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A Proposal for a new Paradigm in Foreign Policy for Sri Lanka



by Dharshan Weerasekera,

Legend has it that when King Vijayabahu was in hiding and regrouping to fight the Cholas an old woman advised him that just as it is easy to break a single stick of firewood but much harder to break a bunch of sticks when held together he should first find the right allies to advance his objectives. The story is very useful when thinking about how to address Sri Lanka’s present-day foreign policy challenges the most important of which is the “Pivot to Asia” by the United States.

The Pivot has the potential to affect the sovereignty, national security and territorial integrity of our country now and in the years to come. Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge there is very little discussion in local academic journals or newspapers on ways of dealing with this threat other than appeals to “neutralism” and “non-alignment.” Without prejudice to the efficacy of those concepts in meeting present needs, it is in the public interest to explore new ways of responding to the Pivot.

The purpose of this article is to suggest such a way. I argue that Sri Lanka should take the lead in forming a new alliance of the low to middle-income countries that come under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In this article, I shall briefly discuss: a) the most urgent challenges related to the Pivot that Sri Lanka is facing at the moment, b) the failure of the traditional alliances such as the Non-Aligned Movement, SAARC and others to protect Sri Lanka’s interests on issues that really count, c) the plan.


1) The challenges

There are two urgent challenges. First, the recent blacklisting of leading Chinese companies by the United States. Since Sri Lanka is a poor country and heavily dependent on the US and its allies for economic support, it is unreasonable to suppose that the GOSL can or will do anything on its own to protest against unilateral actions by the US against China or any other country even if such actions indirectly harm this country.

However, if Sri Lanka is in an alliance with a group of nations all of whom are harmed by the actions in question they could more easily protest against them. Also, by providing a market for each other’s goods the members can help each other dissipate the effect of any retaliatory actions the US might take against an individual member.

Second is the continuing effort by the pro-LTTE groups active overseas to get the international community to endorse a purported right to self-determination of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It goes without saying that this effort benefits certain powerful nations that for their own reasons wish to destabilise Sri Lanka. Under these circumstances, the worst-case scenario would be for such nations to push for a resolution at a UN organ such as the UNHRC suggesting a “two-state solution,” “referendum on secession” or suchlike thing on the grounds that the government is not doing enough to address the ‘grievances’ of the minorities.

The initial resolution could be expanded over time in the same way that the UNHRC resolutions starting in 2012, which called for an international war crimes investigation against Sri Lanka, were expanded at successive sessions of the Council until the sought for goal was achieved in March 2014. It is crucial that if there is the slightest attempt at a repeat performance except this time in regard to a “two-state solution” the GOSL nip such attempt in the bud. The value of an alliance of nations that would stand with Sri Lanka in this situation is incalculable.


2) The Failure of the Traditional Alliances

a) Non-Aligned Movement

Pandit Nehru, one of the architects of non-alignment explained that the purpose of the movement was to help the former colonies pursue an independent foreign policy without getting dragged into military alliances either with the US or the Soviet Union. In 1961, at the first summit of the movement held in Belgrade he said:

“We call ourselves non-aligned countries. The word ‘non-aligned’ may be differently interpreted, but basically it was coined and used with the meaning of being non-aligned with the great power blocs of the world. ‘Non-aligned’ has a negative connotation. But if we give it a positive connotation, it means nations which object to living up for war purposes, to military blocs, to military alliances and the like”

Unfortunately, today, the NAM is all but dead because of three reasons: a) many NAM members including India are now firm allies and “partners” of the US, b) the common experience of colonialism no longer evokes the same passion among the various members as it once did and many members especially in Africa are racked with internal conflicts including the rise of Islamist extremism, and c) regional organizations such as the African Union, Organization of Islamic Cooperation and others now cater to the needs of their members far more than the NAM.

The NAM has failed Sri Lanka specifically in recent years when the series of UNHRC resolutions mentioned earlier were being brought against this country. It is now universally recognized that the culminating resolution in that series, resolution 30/1 of October 2015 contains provisions inimical to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. To my knowledge, the NAM did not utter a word of official condemnation at what was being done and key NAM members such as India even voted for the resolution.


SAARC was established in 1985 as a forum to address the security and economic concerns particular to South Asia. However, many critics have pointed out that SAARC has been perennially impeded in reaching its goals because of two reasons: a) the continuing rivalry between India and Pakistan, b) India’s hegemonic ambitions. Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, the Pakistani scholar says, “South Asia’s structure is such that there exists the overwhelming predominance of India contained by the presence of Pakistan, which is strong enough to resist the domineering attempts of India. The feelings of being subjected to a hegemonic system are not conducive to accelerated evolution of collectivity.” (Gonzalvez and Jetly 1999: 95)

c) Commonwealth

The Commonwealth is based on the shared experience of its members as former colonies of Great Britain. Presumably, these members are committed to the institutions that Britain bequeathed to them chief amongst which are: the tradition of the Common Law, respect for the rule of law, democracy and individual rights. The Commonwealth has failed Sri Lanka in recent years by not protesting when the UNHRC resolutions mentioned earlier were being brought against it. Worse, a number of Commonwealth nations most notably the UK played a key role in pushing the said resolutions.

The UK also remains a staunch supporter of resolution 30/1. Recall that, the GOSL withdrew from the co-sponsorship of that resolution in March 2020 stating that it was harmful to Sri Lanka’s interests. However, the UK along with four other nations—the so-called “core group” on Sri Lanka—told the Council this past June: “We reiterate our profound disappointment at this development. We remain firmly committed to advancing the resolution’s goals.” (30th June 2020, In sum, the question arises whether with friends like this one needs enemies.


3) The Plan

The BRI is a vast network of roads, railroads and harbours connecting Asia with the Middle East, Africa and Europe. There is no question that the network offers the low to middle-income countries along the route an unparalleled chance to achieve rapid economic growth. Accordingly, the BRI is a resource that these nations share and it is in their mutual interest to ensure that the network is maintained and indeed developed to its full potential.

This economic self-interest is a powerful incentive for the nations concerned to band together regardless of differences in ideology, religion, language and culture in order to oppose powerful nations—whether the US and its allies on the one hand or China on the other—if they impede their ability to enjoy the full benefits of the BRI.

The main difference between this alliance and previous alliances is that this is forward-looking, meaning that the physical infrastructure of the BRI is the basis for the relationship and so an intellectual and social culture common to the network can develop over time based on mutual cooperation. Sri Lanka is in a unique position to initiate a dialogue on the alliance because of its history as a vital link in the ancient ‘Silk Road’, of which the BRI is the modern-day incarnation. Sri Lanka has had contacts with most of the nations along the route for hundreds of years.



The “Pivot to Asia” by the U.S. poses challenges that Sri Lanka simply cannot face alone. The BRI offers a basis for an alliance with nations similarly situated to Sri Lanka, which it is in this country’s interest to explore.

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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development



There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka



By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?



Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!

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