Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry needed to overhaul Foreign Ministry

Friday, 18 May 2012 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

UNP Deputy Leader and the power struggle

There have been press reports lately giving a very messy picture of the state of affairs at the Ministry of External Affairs. The Deputy Leader of the UNP is calling for the resignation of Prof. G.L. Peiris in view of the ever-growing political chicanery at the Ministry.

External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris

The UNP Deputy Leader is mistaken in his assessment of Prof. Peiris. It would be better if the UNP Deputy Leader thinks critically about his actions that have had a very detrimental impact on the UNP and morale of the UNPers. If he wants to wrestle the leadership, he must first garner support from the old guard. Without wider support it would be a mistake even to attempt a leadership contest.

The UNP consists of various interests and interest groups. There are powerful pole-vaulters and what would be situation if he becomes the leader, only to create another powerful faction that would undermine his position? Just the same way of conducting separate May Day rallies in contravention of party decisions. He would realise the importance of party discipline when he becomes the leader of UNP in the future.

As far as his personal goals are concerned, his actions only undermine his long-term objectives as by that time UNP will have been weakened even further. It is high time he set aside his factional politics and stood behind the UNP Leader.

Prof. GLP: a man with many credentials

It is not the Minister but the policies of the Government that have bedevilled the External Affairs Ministry. He is an academic of international repute and one of the scholars of rare type with unparallel credentials. It would be a mistake to replace Prof. Peiris at this hour of need. He has excellent contacts with various governments and he is the ideal mouthpiece to retrieve our lost friendship with the West.

Some of our academics who had been appointed as ambassadors and who had been defending Sri Lanka on human rights issues seem to be writing strange stories to newspapers about the dynamics of decision-making at highest levels of Government.

Prof. Peiris’ approach is markedly different from these academics who have been a little aggressive in their choice of words when diplomacy was the need of the hour whereas Prof. Peiris is more into using proper niceties of diplomacy and not interested in verbosity.

However, the internal dynamics that have come to light through media seem to indicate that a drastic overhaul is needed. This is a prelude to a wider discussion that is necessary in order to revamp the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Some press reports indicated that the previous Minister had the gumption to appoint some of his close confidants to key positions and there have been widespread revulsion among career diplomats over such appointments.

We had a similar situation when the July ’83 riots broke out in Sri Lanka and the international media had field days reporting on the worst atrocities against Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka. Most of the Heads of Diplomatic Missions were from the Tamil community and none had the courage to defend the Sri Lankan Government at that time, it was purely because families, properties and friends of ambassadors themselves had come under fire from the marauders who had taken the law unto themselves.

Strategic influence might be needed

The mechanism of overhauling the Foreign Ministry must be through a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry so a that wider cross section of experts could be appointed to look into our foreign policy options and the internal set-up that is needed to accomplish the policy objectives.

The need for reforms is pressing in view of the rapidly changing situation in Tamil Nadu. One aspect Sri Lanka might have to look into is the strategic influence. There seems to be a hate campaign against Sri Lanka especially in Tamil Nadu targeting individuals, organisations and properties of Sri Lanka.

It is high time Sri Lanka entered the war of ideas, of hearts and minds – a war of ideologies as potent and dangerous as it is manifested in the overseas media. The war for the minds of men should include our friends, allies and neutral audiences as well as hostile ones.

Strategic influence is primarily defined as the deliberate, conscious coordination or integration of all Government informational activities designed to influence opinions, attitudes and behaviour of foreign groups in such a way that it would promote the agendas of Sri Lanka and to achieve maximum psychological effect.

Moderation in dealing with hostile powers

We must not lose sight of the fact that ours is a small country and no world power is going cow down to dictates of Sri Lanka. We need to live with all issues of the global power game, especially between India and Unites States.

There are regular consultations between India and Unites States over the internal affairs of Sri Lanka. There is a strategic partnership between India and United States. This newly-formed partnership is keeping close tabs over ever-growing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka. It is the Government that must balance the scales of power politics in the region.

India would not allow China to exploit our oil and mineral resources. China may have such grand intentions but at the end of the day we will have to go with India. We must never overlook or underestimate India’s will to dilute the Chinese influence in Sri Lanka.

Never should we expect a Congress government to be in power all the time and there is potential for a coalition partnership in Delhi with Tamil parties with written agreements and accords to intervene in Sri Lankan domestic affairs.

(The writer is a freelance journalist and a political lobbying and government relations consultant.)

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