of the next generation to be the force of change. Beginning from the education system and educating the youth, rebuilding villages and rural areas to creating an innovative culture to sustain development. Furthermore, focus on creating different channels to bring in foreign investments and creating employment within the country will discourage the option of exporting our rich human resource as domestic help. This will result in the development and enrichment of Sri Lanka.  

We need to follow examples of great visionaries such as Lakshman Kadirgamar that once spearheaded the direction of the country. 12 August marks the death anniversary of late Lakshman Kadirgamar, a legendary foreign minister who was assassinated by the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam. We all should remember this remarkable politician who was committed to creating a better nation for all of us. He won the hearts of everyone around the world and was the best foreign minister we ever had. We need dedicated leaders like him for our country; we need to vote as one nation for politicians with the suitable values and intellect to navigate our country to prosperity.

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#4896, 6 July 2015
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
 

There is an unofficial leader of the opposition. What we have is confusion; there are MPs of the same party in government as well as in the opposition.”
Anura Kumara Dissanayaka, JVP Leader

With the parliament of Sri Lanka in a state of dissolution and elections looming ahead, the costs confronting the nation remain high. Rupees 3 billion was spent on the last election, and 4 billion on the upcoming election, according to the election commissioner. It is hoped that the return on investment for the people’s money will be worth the exorbitant spend. Colossal expenditure in the name of statecraft should help reap rich benefits, and the country awaits the promised gains. Now, the priority is to elect the best representative for the next few years in parliament.

In the name of regime change and developmental politics, the country faced a large scale re-shuffling of roles in the public service with strategic points in the nation’s administration being vacated overnight. Will August see a repeat of January’s changes? If so, the year 2015 will be marked as the year wasted. It is hoped that the same old actors do not emerge in the political arena: small nations such as Sri Lanka cannot afford years fallen to this kind of politics.

As a fulfillment of the LLRC recommendation, the Foreign Minister held discussions with the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) in London. The direct engagement with these groups (some former sympathisers of the LTTE) ensures multi-faceted debate. While some see engagement with the GTF as a positive step others brand it illegal. GTF and many other diaspora organisations supported the ideology of LTTE and were therefore deemed terrorist fronts by the previous government through a gazette notification. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1373, 15 LTTE fronts were proscribed with effect from 1 April 2014.

Recently, Suren Surendran and GTF requested a review of the list of organisations and individuals proscribed in a gazette notification and proposed a four-pillar strategy. If the government take them off the list, this would have a serious impact on the re-engagement process with the diaspora. It may open the door towards greater reconciliation. On the other hand, it may also risk strengthening the LTTE set-up and cause its re-emergence. How does the government decide whom to talk to and whom not to? Are the listed organisations willing to drop the LTTE ideology of a separate state?

Of local parliamentary opposition to the government’s actions, the opposition raised the all-important question as to how the Foreign Minster could engage in such talks without prior approval from the cabinet, President, or without informing parliament. It was further noted that it is illegal to engage in discussions with an organisation listed as ‘terrorist’. MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara said, “They should first give up the Eelam objective and declare that they are not aligned to the LTTE anymore.”  MP Prof GL Peiris said that post war stability was at stake due to the government’s failure to take tangible measures to counter the threat posed by the LTTE rump.  According to Ven Sobitha Thero this is a positive step to re-engage with GTF.

Given the opposition’s response, it is important to reach consensus to introduce solutions to bridge the gap between the Sri Lankan diaspora with those residing in Sri Lanka.  What should be the way forward? First, Eelam ideology should be fully given up and without any further engagement with and support to the LTTE. Following this, the reconciliation process should engaged in with the genuine intention both sides to commit to it sincerely. Finally, after this, a review of the list could be considered. It was Suren Surendran who defended the LTTE recruitment of child soldiers and accused the Sri Lankan military for using cluster bombs in his interview with Al Jazeera in 2009. The process to engage with a person who defended the LTTE’s position will take time, and therefore, a step-by-step method rather than a one-off process should be looked at. A process that includes the engagement of all stakeholders - not only the government but also civil society NGOs. An organisation such as Interpeace could be looked at to facilitate and assist the process, rather than involving nations with a significant diaspora population. It is important to learn from countries that have worked on reconciliation such as South Africa, Rwanda and others. Sri Lanka should also develop its own process. Joint discussions such as the South Africa-Sri Lanka joint seminar conducted last year on reconciliation with renowned thought leaders who engaged within their own countries is important.

The Diaspora Festival was proposed by the Foreign Ministry as a means to re-connect with their place of origin.  A comprehensive diaspora re-engagement plan should be prepared by the Foreign Ministry and presented to the parliament. Rather than taking ad hoc measures, a systematic approach to engaging with these groups is necessary. The engagement plan could have recommendations such as to assign diaspora officers at embassies to engage with the disconnected diaspora, gather information, and attend to their requests. Many more useful ideas could be looked at and included in this document which should be compiled with inputs from all stakeholders including the opposition members of parliament, all political parties, and the general public.

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#4887, 9 June 2015
Sri Lanka: Brain Drain, 'Connection Culture' and National Development
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, LKIIRSS, Sri Lanka
 

“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”
John Quincy Adams

Realising the extent of inequality in the present world is an aspect many sidestep. Poverty, prosperity and patterns of growth are among the top factors for this inequality.

The world we live in has not changed much. Comparisons of the 30 richest countries and the 30 poorest nations have remained same for the past 20 or in some cases, 50 years. Some nations grow rapidly and experience rapid collapse. Of the 30 poorest nations in sub-Saharan Africa, South America, South Asia and East Asia, some nations still struggle at per capita income below $2500; meanwhile the richest nations’ per capita income has been $20,000-$50,000.

Analysis is required as to why barring a few nations, many have failed or are struggling to achieve purchasing power parity similar to that of the US and Western Europe.

Populations from poorer countries choose migration as the most preferable option as their political and economic institutions consistently fail to deliver a better standard of living and/or employment. Last week, 734 Rohingya migrants rescued from a boat off the coast of Myanmar are now in refugee camps crammed into warehouses by the Myanmar Police. This situation is same for many other nationalities including Sri Lankans in labour camps in many countries.

During the author’s recent visit to Slovenia, it was established that the biggest issue for the country was unemployment and brain drain. Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia are nations with high levels of migrant workers without jobs who seek employment in other states in Europe. Slovenia loses the best of their labour force’s talent to migration.

Similarly, Sri Lanka is also losing many of its youth who leave the country, both legally and illegally, for better economic prospects. A recent conversation with a politician in Sri Lanka produced a shocking response regarding the brain drain issue. He explained, “brain drain is good[.] When they go it’s good for us [because] we don't need to look after them [and] those countries will do our job.”

The only way a nation can reverse this situation is by strengthening the internal political and economic institutions that are currently weak. If politicians create hope for the youth, chances that they would remain in their own nation and contribute to economic development are higher.

Better institutions such as in the rich nations may not satisfy the environment of the poor nations as the existing institutions are better off as they are controlled, sometimes by the powerful in the society who will disagree as to which ones should remain and which ones must change. Existing institutions in a poor nation probably support a political culture where everyone has to have political support to climb the ladder of prosperity. It could well be the reason why individuals such as Thomas Edison with over 1000 patents or Steve Jobs who started Apple at 21 or Bill Gates who started Microsoft at 22 never emerged. Individual growth supports achievements without political connection.  Innovation and financial support was readily available for these individuals’ prosperity.  

An intellectual of a global repute whom this author met made a comment about the political environment that exists in Sri Lanka. When he inquired from another Sri Lankan as to how he could contribute to the country, the answer was, “Don't worry, anything can be done because I know the top and lot of politicians.”

This culture of connections needs to change. Individuals without any political connection should be able to achieve in life. One should not need a letter from a politician to get an employer to extend an employment term.  

This sort of debacle should stop for rapid development in nations. Qualifications and achievements should be the sole criteria to earn a position. A key factor that helped countries such as Singapore transform from poor countries to well-performing nations was that they ensured education and qualifications were primary criteria to be politicians or to represent people in the parliament and many other government positions. The highest-paid salaries in the world ensured they didn’t steal from every tender or project. The crux of the issue is changing the political culture – a difficult task due to the level of entrenchment of this problem.

People’s power still exists to bring about this change. An example is the 2015 presidential election. The upcoming general election will be a crucial moment to make our society a better place. Electing the best to our nation’s parliament will ensure boat people are not generated, and the country’s youth don’t have to leave our nation just for want of a better life.

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#4871, 10 May 2015
Finding a Path to True Democracy in Sri Lanka
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, LKIIRSS, Sri Lanka
 

“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it.” Abraham Lincoln.

Through historical narratives and human experiences mankind witnesses the shift from the power of one individual to a wider representational body. As colonial empires imposed draconian rules, it became impossible to govern the natives as the public believed in strengthening the representative system for their economic freedom and further political rights. Sri Lanka experienced historical political achievement with the passing of the 19th Amendment with a parliamentary majority. Such political progress will cut down the centralised power of the executive and moved towards the Prime minister and Parliament. At the memorial oration at the four-time Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, Dr. Karunasena Kodithuwakku noted that Senanayake, seeing it as early as 1972, was aware of the consequences of transferring a significant power to one person, thus objecting to the executive presidency.

Former presidents promised but failed to deliver. Incumbent Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena factors in Sri Lankan political history as a leader who strengthened local democratic institutions at the expense of his own power, a first in post-independence Sri Lankan politics. It is our opportunity to strengthen independent institutions and depoliticise them. The Bribery Commission, a place which should be equal to all citizens without political interference will have a massive local and global impact on our nation to improve the Corruption Perception Index. Tackling political corruption among all politicians should be done without any interference as the urban councilors, provincial councilors, members of parliament or former heads of state are all representatives who represent us; there shouldn't be a difference in the process. Equality as a clause engraved in our constitution leaves the author questioning as to why the commissioner was summoned by the speaker. We should ask as to who must be summoned in an event of the speaker having an allegation.

For the 19th amendment to function smoothly, Sri Lanka requires representatives with the highest standards within a functional meritocracy in the State system. A majority of elected members lack basic education, a criteria that has to be looked at in the modern day world, unlike the past. The next parliamentary elections should bring in more statesman-like people who could contribute for the economic prosperity and to create a decent political culture. This could be done by the powerful ballot only and if this change is done we are looking at a brighter Sri Lanka; else it will be a repeat of the past.

A significant strength of our nation was taken away by the three-decade war. Recently, over a session at the Harvard Kennedy School, this author emphasised the grievous political loss to the country in the assassination of Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvan, Lalith Athulathmudali both Harvard scholars, Lakshman Kadirgamar, President R. Premadasa and many other leaders. These carefully planned assassinations weakened our State. It's time we strengthen our governance structure by bringing the right people for the top jobs.

We will face many more challenges in the coming months and years specially after ending insurgency and terrorism, especially to deal with the many clusters of the LTTE core group still in operation. To bring them to the reconciliation process to give up their idea of the Tamil Eelam will be challenging. The Tamil National Alliance should support the government’s reconciliation process and ensure other groups could engage with us.

A fault in the local decision-making at the policy level is its lack of consideration of research input from think tanks and research material, leading ad hoc decisions. Research input should be a priority and we should develop our research capability as a nation. National think tanks and others should welcome public opinion and ideas before policy decisions are implemented in the parliament.

It is important to consider the foreign migration of our talented youth to Australia, the US and many developed nations. A talented youth force is a necessity for nation-building. They need to be engaged in this important moment in time. It is important to look at mechanisms to attract expat Sri Lankan professionals back to our country, reverse the brain drain, like in India.

The 150th death anniversary of one of the greatest leaders through time, President Abraham Lincoln, was commemorated over the last month. President Lincoln ended a bloody civil war, which claimed over 600,000 lives, and ended slavery, while uniting a nation to ensure freedom for all. Resultantly, a greater nation emerged. We could draws lessons from Lincoln’s political will for our present day constitutional reform. As John Kerry said in his brilliant remarks during his recent visit to Sri Lanka, “…what my country discovered to our own anguish during our civil war there were no true victors only victims. You saw, I trust, that it is obvious the value of ending wars in a way that builds foundation for the peace to follow.”

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#4859, 6 April 2015
Politics of Correctness: The Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
 

“I always tried to be correct, not politically correct."
Lee Kuan Yew

Drawing open the curtains to what is the festive month of April in many parts of Asia and the world, on 02 April, one hundred forty two students were slaughtered in Garissa University College in Kenya by al Shabab:  an al Qaeda-linked Somali terrorist outfit. A statement issued by al Shabab warned Kenyans that their cities will run red with blood. Such acts put to shame the broader human race.

On the very day that this author was making a presentation on counter-radicalism and de-radicalisation in Antalya, Turkey, the Saudi-led Arab league initiated Operation Decisive Storm against al Qaeda militants advancing in Yemen. Although hard power can be used to suppress terrorists such as in the case of Sri Lanka, the challenge is the ability to destroy an idea or commitment to a cause using soft power after the military victory. Sri Lanka displayed to the world that a terrorist insurgency can be defeated with will and skill. However, over a period of militarised conflict, the ideology of the State and the counter-ideology of terrorist factions are long-term processes that seep into the societal mindset - removal of such ideologies requires strategic and thoughtful processes.

The Islamic State (IS) infrastructure can be dismantled by harnessing the political will of Western and Middle Eastern powers, and by building international partnerships. Although the threat of the IS and al Qaeda-directed attacks persist, the dominant threat remains in the form of self-radicalised homegrown cells and individuals. One approach to a counter-terrorism strategy may be to work towards creating a multinational, multi-pronged, multi-agency, and multi-jurisdictional framework with the aim of countering upstream counter-radicalisation and downstream de-radicalisation.

In Sri Lanka, the former Rajapaksa Cabinet of one hundred ministers was reduced to less than forty, which was remarkable. This was reiterated in February to the distinguished delegates from around the world in Nepal at the Consortium of South Asian Think-Tanks (COSATT) by this author. Last month, President Sirisena appointed another 26 Ministers - eleven more Cabinet Ministers, five State Ministers and ten Deputy Ministers - which is back to the same position as before. This new appointments to create a ‘National Government’ concept could be a move to avoid the SLFP MPs from drifting towards the former President. To do this, they had to break the election pledge of a limit of 30.

The usual conduct is that if Ministers or MPs are not part of the Government, they sit in the opposition. However, presently in Sri Lanka it is possible to belong to both Government and Opposition and be national. It is important to ponder who would function as the real opposition to the present National Government.

10 out of 25 promises fulfilled and less than 20 days to go for the completion of 100 days. A major constitutional reform - the 19th Amendment, - electoral reform, and the RTI act are still in the process of implementation. A dramatic change to the constitution is expected from the 19th amendment but should such a change be done in a rush as an urgent bill? One of the issues for rushing without public consultancy was the consequence of the post implementation of the 13th amendment, which created many complications. It is necessary to debate, deliberate and seeks public input in such processes.

Despite a quagmire of post-election domestic political issues, the initial State visit of the newly elected President Sirisena to China took place last week. The visit was a success with positive remarks from the Chinese President, who said, “China puts Sri Lanka in an important position in neighborhood diplomacy” and pledged that the two sides will continue to deepen cooperation in every sector.

The hotly debated US$1.4billion port city project remains suspended. Assistant Minister of Chinese Foreign Affairs Liu Jianchao’s stated that this is China's biggest investment project in Sri Lanka. The Colombo Port City Project that was suspended for months by the new Government is to continue. This came as a shock to the general public and this was rectified by several remarks by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, who said that it is still under suspension. Still, Beijing pledged around US$1 billion in new grants during the visit of President Sirisena.

Many Chinese contracts and projects had been questioned for the process of awarding and not following a proper approval procedure during the past regime. While the new Government is working to rebalance between New Delhi and Beijing, in an interview with the South China Morning Post former President Rajapaksa defended his actions and said China was being used as a political scapegoat. "I wanted development for Sri Lanka and China was the only one which had the resources and the inclination to help me," he said.

What the people aspire to and vote for remains better living conditions and not internal political battles. A lesson from one of the political giants who passed away last week who built his nation with a brilliant mindset, Lee Kuan Yew, demonstrated nation-building with sincerity which led to great heights. The emphasis in his masterly approach was correctness in approach at all times, and not placing political correctness at his strategies centre.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
 

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#4845, 4 March 2015
Sri Lanka: President Sirisenas First One Hundred Days
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
 

“Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.”
Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days

51 days have passed, and 49 remain to fulfill the election promises of the 100-day reform introduced by the newly elected regime in Sri Lanka. People are questioning the delay in implementing certain key promises, and the public is concerned that this may be another unfulfilled election promise. According to a top constitutional lawyer, Dr Wickramaratne, the proposed simultaneous implementation of both constitutional and electoral reforms lacks practicality. Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha, a leading supporter of the President’s coalition, has also expressed his dissatisfaction at the delay in the implementation process. He especially notes the delays in the re-establishment of the 17th Amendment, abolishing the executive Presidency, and the new electoral system.

The remainder of the hundred days will see the implementation of the Right to Information Act (RTI). The successful implementation of this Act will strengthen individual citizens to question political authority and enhance transparency. According to some media reports, its implementation is postponed. An important Act such as the RTI should ideally go through a process of taking into account citizen input and discussions with the public before being presented to parliament. India went through such a process and certain areas are still under improvement.

The 100-day reform promises a lot of good, but the practicality of this being implemented in so short a span of time is a concern that has been flagged by this author in previous columns. Of the social media groups that are monitoring the daily progress of these reforms, www.100days.lk indicates that only 9 promises have so far been fulfilled out of 25.

What people would like to see is a better political and economic environment than what existed during the previous administration’s tenure. This is the underlying reason they voted for a change. If the 100-day promise is not fulfilled it will lead to serious political issues arising from public dissatisfaction. What the new government should focus on is the essential list of priorities within the 100-day reform promise. A focus on flying around the world with themes such as “around the world in 100 days” is not a priority for the people.

In Sri Lanka, the construction of the lotus tower which aims to be the highest tower in South Asia is a symbol of wasteful expenditure initiated by the previous Government, and at the risk of neglecting priorities such as poverty alleviation. The contractual commitments from China and India remain a serious decision and challenge for the new Government in deciding its continuation or discontinuation. The Colombo Port City project called in a massive Chinese investment of US$15 billion to build a construction similar to the Palm City of Dubai. The housing project by the Indian TATA group of US$450 million is still under the new Government’s evaluation. These important decisions will be made by the new Government which will eventually face a general election in a few months.

Whether former President Rajapaksa will stand for elections and how the coalition will contest are among the vital election questions. The massive rally organised recently by the supporters of the former President Rajapaksa indicate his return to politics. Speaking to the local press, former President Rajapaksa said, “See, the US, Europe, the West, they are not our friends, Pakistan helped us, especially Musharraf. What happened in my country and the insurgency happening in your country, RAW [India's Research and Analysis Wing] is behind it." This is a serious statement that reveals that he wishes to project his defeat as an international conspiracy. Creating speculation about India’s involvement in regime change could affect Sri Lanka’s relations with them in the future. It could also stir negative sentiment among the Sri Lankan public.

Sri Lanka lost its freedom to the British Empire two centuries ago because of the lack of unity. The local Chiefs got rid of the local King with the support of the British and handed over to the British assuming the Chiefs could play a larger ensuring the country’s safety. Unfortunately, only too late were the brutalities of being a colony under the British realised. Sri Lanka lost its independence due to internal weaknesses, at the heart of which was the lack of unity. If united as one, Sri Lankans can focus their energy to empower the people, and with the right skill sets, achieve great heights.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe made an important remark on the 67th Independence Day: “We have now, once again arrived at a period, during which we could realise that objective. Groups that represent diverse communities, following different religions, political parties, civil organisations and various groups came together onto one platform, shedding their differences to achieve a common objective for the benefit of the nation.”

To create a common unity among the different ethnic groups and reconciliation should remain a top priority.

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#4823, 2 February 2015
Sri Lanka: A Silent Revolution
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Sri Lanka
 

The dramatic build-up to the Presidential election in Sri Lanka on 08 January 2015 turned out a silent revolution. The common candidate who ran against the then President Rajapaksa was from within his Government. President Sirisena’s intended crossover pre-election was planned in utmost silence. Earlier commentaries published under this column over 2014 also reflected this trend in the regime’s character. "Stronger Democratic Values for a Better Tomorrow" and "Train to Jaffna" demonstrated why a largely popular regime could lose its governance focus despite being the very regime that ended a three-decade war. Both these commentaries were questioned by the former secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs as to why this author’s expression illustrated sentiments against government policies. In response, this author maintained that these were recommendations to the government to strengthen its democratic values, and questioning questionable policy was one’s right to the freedom of expression. This month’s column is written in a free political environment.
 
Less than 500,000 votes gave President Sirisena his victory. Much of the voter base responsible for the political overhaul lay in the majority of the minority population and the rest on the floating vote and new voters featuring strongly the social media generation. Over the final three weeks of the election campaign, social media was used as a tool to expose the Rajapaksa regime of allegations which could not be effectively countered on the same platform. Of nearly 1.5 million users of social media active on the election platform, a majority expressed the need for change by voting or otherwise. This was the silent revolution similar to the format in many places that toppled strong regimes, such as in the Middle East, and geographically closest to Sri Lanka, India.
 
This change expressed by voters was democratically achieved. The new interim budget introduced this year isa great relief to many common citizens who would feel great relief from the high cost of living. The RTI (Right to Information Act), repealing of 18th amendment and bringing back the 17th amendment to secure Independent Commissions will cement the aim towards good governance and restoring citizen power. After RTI, websites such as ipaidabribe.lk that report on corruption and quantify the amount of corruption could be strengthened like in India. Political corruption could be minimised by introducing new tools, for example for the Election Commissioner to understand the growth of assets of individual political candidates, to analyse the difference of asset growth from election to election, and to see the growth of assets of politicians. RTI will also give power to ordinary citizens to question the ministries, provincial, local councils and departments of their budget allocation and spending.

Sri Lanka, with its new administration, will need to do some serious reforms especially to strengthen the loss-making institutions, fight corruption and introduce meritocracy at all levels. The journey from 2009 after winning the war from a factor-driven economy to a efficiency-driven economy is an improvement but to qualify to the next level - an innovation-driven economy – energy must be focused on producing the best knowledge workers and invest in innovation and R&D. Sri Lanka, with its ancient history, was a nation of great engineers who built amazing irrigation systems. This will have to be emulated to restart its role in innovation by creating the right eco system.

The importance of innovation to a society was discussed at the foot hills of Davos earlier in January 2015, where this author participated as a Young Global Leader from Sri Lanka. The World Economic Forum was founded more than four decades ago by Prof Klaus Schwab, a visionary who got the great minds of the world to Davos to discuss global issues and design solutions. This time, the theme was "the new global context." It is evident that the horrors by many terrorist extremist groups, the economic instability and social political changes that are taking place are the reasons for a new global context with a better vision and direction by our leaders. The massacres in Paris, Nigeria and Peshawar threaten democratic values. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “This year has started with a bang that shook us to the core. This terrible attack against Jewish citizens, journalists and police forces in Paris shows us all that we are facing challenges that don’t stop at the borders of Europe.” The millions that rallied in France with forty world leaders was a great example of the existing strength to preserve the true values of democracy. Trust is another area that needs to improve. As Prof Schwab said, "How can we restore trust in our future in our institutions? Trust is not only related to ethical behaviour. Trust means a leadership responsibility, where you respond to the needs of those who have trusted you with leadership." The contribution from science and technology discussions explained many developments in information management, DNA, robotics, brain science and many more including the neural processing units (NPU) that will transform the computational processing when commercialised this year.

2015 ushers in an era that strengthens the citizen’s power through technology. It was clear from the usage of social media in the Sri Lankan elections. The traditional processes of election rallies and massive political campaigns played a negative role as most citizens are owners of a super computer in their hand. The processing power of today's smart phone is equal to a super computer of several decades ago. The transition manifested in Sri Lanka’s political overhaul towards good governance. This transfer of power to the citizens is a positive thatmust be strengthened and used to its fullest over the coming months and years.

As Rousseau says "Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains" - it seems modern technology has helped to break the chains and empower individuals for the silent revolution.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect those of the government of Sri Lanka or the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Sri Lanka.

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#4793, 5 January 2015
Sri Lanka: Stability in 2015
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, LKIIRSS, Sri Lanka
 

“Heroes are our guides in our journey towards freedom. Their lives and history are what makes our goal firm….let us light the fire of ambition in our hearts on this holy day,” said Prabhakaran, the ruthless terrorist leader of the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. Such words were content to his Heroes Day speech on 27 November, 2001. Eight years later, the incumbent Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated Prabhakaran’s deadly military machine. This military defeat saw the decline of the idea of regional autonomy or the Tamil Eelam – win previously deemed impossible.

The eradication of the scourge of terrorism and barbarity in warfare is a tall task. The recent Peshawar attacks stand testimony to this. Violence against the innocents continues, even as we stepped into a new year. As the New Year begins its important to think about the world we have created; the killing of innocent children was disgraceful. As the most intelligent of species on our planet, the brutalities of our past and present make it evident that the time to strengthen a culture of values and protect our social fabric from the scourge of brutality, is now.

The Peshawar massacre is not alien to the South Asian or Sri Lankan cases. In Sri Lanka, the LTTE terrorists massacred innocent children when those children were asleep in remote villages. Sri Lanka won its battle against terrorism by sacrificing many lives, but it is not removed from the larger struggle of the world towards defeating terrorism. Terrorism in  anywhere should be addressed and defeated. The priority of the world’s agenda for the next decade should be to create a safe world for its inhabitants. Without this, economic and individual prosperity would be a difficult task.

When political systems fail to adjust to change, social instabilities may occur. The incumbent Sri Lankan president continued the political system with nearly 100 ministers introduced by the former president. The opposition campaign targets corruption and lack of good governance in the present regime. The importance of establishing the independent bribery commission and other commissions could be considered because they are the fundamentals in a democracy – and need strengthening. Loss-making government institutions have to be revived and strengthened. Meritocracy has to be introduced in all levels of governance. Instead of making ad hoc decisions, foreign policies must be formulated after incorporating research inputs instead of making ad hoc decisions. All these areas need development to achieve the $7500 per capita income by 2020.

In the build-up to the 8 January presidential polls, the political landscape has been volatile. Political crossovers have exceeded the maximum threshold levels. While it appears that these decisions were made to improve people’s lives, it is worth questioning as to whether decisions to switch sides were made with the consent of those who elected them. People vote for their representatives looking at their policies and political affiliations. How could elected representatives change sides without the consent of the very people who elected them to office? This crossover of politicians is a way of plundering votes and should not be encouraged as it will further deteriorate the political culture; a trust deficit with the political system is building among the people.

On 8 January, these very people will elect their new president. Different polls predict different outcomes but concur on the likelihood of a very small margin. This author believes that even if the joint opposition candidate, Maithripala Sirisena, wins, he will miss the country’s target for two reasons:

Firstly, due to the coalition he has built with the former president and many others. In the event of an electoral victory, once the euphoria of the polls ceases, such a cocktail of political cultures will find it difficult to establish a common ground to work together to take the country forward.

Secondly, dismantling the system of the Executive Presidency. The promise of the removal of the executive presidency in 100 days is promising but the strategy afterwards is vague and unclear. After the proverbial 100 days, voters will find themselves being led by a different leader than the person they have trusted their vote in. The current opposition’s post-election strategy is limited in its pragmatic capacity.

President Rajapaksa, who surgically removed the terrorist tumor by an invasive surgery – a task his three predecessors failed at – will still carry more weight. The ongoing run-up to the polls is a necessary eye-opener to President Rajapaksa. The present government, despite its strengths, needs to commit to strict rules to tidy the country’s political culture and introduce better governance.

George Orwell's 1945 classic, ‘Animal Farm’, where the animals decided to rebel against the farmer and restore a new and better order, is a good example of today's political climate. What Orwell tried to demonstrate in his book was as to how easily political dogma can be turned into malleable propaganda. It is therefore important to understand the changes we wish to bring to our system, and the risk of political instability if we do a total system change.

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#4765, 3 December 2014
Sri Lanka: Making a Case for Change
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Sri Lanka
 

The final month of the year 2014 began with the news of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. He was found not guilty of the massacre of civilians who protested for his overthrow in the 2011 Arab Spring. Society’s expectation for a total change in political culture was proven difficult to materialise due to numerous issues, of which Egypt is an example.

In the political landscape of Sri Lanka, as previously predicted, the presidential race begins on the road to the polls with a decision to be taken on 8 January 2015. Senior party member Maithreepala Sirisena, a member of the President’s own party, crossed over to challenge him as the opposition common candidate. The common candidacy presents a grand coalition of political forces. The joint opposition coalition harnesses the support of former President Chandrika Bandaranayake and the opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe. It promises an overhaul of contemporary political culture within a 100 days of assuming Presidency. The centre of this change lies in the abolition of the Executive Presidency.

A total change of the system is still to be implemented and its possibility remains curtailed due to the strength of the present Executive Presidential system. In implementing total system change, it is necessary to foresee its consequences and evaluate the practical aspects of the new system being implemented. To curtail or minimise the existing powers of the Presidency rather than going for a total system change is an option. Total system change is a gamble. It may be beneficial or could dismantle the development process and weaken existing political systems. The Executive Presidency has helped defeat terrorism; however, it is arguable that the very reason for the emergence of the conflict were these same Executive Powers. The 1982 extension of the parliamentary term without election is an example of the danger of this Presidency at play.

At the foothills of the Himalayas, the 18th SAARC summit showcased heated geopolitics. Pakistan's bid to invite China as a full member caused much speculation from neighbouring India. Reflecting on the words of former President JR Jayawardena at the inception of SAARC summit:  "We are setting this ship afloat today. There may be mutiny on board, I hope not. The sea may be stormy but the ship must sail in and enter the ports of poverty, hunger, unemployment, malnutrition, disease and seek to bring comfort to those who need it." SAARC should focus on improving living standards of the poorest in the region. Focus should lie on economic prosperity to the bottom of the pyramid, improving trade and infrastructure. In its thirty year history SAARC summits have been convened eleven times. Rivalry between member nations such as India and Pakistan limit the regional integration SAARC represents.

In this backdrop, Sino-South Asian engagement intensifies. AIIB projects such as the Maritime Silk Road continue on a budget of thirty billion dollars. During the summit, South Asian infrastructure development was promised by China’s Vice Foreign Minister, Madam Fu Ying. Chinese presence strengthens in regions such as the Middle East and Africa. Dubai is home to over 4,000 Chinese companies with trade without oil trade reaching $40 billion. Both partake in a bilateral strategic relationship. An ongoing African railway project through Chinese investments extends from Nairobi to Mombasa with plans to extend to Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan. It is estimated to reach $100 billion Chinese investment by 2020. Such economic moves by China align with its target to become the world’s largest economy by 2025. Despite waves of Chinese political history shutting the nation out of the global sphere, China has made a giant comeback. Moving three hundred million Chinese citizens from a state of poverty to the middle income bracket is a remarkable domestic achievement. Domestic reform was not the result of sudden action but steady consistent reforms over time.

Democracy is necessary in order to preserve individual freedom and expand a nation’s power through free thought. Sri Lanka comes from a rich democratic culture and is progressing from being an economy that was factor-driven to being efficiency-driven. It should focus its strategy over the next three decades on graduating towards an innovation-driven economy. The people lie at the core of this economic shift. Outstanding political manifestos and rhetoric limited to a handful are redundant in the long term. 40 per cent students failing at GCE O/L is a warning for strategic investment in improving education quality and increasing budgets for R&D as it is connected. In a simple example, the investment in scientist engineers’ education will pave the way for future innovation. The economy is not a slot machine. Investments in casino projects are short-term, however investments in education, innovation and human resources to facilitate an innovation-driven economy is for the long-term. With developed human capital we will be able to tap few areas in the global value chain.

Blaise Pascal says “Man’s grandeur is that he knows himself to be miserable, grandeur must be abandoned to be appreciated. Continuity in everything is unpleasant.” Between grandeur and misery people aspire for betterment and continue the struggle to retain the richness left in democracy.

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#4726, 4 November 2014
Connecting Sri Lanka: Train to Jaffna
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Sri Lanka
 

On 09 November, the world will remember the fall of the Iron Curtain. Twenty five years from this date the Berlin Wall was dismantled; this iconic moment triggered the end of the Cold War. One may wonder what journey a contemporary super power such as the US has navigated for the last twenty five years and if this same process will occur in the case of China emerging as the next super power. The Economist indicators support that Asia’s export share has doubled from 18 per cent in 1980 to 36 per cent in 2013. The month of November will also commence with an important discussion on the re-emergence of the ancient Chinese Maritime Silk Road. This seminar on the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR)” with Sri Lankan and Chinese scholars will be held in Sri Lanka. The Chinese President’s proposal on the revival of the ancient Maritime Silk Road was fully supported by the Sri Lankan President several months ago. MSR is of importance to the island of Sri Lanka, due to its geo-strategic position at the centre of the Silk Road. It is important to ponder on the balancing role Sri Lanka plays between China and India, as within the scope of development in this country, China is heavily present in the South and India present in the North.
 
On the note of development within the country, the Yal Devi (Queen of Jaffna) Train resumed operations from Colombo to Jaffna after 24 years. Re-starting on 13 October, it marked a landmark in railway links between South and North of Sri Lanka. This rail link was constructed in 1905 under British colonial rule. On the present day the India Railway Construction International (IRCON), an Indian railway subsidiary, completed the restoration of the railway lines with a cost of Rupees 58 billion, on the basis of financial assistance from India. President Mahinda Rajapaksa inaugurated the new railway line. When speaking to the media at the event, the President said, “This effort will connect hearts of the people in south and north and this was the main aim of the new railway to the north after liberating north from the LTTE control.” The LTTE bombed the Yal Devi train at Kokavil on 19 January 1985 killing 34 people and destroying train tracks, which disrupted connectivity. Providing transport to the North is a good deed; however one may question how far physical infrastructure helps in connecting the hearts and minds of the people. Infrastructure development to create access to different parts of the island could provide economic benefits to those localities that were deprived of development due to the three-decade war. However, there are many other factors apart from physical infrastructure that could help to connect on a mental and humane level as citizens of a single nation. Strengthening the reconciliation process, implementing the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) recommendations and working towards fully implementing the13th amendment devolution of powers to other parts are important areas to focus on. While you may need one set of values to succeed in war, it takes another set of values for the post war scenario. The values the government possesses in the post war context from 2009 to the present day are debatable.

In matters of governance, incidents such as the Aluthgama riot with the Muslim community and the recent diplomatic chaos in New York will definitely create a negative impact, and does not create a positive image outside the country. Outside the boundaries of the nation yet directly affecting it, the ban against the LTTE was lifted in European Union. The late Lakshman Kadirgamar, was an astute foreign minister who worked tirelessly to ban the LTTE in many nations. One of the greatest achievements during President Chandrika Bandaranayke’s administration was this ban on the LTTE. In lifting the ban on this ruthless terrorist group that assassinated many innocent people indiscriminately, the future consequences of this act towards the country and the entire world should be evaluated.
 
Closer to the day-to-day lives of Sri Lankans; the government budget proposal was presented to parliament a week ago. The considerable increase in expenditure and inadequate evidence to increase revenue is evident. The projected fiscal deficit of 4.2 per cent of GDP is unlikely to be realised with the rise of expenditure. One of the key areas that budget does not focus on is research and development of the country, a primary area towards the five-hub strategy. The Rupees 500 million budget for research and development is insufficient in the serious development of an important sector. Staying focused on maintaining power seems in this case more important than policy matters, as judging by the latest budget proposals. The election budget and accelerated development in the North such as the new train line could be due to plans for early presidential elections in January 2015.

Connecting to win the hearts and minds of all communities of the Island will be challenging after three decades of war but this is achievable with the right strategies and processes by the government.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect those of the government of Sri Lanka or the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Sri Lanka.

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#4685, 6 October 2014
Stronger Democratic Values for a Better Tomorrow
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Sri Lanka
 

In the last few months, geopolitical instability has resurfaced in Eurasia and the Middle East. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressing the World Economic Forum special meeting on Unlocking Resources for Regional Development in Istanbul stated: “Terrorism is not regional its global now and it has threaten the entire global peace.” He strongly condemned the ISIS for the current tumorous situation in Iraq and Syria.

Moussa Mara, Prime Minister of Mali said, “Islam is a religion of peace and must not be seen as an instrument of terror.” Calling for a concerted international response to the global cancer of terrorism, he urged for greater efforts by Islamic countries to explain Islam’s underlying precepts. Many speakers emphasised the importance of creating a stable and peaceful region. The author of this article was a participant at this important regional forum.

The battle against ISIS is escalating with aerial bombing by the US forces in Iraq and Syria. According to the Turkish President nearly 1.5 million refugees have entered the Turkish border for shelter and protection. Turkey with its geostrategic location surrounded by Europe, Middle East, North Africa and Eurasia has been experiencing significant growth over the past decade of about 5 per cent annually despite the global financial crisis. Structural reforms and macroeconomic stability have sustained the growth and the rising living standards. Additionally, the Turkey will be the forthcoming G20 Chair. The ongoing ISIS crisis in Middle East region could affect its economy and impact global trade. The ISIS threat is a serious threat to world peace. The international community needs to support the campaign against this extremist group.

Terrorism in any part of the world should be considered a serious threat. The Sri Lankan military battled for three-decades with one of the most brutal terrorist organisations, the LTTE, and was successful in defeating them. The country has lived through the threat of terrorism and has felt the bitter pain of dealing with the terrorist issue. The Sri Lankan economy has grown since 2009, which is when the war ended. The growth of GDP and new infrastructure such as highways, ports and airports could be seen. However the individual per capita increase is a cause for concern among the public who have not experienced it due to a rise in the cost of living.

In the last few months in Sri Lanka several provincial elections were held and the entire nation focused on elections and political talk shows, but the voter turn-out at was less than 50 per cent; in some provinces an even lower percentage was evident. This indicates the trust deficit between the public and the politicians or the lack of interest in the overall system, which could surface to become a serious issue. According to the 2014 Edelman trust barometer there is rise in trust towards NGOs and decrease in trust towards the government. In South Asia, with rising political corruption due to the lack of good governance, trust has decreased between the public and governments. Punishing corrupt politicians as done in India, such as the powerful South Indian Chief Minister Ms Jayalalitha, is a good example of the strong anti-corruption institutions and mechanisms prevalent in India. Such action could restore the trust deficit between elected representatives and the public. It is important that the South Asian region should try to end this generation of corrupt politicians.

Now the political discussion has begun on the next presidential election in Sri Lanka, as many believe the government will go for an early election beginning of next year. The process and the legitimacy for President Rajapaksa to contest for the third term has been questioned and a discussion forum called “Mahinda can” was created by a few intellectuals. One should realise the repercussions of constitutional amendments to extend term limits and the benefit s that could bring to the nation. Sri Lanka’s image as a rich democratic nation in the rest of the world could be questioned, but some may argue that it is better to have the third term as it provides political stability. The 18th Amendment has further strengthened executive power and made checks and balances weak. One may wonder as to what the other coalition political parties under the government would say. Even in the Philippines a recent survey was conducted to extend President Aquino’s term limit; around six in ten Filipinos are not in favour to amend the 1987 Constitution. This may be due to the fear of creating another autocratic leader such as Ferdinand Marcos.

The three-pronged approach discussed - fighting terrorism, establishing good governance and constitutional reform - is to secure or restore the rights of people, not to take away what was given. Through good governance, extremism, which leads to terrorism, can be minimised. As the world celebrates global dignity day on the 15 October, it would be important to respect different communities to create a peaceful dignified world with stronger democratic institutions to preserve and secure liberty.

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#4637, 1 September 2014
Sri Lanka and China: Towards Innovation Driven Economies
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, LKIIRSS, Sri Lanka.
 

September begins with summer Davos in Tianjin, China, themed, ‘Creating Value through Innovation’; and over 1,500 participants from 90 countries will be in attendance. The discussion will be on how innovation can generate more and better value for all stakeholders of our society. China has given top priority for innovation. Last year too, the theme for the same conference was on innovation. Recently, presiding over a meeting of the Central Politburo of the Communist Party of China, President Xi Jinping said the Chinese military must make great leaps in development and innovation so as to close the gap with its better-developed peers in the world. He urged the military to innovate in military strategies and management. This statement is a clear indication of China’s development of its military strength. Growth in innovation, research and development has become a top priority for the Chinese economy.

Last week, at the National IT conference, this author spoke on a similar topic: Sri Lanka’s journey towards an innovation driven economy. The topic was discussed along with talks on the bottlenecks, such as low budget allocation for research and development, plaguing the industry In Sri Lanka, a very nominal amount of annual expenditure – 0.5 per cent – is allocated for research and development purposes. There are many research institutes in the country without proper funding. While the country is moving towards a five hub development strategy, it is important to focus on improving the research and development sector.

According to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's policy statement, it has been envisaged to make the country a regional hub in five areas. This will transform Sri Lanka into a strategically important economic center. The five hubs are: knowledge hub, commercial hub, maritime hub, aviation hub and an energy hub. The idea is to use the geographically strategic position of the country as an advantage to achieve the five hub status. Sri Lanka’s post war economic growth rate is positive and the country is moving from a factor driven economy to an efficiency driven economy.

On this journey it is important to concentrate on strengthening the second layer that includes institutions of the society. Government institutions and administration has to be strengthened to achieve results from the five hub development strategy. There are issues such as corruption, governance problems and the need to transform loss-making public institutions into profit-making ones. These are only some of the challenges the government has to overcome.

To achieve the status of a knowledge hub, Colombo needs to improve its education sector, especially at a university level. 40 per cent of high school students fail mathematics, and we need to improve the quality of teachers and facilities required for schools. Many students are unable to enroll in universities owing to lack of seats; this needs to change.

If Sri Lanka continues with its present growth rate for the next two decades, the country could become a high income nation. It's important to develop the five hubs. Many regional nations promote the hub concept as well, and, as a result, the competition for this status will be very high.

Hambantota port, being developed with Chinese assistance, will play a pivotal role owing to its location at the center of the Maritime Silk Road.. As the aviation hub, Sri Lanka has already developed the second International Airport in the south of the Island. The significant increase of tourist inflows, from 200,000 to a 10, 00,000 within few years after the war is a major achievement.

The Chinese president’s historical visit with 150 top officials and business leaders will be another significant event in September. The Sri Lanka-China Free Trade Agreement, to be signed during the president’s visit will be an iconic moment and a leap forward for the relationship of both nations in over 60 years. The agreement is supposed to cover wide areas such as trade, services, tariffs, market access in China, diversifying Sri Lanka’s exports and overall enhancement of the country's export potential. China is the 18th export market for Sri Lanka, with $121 million in exports and imports worth $3 billion. To Sri Lanka, this is an extremely unfavorable trade deficit that needs to be addressed.

Sri Lanka is moving towards becoming a higher income nation by 2040 with a per capita estimation of above $22,000. China and Sri Lanka with their close strategic collaborations should work towards moving from efficiency driven economies to an innovation driven economies. As the entire focus is on economic development, it is also important to focus on reconciliation to create a harmonious society in Sri Lanka. The government could consider initiating a new ministry for reconciliation and diaspora affairs to undertake the new mandate of promoting, designing and implementing reconciliation efforts. The development of strategies to re-engage with the disconnected Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora will be another important area the new ministry could work on. 

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#4595, 4 August 2014
India-Sri Lanka: Strengthening Regional Cooperation
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Sri Lanka
 

August marks the death anniversary of the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, a remarkable Foreign Minister brutally assassinated by the LTTE. He once said, “India and Sri Lanka relationship is lost in the mist of time,” which signifies the deep bond that the two nations share. The gift of Buddhism is perhaps the most enduring of all ties and lays the foundation for this long-rooted friendship. The most sacred symbols of Buddhism - the Sacred Tooth, a relic of Lord Buddha gifted by King Guhaseeva, and the sapling of Sri Maha Bo tree in Anuradhapura, which is believed to be from the same tree under which the Buddha attained Nirvana - were gifted from India. South Indian kings ruled the island nation from time to time. The last few kings who ruled the Island were Nayakkar kings. Yet, they protected the Sacred Tooth relic and respected Buddhist values and Sinhalese culture.
 
Despite the shared history, culture and religion, India-Sri Lanka relations in the present context is discussed with regard to three key areas: the India’s position on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, its stand with regard to the UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka, and the fishermen issue in Tamil Nadu. One of the main topics of discussion between President Rajapaksa and the newly appointed Prime Minister of India Mr Narendra Modi was the 13th Amendment. Sri Lanka was advised to fully implement the 13th Amendment.
 
Among the many challenges that the Sri Lanka-India relationship faces at present, the Tamil Nadu fishermen issue has gained widespread attention. When Indian fishermen illegally violate the maritime boundary of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan Navy arrests and detains them. A few days ago, 50 such fishermen were arrested. According to news reports, 93 fishermen are currently under arrest and detention in Sri Lanka. In a context in which territorial boundaries are located in close proximity, these types of issues can happen. Failure to agree on a suitable solution by both countries will only result in continuation of this problem.
 
In finding a solution to the fishermen issue neither Sri Lanka nor the Government of India can ignore South India. During his recent visit to Colombo, Dr Subramaniam Swamy, one of the most influential policy advisors to the BJP Government said, “One weakness in India’s policy towards Sri Lanka is the veto power Tamil Nadu has.” Explaining further, he suggested that this situation will not remain the same under the current government. Even though this is a positive remark for Sri Lanka, one cannot ignore the fact that South India is Sri Lanka’s closest neighbour.
 
As the tension between South India and Sri Lanka heightened after the war, strong remarks were made by both sides. This affected the Sri Lanka-India relationship. In order to avoid such a situation in the future, it is important to count the concerns of Tamil Nadu in finding a solution to the fishermen issue.
 
One technical way of mitigating and minimising this issue could be by introducing strict regulations on fisheries’ practices such as having a vessel monitoring system (VMS) with transponders on board all the vessels. That gives the ability for the coast guards from both nations to monitor the path of the vessels. Geo fencing to determine the boundary between the two nations can also be used. This would help in preventing any illegal vessel from entering each other’s territorial water. This in turn will help to identify and minimise bottom trolling to protect the marine environment. Declaring the maximum amount of fish to catch would control excessive over fishing (Quota Management System). There are many technical measures that could ease tensions between the two countries.
 
India should have strong and close relations with all its neighbours to achieve its goal as a regional economic power. The SAARC meeting due in November would be a good opportunity for the newly appointed Indian Government to strengthen its bond and take some important decisions beneficial to both India and to the South Asian region as a whole.
 
In terms of the future goals of SAARC, it has been discussed that its future progress depends heavily on bordering countries such as Pakistan and India overcoming deep-rooted ethnic conflict. SAARC does have the potential to be a platform for increased communication and engagement over these issues. Prime Minister Modi’s proposal of having a common satellite for the SAARC region would be one initial step. As a Nepalese newspaper recently reported, the reduction in the soap industry ingredient import tariff in India would flood the Nepalese market with Indian soap, which could destroy the Nepalese soap manufacturers. While trade is one of the areas in which SAARC can strengthen its ties, it should be done in a way that is mutually beneficial and helpful to all the SAARC countries.  
 
The behaviour of South Asian countries clearly indicate that they are derived more from a nationalistic agenda. While looking inward is important for a country, it should also note that improving and strengthening regional cooperation among the South Asian Nations is equally important in this globalised world.

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#4551, 7 July 2014
Sri Lanka: A New Melody for Nation-building
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Sri Lanka
 

The month of June marked the first International Seminar on South Asia Development organised by the Xinhua news agency in Hong Kong, where this author was invited to speak on the topic of Sri Lanka at the centre of the Maritime Silk Road (MSR). On the same day of the seminar, Pakistan suffered a terrorist attack on Karachi Airport. Sri Lanka’s international airport was attacked in 2001 by LTTE terrorists in a similar manner. After three decades of combat with one of the world’s worst terrorist organisations, Sri Lanka can share its experience in fighting terrorism. The importance of fighting terrorism together with the nations of the Maritime Silk Road cannot be ignored.

In the current context of a very uncertain global stage, many parts of the world are being targeted by organised terrorist groups. In Tikrit and Mosul for example, thousands have been massacred by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s militants from the Islam State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). More than 150 children have been kidnapped, many others have been recruited as child soldiers, and the ISIS has appointed its own administration. The rise of the non-state actor is clear. The national security threat is spreading to many regional nations due to militant groups such as the ISIS. States should work together to combat such threats rather than evade the situation.

In the south of Sri Lanka, Buddhists and Muslims have clashed due to extremism within the society. While the majority of the society focuses on building a harmonious community with space for ethnic and religious reconciliation, this incident has created a negative image of Sri Lanka on a local and global scale. With all positive economic indicators and a record growth in the tourism industry, a negative image globally could have adverse consequences on the country. As reconciliation is essential to the progress and development of Sri Lanka, other non-violent ways to address societal issues must be found. Terrorism cannot be answered by terrorism. Instead, the government must work towards curbing extremist elements that give prominence to nationalistic ideas, which disturb the county’s social fabric. Nationalism is used to guard and protect one’s own identity.

Sri Lanka should use the influence of nationalism to address serious issues such as the decline in the use of Sinhala and Tamil languages in younger and future generations. With approximately 40,000 students enrolled, 90 per cent of whom are Sri Lankans, the international schools in the country have become a popular choice for schooling. Sinhala or Tamil, however, are only offered as an optional language taught once a week and not calculated into the grade point average. Without proper incentives to learn the language, the outcome is that most children from these schools are unable to read or write in their own dialect: Sinhala or Tamil. Language has the power to provide a connection to a culture and loyalty to a nation. Without it, people are not as tied to the country, and are not afraid to leave for work. The lack of knowledge of one’s own language is a directly related to the growth of the brain drain. This should be looked at as a serious issue. Nationalism should focus on cultural aspects such as protection of the language instead of concentrating on creating disharmony among different groups within society.

While the government faces many internal challenges such as the southern riots, it also faces external issues from the UNHRC. The high level committee was appointed and will advise the team set up to conduct a comprehensive investigation of alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka. The question is, will the government cooperate and allow the team to enter the country to proceed with the investigation? After the announcement of the experts by UNHRC, the Finnish President was talked about on the front page of a local newspaper as “Bribe-taker Ahtisaari to probe SL.” This is not a positive note. The next Presidential election marks the third round of President Rajapaksa. The news that Rajapaksa will be the first Executive President to contest for the third time was also discussed in the political columns.

In order to assist the reconciliation process, the government of Sri Lanka has invited Special Envoy Cyril Ramaposha from South Africa. Some groups inside the government coalition, however, are against outside assistance. It is seen in a negative light by some in the government and public. Furthermore, the USAID program for Citizen Education on voting was stopped by the government as it was seen as a threat to the sovereignty of the nation. The tension is high with the accumulation of internal and external pressure. Amidst this tension, President Rajapaksa invited President Xi Jinping to visit the country as a move towards strengthening bilateral relations with China.

As Rabindranath Tagore says “When old words die out on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart; and where the old tracks are lost, new country is revealed with its wonders.” Sri Lanka could find a better and new melody in the post war era, which will create a better society.

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#4487, 3 June 2014
Asia Pacific: Reset for Qualitative Change
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, LKIIRSS, Sri Lanka
 

Permeated by many turbulent events in May 2014, East Asia served as the milieu for events from the coup d'état in Thailand, to maritime cooperation for the Indonesia-Vietnam boundary between President Susilo and the Prime Minister of Vietnam, all on the backdrop of the World Economic Forum in East Asia in Manila. Indonesia, the largest Muslim democracy in Southeast Asia, was at the center stage. During the forum, outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono received the Statesmanship Award, and many of his achievements during his decade of Presidency were discussed. During his speech, President Susilo made direct reference to China regarding the East China Sea emphasising that “…any disputes including maritime border tension can be resolved peacefully - not with the use of military might which [may] endanger stability and peace in our region.”

East Asia, with a population of 600 million, which is roughly double the size of the US, is planning to build a US$4.3 trillion economy with a single market in the next several years. The challenges to achieve these targets, however, are many. The infrastructure to link many ASEAN countries is weak, poverty rates are high, and rates of corruption are staggering. It is important to move away from the present culture of high corruption, to a better culture that fosters development of regional framework to fight corruption. Countries should not confine to their own boundaries but work collaboratively. The point of intersection between countries has to be improved. President Benigno Aquino in his remarks stated his leadership to introduce good governance to Philippines to dismantle corruption is commendable with the improving positive economic indicators.

In the Eurasian region, a Sino-Russian partnership for US$400 billion for energy for the next three decades has been signed, and the sophisticated Russian military missile system has been given to the Chinese government. There are signs of China and Russia moving towards a strategic relationship in the very near future.

There is now a tripolar world with US, Russia, and China in the new equation. The Maritime Silk Road (MSR) to the South China Sea, disputes with Japan, and the placement of a Chinese oil rig in Vietnamese waters, are a few of the events that have raised many eyebrows.

According to geopolitical analyst Robert Kaplan, “This is a region that’s going to be on the boil for years and years to come. Seas crowded with warships, submarines, merchant shipping, fifth generation fighter jets – that can easily create incidents that in turn could enable a crisis.” In Seoul during his Asia visit, President Obama said that China “has to abide by certain norms” when it comes to its quarrels with neighbours. With all the notable events that have taken place in this part of the region, the US pivot to Southeast Asia cannot be negated.

In India, Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been sworn in as the new Prime Minister. The Indian public believes that he can deliver rapid growth in the country as he did in his 13-year tenure as Chief Minister of Gujrat. However, India has many internal challenges to consider first. Nearly half the country’s households lack basic access to electricity. Modern infrastructure is underdeveloped. Creation of job opportunities through a large manufacturing sector, especially for its young population aged 15-34 – which is around 400 million people making up one-third of the population – amidst rising corruption, is an obstacle. These are some of the major challenges for the new government. The question is, does India need a total reset on its many internal and external challenges?

Sri Lanka, with whom India’s has had a love affair since the days of the Mahabharata, always sends a tiny ripple towards India. A line in an Indian newspaper before the Geneva HR Council vote on Sri Lanka was, “Will Ceylon become a Cyclone to India?” The Sri Lankan President’s visit for the swearing-in ceremony created certain political turmoil in South India and Sri Lanka’s Northern Province Chief Minister Vigneswaran. Despite the stormy atmosphere, both leaders, PM Modi and President Rajapaksa, held successful talks as both possess high resilience levels when facing challenges. Hopefully, an improved and stronger relationship between both countries is on the cards in the coming years, not cyclones.

All of these episodes, however, have failed to address one fundamental issue: bringing qualitative change to the people living around the world. How can one thrive in a world where 1 billion people go to bed hungry each night? Can progress be made in a global community where 1.2 billion of the poorest people on the planet account for just 1 per cent of global consumption? 1 billion people are without food and 1 billion who are obese. 85 of the richest people in the world have as much wealth as 3.5 billion of the poorest. The inequality gap is widening every day. So, is a world of 9 billion people to be catered to in the future? This is a topic that should be looked at seriously. World leaders must look to improve points of intersection between countries, rather than focus on internal boundaries with nationalism or hubris. Does every country need to reset its strategies to bring that qualitative change?

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#4423, 5 May 2014
Ethnic Reconciliation: Learning from the Rwandan Experience
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Sri Lanka
 

In May 2014, the nation of Rwanda commemorates the twentieth year of its brutal massacre.

In one of the most cruel and inhumane moments of history to date, the Hutus massacred 800,000 to 1 million Tutsis as well as moderate Hutus within a hundred days. President Clinton publicly apologised to the Rwandan government on a visit to the Rwandan capital, Kigali, in 1998, for not acting quickly enough and for not immediately identifying the crime of genocide. Furthermore, in what was widely seen as an attempt to diminish his responsibility, he said: "It may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost members of your family, but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror."

Today, yet another brutal episode in Syria is underway, where barrel bombs are being dropped on innocent civilians, and where haunting images of brutality, death and suffering are constantly circulating through social media. It is known that one Syrian dies every ten minutes, refugees are fleeing the country at an astonishing rate, and like in Rwanda, many of the most eminent world leaders are once more watching with little or no intervention. 

No matter how often the interconnectedness of a globalised world is articulated, the question remains: is the anguish of another nation really felt? It is important to note that the sovereignty of individual nations is not and should not be used as a shield of protection, especially when the global community attempts to alleviate crimes of this nature and magnitude.

The Rwandan government has chosen the path of reconciliation to forgive the perpetrators and move forward. Yet, the situation proves difficult. For instance, the 1000 women who were raped by HIV-infected people still live with the pain and agony of that traumatic experience and are unable to move on. Hence, the steps Rwanda has taken towards supporting and strengthening the reconciliation process stands as a commendable example to the rest of the international community. 

Sri Lanka faces a different situation. Thirty years of brutal terrorism wreaked havoc on the country and destroyed the lives of countless innocent Sri Lankans. Today, there is a need to strengthen the reconciliation process and build mechanisms to heal the wounds of ethnic conflict in such a way that it will never return.

While development is an important element, building a wholesome relationship with the Sri Lankan diaspora community is also essential. The tremendous work done by the Tamil and Sinhalese diaspora members should be recognised and spoken proudly of. It is important to consider a Ministry for Reconciliation and Diaspora Affairs with a mandate to work together with the international community. Currently, Sri Lankan migrants are handled by the Ministry of Foreign Employment. This ministry has so many migrant issues to attend to due to the many unskilled migrant workers seeking economic benefits overseas that it scarcely has time to prepare or plan diaspora re-engagement strategies. The proposed ministry could work on the processes of reconciliation and implement the LLRC recommendations on reconciliation. It could also bring in external partners such as Interpeace who have vast experience in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Liberia, Libya, Palestine, Rwanda, Somali Region and Timor-Leste. They could get involved with mutually agreed terms of reference (TOR) from both parties and work towards national reconciliation with the aid of expert advice.

Many stories of national disharmony in Sri Lankan society, especially after the war, are often heard. Some organisations create religious disharmony and this should be immediately addressed by the government, without which there would be complete and utter chaos. A religious harmony act that prohibits one religious group from disrespecting another could be formulated based on an existing model from a country like Singapore. Under this act, a religious group promoting hate speech against another could be arrested.

Rwanda, with its bitter past, is building a better future with many positive economic indicators. During this author’s visit to South Africa in 2013 for the World Economic Forum on Africa, it was learnt that it is now possible to study for a Carnegie Mellon degree from Rwanda. Under the leadership and vision of President Paul Kegame, Rwanda has established many cogent symbols to remember the past and educate its society. One such place is the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre established in 2004, a decade after the brutal massacre, and which more than 100, 000 visitors visit every year. In the words of President Kegame, "We cannot turn the clock back nor can we undo the harm caused, but we have the power to determine the future and to ensure that what happened never happens again." It is important to determine the future of many post-conflict nations and nations that are already going through conflict, whilst reflecting on and remembering the horrors that took place in Rwanda two decades ago.

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