What would be the stand likely to be taken by our Leader of the Opposition Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe in the event of a military putsch by the Army Commander Sarath Fonseka?
Political system was utterly corrupt, Sarath Fonseka would argue. Politicians had robbed the country, another stock argument in the justification of any military junta in the world. Furthermore, he would insist that there is no national problem as such but a problem of terrorism, which can only be defeated by military means, hence the current discourse on a political solution conveniently discarded.
Pakistan was suspended from the Commonwealth when Perves Musharraf, then the Army Commander of Pakistan deposed the popularly elected Navas Sherrif in 1999 on charges of corruption. Nevertheless, suspension was withdrawn five years later, on the strength of an assurance given by Pakistan to adhere to strict norms of the 53-member organization.
Last year, Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth on account of a military coup in that country. When Zimbabwe, where a long-standing autocracy perpetuated by their much-detested Prime Minister Robert Mugabe rigged the elections and grabbed the power for another term, Commonwealth resorted to the suspension of its membership from the Group. On none of these occasions has Sri Lanka ever raised any voice of dissent.
Last week when the Ministerial Committee of the Commonwealth held in Uganda suspended Pakistan for its failure to meet a deadline in lifting the state of emergency and restoring democracy, our Minister of Foreign Affaires, Rohitha Bogollagama who took part in the ministerial deliberations, assented. Hot on the heels of this sanction, interpreted as a faux pas by our government authorities, an emergency cabinet meeting convened to deliberate the issue made a special statement promptly retracting the stance taken earlier, and expressed Sri Lankan solidarity with the government of Musharraf. Meanwhile, our Opposition labeled Bogollagama as a traitor to the nation and demanded his immediate resignation.
We can understand Rajapakse government’s furious rejection of any sanction against Musharraf. At the moment, Pakistan is the friendliest country of Sri Lanka, whose supply line of military wherewithal is crucial in Sri Lanka’s raging war against the LTTE. So, for a government whose very survival depends solely on a much-anticipated military victory over the LTTE, cannot afford to lose a priceless friend, though a despicable dictatorship detested by its own people, like Pakistan.
But, how can our Opposition which is diametrically opposed to Rajapakse’s war mentality, and allege that the present war carried out by the Rajapakse government is nothing but a ruse to justify its anti-democratic trends and human rights violations, claim to be in favor of a ruler like Musharraf? How in their thinking, can Bogollagama’s acquiescence in sanctioning an autocrat be labeled as “treacherous” to the nation?
Our Opposition has no right to support Pakistan just because it happens to be the military supplier in our war efforts. For, they stand in principle for a political solution eschewing military options as non-viable. On the other hand, our Opposition portrays government’s war campaign as inefficient and full of corruption in acquiring military equipments; Mig 27 aircraft deal being one in the list of serious allegations of corruption. Mushrraf’s adventure in detaining Pakistani Chief Justice, civil activists, lawyers, academics- in short, political enemies of all hues- and declaring a state of emergency and refusing to renounce his commanding position in the Army (yesterday he relinquished it under severe international pressure) are being explained away in the name of combating terrorism. Human rights violations, abductions, killings and media suppression in Sri Lanka are also justified in the same manner under the banner “rescuing our motherland from the clutches of terrorism”.
Despite those similarities between the two countries, it should be stated in fairness to the Rajapakse government that Sri lanka is not yet a Pakistan. But, at the same time we should not overlook the probability of reaching that point at any moment unless we change our misleading track right in time.
In this backdrop, what our Opposition should have taken into consideration was not whether the goodwill of a friendly country -just because it was helping us in our military campaign- would be tarnished, but whether that country was respecting the accepted norms of the international community.
Already, 22 countries have suspended their trade transactions with Pakistan. Even US President George W Bush, who up to now steadfastly defended and sustained the Pakistani dictator in the name of his unwavering service in combating terrorism has stated in no uncertain terms that Musharraf should step down from his military throne and restore democratic rule in Pakistan.
Reason? Even the notorious “War On Terrorism” campaign by George W Bush does not need uncomfortable dictatorships anymore as buddies. Democratic governments can be used just as efficiently for the same purpose, which means Benazir Bhuto or Navaz Sherrif can be more legitimately called upon to service for the purpose of combating terrorism.
Some time back we were so rigidly moralistic in our foreign policy matters that we didn’t hesitate to punish all the cricketers who participated, without heeding a government ban, in a cricket match with the national team of apartheid South Africa. Until 1977 we had no diplomatic relations with Israel, in the belief that Israel was carrying out an aggressive policy against Palestinian people. In spite of the fact that the ideological divide between the two super powers at the time may have had some bearing on these foreign policy dimensions, some common sense of ethical norms also prevailed.
But present Sri Lankan foreign policy does not seem to be entertaining such lofty principles any more. It is rather some utilitarian attitude that is paramount in taking ad hoc decisions. While standing by democratic governance nationally, we can be at ease with despicable despots at international level. While professing to be championing the cause of law and order situation in society we can mobilize the support of underworld kingpins like Gonawala Sunil or Baddagana Sanjeeva to solidify that endeavor. (Both of them have sacrificed their lives for the country!)
For the last 25 years, Pakistan has been giving military aid to Sri Lanka. During that period, Pakistan has seen not only dictators but also democratic leaders in power. Just like the present dictator Musharraf, democratic leaders like Benazir Bhuto and Navas Sherrief too have come to the prompt aid of our government when requested. So, even if we look at the matter from the militaristic point of view of President Rajapakse, there is no reason to prop up Musharraf at the expense of Benazir Bhuto or Navas Sherrief.
Dear Leader of the Opposition, you who profess to be aiming at an alternative political culture in Sri Lanka should have defended not that dictator Musharraf but our Foreign Minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, who even by error had taken a correct stand on Pakistan. Just because he was once a traitor to your party should not have absolved a Musharraf who is a traitor to 160 million people, from his undemocratic sins!