BY Priyan Rajapaksa
Not long ago, an earthquake hit the Kermadec Islands and tsunami warnings were issued. Thankfully, only minor waves reached New Zealand, which lies some 800 kilometres away from the islands.
Earthquakes occur due to pressure building up under the planet’s tectonic plates and escaping through weak points. That’s nature’s way of reliving pressure.
As creations of nature, humankind follows similar destructive paths. When pressure builds up due to natural causes or man-made conditions, we resort to war, destroy everything in our path and rebuild our lives on the ashes.
Ten percent of New Zealand’s population served in the First World War and the country has tried to avoid war ever since. It defied the US and ANZUS defence treaty, and went nuclear free in the 1980s.
There is a tragic pattern in the affairs of humankind that propels us to war every 100 years or so. I thought Sri Lanka had a bellyful from the civil war that ended in 2009 and we had expectations that peace would reign in the long term. But alas, I see war clouds again.
Every year as Easter approaches, Sri Lankan newspapers reminisce about the defence of the country by foreign forces against Japanese air raids in April 1942. That never sounded right: why were foreign forces defending us?
Then reality hits: it’s because our country was not ours… since we were a colony. We are a small nation and in spite of great delusions of power, we’re still pawns on the chessboard of international politics.
We had no animosity towards the Japanese and vice versa. Japan attacked us only because of the British ships and aircraft stationed in what was then Ceylon. We lost our sovereignty because King Bhuvanaikabahu VII of Kotte wanted to pass his throne onto his grandson Dharmapala and swapped the poor boy’s chance of attaining Buddhist nirvana for a Catholic soul circa 1550.
I have no complaints about Dharmapala’s switch, other than having lost our independence, and becoming embroiled in European and world power plays.
Almost 80 years after the Japanese attack, I watch in horror as Sri Lanka knowingly or unknowingly is setting the stage again for some sort of military intervention in our land.
It’s not that the white, brown or yellow imperialist landlords like or hate us; they simply want our location. Ask any real estate agent: the first principle of real estate is location, location, location. None of the protagonists could live in Sri Lanka without air conditioners – they simply want a staging post for shipping and transportation.
Either oblivious to the threat or because of it, we are unable to put our own house in order. Sri Lanka is gradually being pulled apart by the US, India, Japan and China. We don’t know if America is colluding with India and Japan or if a backroom deal is being worked out by all four contenders.
Sri Lankans shouldn’t be surprised by backroom deals because we are masters of such negotiations at the national level. At an international level however, we’re clueless about how the system works in favour of the powerful.
At a time when we need all the friends we can have, we’ve given the thumbs up to the US, Japan, India and China at different times.
I read to understand military history – and my nightmare for Sri Lanka is partition or dissolution with us as mere spectators.
For all we know, while China and India are discussing disengagement in the Himalayas, they may have the partition of Sri Lanka flagged under ‘any other business.’ Sabre rattling is for the masses while the real deals are done in the backroom.
An opportune reminder is the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact – signed in Moscow in August 1939 between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union – to partition Poland between them. This took place while Russia was negotiating an alliance with France and Britain against Germany. The British and French were out-foxed, and declared war on Germany. The rest is history.
In the words of Confucius, “to know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know… that is true knowledge.”
A recent news article notes that in the context of the prevailing Indo-China standoff, it could mean Beijing divining new ways to use Colombo to harass New Delhi politically – as Nepal and Pakistan have done regarding border questions – and also let India take the alleged blame for strained bilateral economic relations.
We should be mindful that imperialists don’t need to fight over us. There’s no need for that if they achieve their goals by talking to each other. The time to exclude the Chinese from the Indian Ocean is long gone – in fact, it’s become the ‘West China Sea’ today.
If the US and India wanted to keep China out, they should have supported us openly with arms and funds to fight the LTTE as they did during the first JVP insurrection. Putting Sri Lanka through the hoops to implement Rajiv Gandhi’s 13th Amendment is futile. It is unsellable in its present form politically to most of the majority Sinhalese population – and it’s driving us towards China.