And Finally, Noblesse Oblige
Whatever the merits may or may not be the release of Sri Lanka’s war-winning former Army Commander – General Sarath Fonseka is to be roundly welcomed when viewed in the context of taking forward unity. Indeed whatever the General’s faults may be – the list is long as it is comprehensive – the Tamil Tigers feared him and with a single-minded purpose of mind he set in motion a series of strategies that ensured the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE. For that alone the people of Sri Lanka will feel infinitely better that the former General is no longer incarcerated. Indeed the conscience of the majority of this nation will feel far better now that Sarath Fonseka is hob-nobbing with Anoma, his daughters and Jelfri and Tutu as opposed to mixing with the riff-raff of convicts at Welikada prison.
For a majority-Buddhist country where compassion is a cornerstone, the nation collectively owed Fonnie a duty of compassion and mercy. That General Fonseka violated the duty of care he owed the people of this country and the institution of the Army by his delving into the netherworld of unethical practice, is reflective of a breakdown of ethics to which the former Commander is no stranger to. The duty of compassion and mercy owed a war hero has been fulfilled for the people by proxy through President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Ecclesiastically and Constitutionally Sri Lanka has acted admirably towards the General hot on the heels of the third anniversary of the war victory. General Fonseka owes a further duty of responsibility towards the people of this country: he must undertake to be responsible in his calls that Sri Lanka address international concerns as to its conduct of the war against the LTTE.
As much as there is perfect sense for this nation to address allegations of war crimes an interview on BBC television is not the appropriate forum. Such calls will only result in General Fonseka being rebranded a traitor and an ungrateful one at that. Much to the contrary, General Fonseka can play the role he is most suited for, the person without equal who can testify as to the fairness of the war against terror. The General is highly unlikely to incriminate himself or his soldiers and the international community will sit up and take note when the General makes his pronouncements on this sensitive and reputation damaging subject. In spite of carrying the unenviable title of a convicted felon and therefore being excluded for seven years from campaigning in any electoral platform, General Fonseka undoubtedly believes that he retains the ability to ‘pull in the votes’. General Fonseka, if that is the case, can then use that popularity and be the catalyst for a united opposition which in turn will be able to effect a meaningful challenge to the various excesses of this government. General Fonseka owes that much of a duty of care towards his fellow men.
In 2005 when Mahinda Percy Rajapaksa became Sri Lanka’s Sixth Executive Head of State, no one believed that he would truly deliver on his pledge to eradicate terrorism and usher in peace and by implication, prosperity. Subsequent events have proven that scepticism unfounded and the country is indeed without a war but is a long way off to being at peace with itself.
Unity is rather a dot on the collective horizons of the people in this country. For all the development work the progress in the former conflict areas has been painfully slow. It is not all by design for there are financial considerations as much as there still are security considerations. A largely under-utilised Army who are not quite confined to barracks sends all kinds of messages to the new regular visitors to this country in search of more than sun and fun: economic opportunities. Unity has been stymied on more than one front. The LTTE has been eradicated from this island but have regrouped internationally and continue to seek that elusive separatism under many different guises.
The visit to the United Kingdom by President Rajapaksa – and no doubt a very large entourage – will showcase once again the enormous clout the LTTE-supporting diaspora in London enjoys. Already plans are afoot to stage large scale protests which will no doubt bring London’s traffic to a grinding halt. This time however, President Rajapaksa will be the guest of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and consequently will be afforded far more protection than he enjoyed during the so-called ‘Oxford visit’ debacle. The protests will once again highlight the calls for a meaningful process to investigate what the British Tamil Forum calls, ‘credible allegations’ of war crimes committed during the final stages of the war against the LTTE. General Fonseka is adamant that war crimes simply did not happen. His statements made in Ambalangoda and other places indicate that the Army eradicated the LTTE with substantial force and massive firepower largely with the help of Chinese equipment. The General’s pronouncements and the global telephone calls made from the Vanni to Marie Colvin and hers to others including Palitha Kohona, the visits to the President by Robert Blake and so on are at odds with each other but seem to be of little significance for the moment. However, the General’s input on the matter of war crimes can be of significant value. As much as General Fonseka will be reluctant to be seen to be aligning himself with the government and his least favourite people, the Rajapaksas, on this very sensitive and vexatious subject, Sri Lanka has every right to expect that Sarath Fonseka himself acts within the principles of Noblesse Oblige and does his bit for Sri Lanka.
There can be nothing of significant variance in what he has to say and what the Rajapaksas have already stated: that war crimes simply did not happen. There is a tacit acknowledgement that all perhaps was not in order and apparently bowing to international pressure the government has promised a full investigation. In the interests of unity and progress Fonseka would be best advised to throw his weight behind every attempt to resolve satisfactorily the issue of war crimes. He owes it to the minority Tamils and Muslims of this land as much as he owes it to the Army specifically and the rest of the country generally. Sri Lanka cannot stand divided on this: the world expects this country to act honourably. It is the single most important aspect on the road to true unity.
International pressure has forced the direction of this government and that can only benefit this country. The worry that the United States and Britain may impose sanctions against Sri Lanka is not with the corporate sector for the moment. Indeed, the horizon on that front is less murky than it was some weeks ago.
Whilst World economic conditions has stymied some industrial sectors in Sri Lanka, the bureaucracy on the island is legendary. Little has been done to rid the island off the shackles of interventionist policies in a largely free market economy. The government has made painfully slow progress in truly ridding this country of bureaucracy, corruption and kleptocracy. The end of the war ought to have been the perfect catalyst for Sri Lanka’s legislature and Executive to address these important matters which if properly addressed would flag Sri Lanka as a country committed to upholding democracy and good governance.
The country’s main opposition party is in complete disarray and appears to have once again latched on to the perceived popularity of General Sarath Fonseka.
It is beyond time that Sajith Premadasa accepts that he cannot command the majority either within the Working Committee of the UNP or his peers in parliament. Consequently democracy dictates that he throws his weight behind Ranil Wickremesinghe and focus on being a vibrant Opposition. That too is a duty of care the UNP owes to the people of this country. In essence Nobelesse Oblige is obligatory from the Opposition too.
General Fonseka’s release is to be welcomed for what it is: on basic humanitarian grounds. Sri Lanka will expect General Fonseka to live quietly however difficult that may be for the former General. Judging by the interviews he has granted since his release the former Army Commander is likely to run out of steam rather soon and he will find to his dismay that news editors have little need for his pronouncements.
With a number of other matters pending in Courts Fonseka will be aware of the drill by now: Live quietly and your troubles will subside, make too much of noise and you will find yourself incarcerated, which no amount of pleading by Tiran Alles will resolve.
It will be up to the United National Party and the lesser opposition parties in Sri Lanka to ensure that they do not lead General Fonseka up the garden path one more time by playing to the General’s legendary ego. Sri Lanka will possibly be better off if Fonnie indeed “plays the green card”. Sri Lanka’s President has lived up to the notion of ‘Noblesse Oblige’ – however noble he may have been pressured to be on this occasion, it is very unlikely that Sarath Fonseka will experience Noblesse Oblige anytime again in the future. As Shakespeare put it, “The quality of mercy is not strain’d. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”