Sinhalese don’t seem to live in the same period of post-Cold War history that the rest of the world does, in whichstates (not solely Yugoslavia) have been broken up or have broken up before our eyes and new ones have beenrecognised. India has withstood all these trends, but we shall return to that in a moment.Prof Peiris and his co-thinkers seem dangerously unaware that when Georgia, its military beefed up by NATOassistance, attempted to unilaterally tear up the peace agreement with Ossetia and South Abkhazia, Russiaintervened. Those areas are no longer part of Georgia. He and his ideological brothers in arms are also oblivious tothe fact that when Serbia challenged the independence declaration of Kosovo, the International Court of Justiceopined that secession did not violate the fundamentals of international law.Most pertinently, Prof Peiris seems ignorant of the area of academic specialisation of one of the members of the UNSecretary-General’s Panel of Experts’ report (the ‘Darusman Report’) on Sri Lanka, Prof Stephen Ratner of theUSA. His speciality is the issue of borders of new states and one his arguments is that when a pre-existing parentstate triggers secession by unilaterally abrogating the autonomy of an existing province and leading eventually tothe creation of a new state, the borders of the new state are or should be on the basis of pre-existing possessionand should constitute the boundaries of that pre-existing province the autonomy of which was unilaterallyabrogated. (‘Drawing a Better Line: UTI Possidetis and the Borders of New States’, Steven R. Ratner, the American Journal of International Law, Vol. 90, No. 4 Oct., 1996, pp. 590-624). Surely the dangers of unilateralabrogation of provincial devolution, the 13
amendment and in effect the
should be obviouseven to one as myopic as Prof Peiris has disappointingly turned out to be. And now to India. In Prof Peiris reckoning “what had held together the Indian union more effectively than all else isthe overwhelming military might of the central government of India.” This contention fails to explain why the far more powerful military of a superpower, the Soviet Union, was unable to hold that multinational state together.Nowhere have I or anyone else stated that the Indian model has kept that country free from secessionist violenceor border conflicts. The evidence however shows that these violent conflicts have been manageably contained andoften dampened. What is remarkable is that unity has been sustained in the face of such enormous diversity,precisely by accommodating such diversity. The “idea of India” (as Shashi Tharoor among others have put it),transcending such multinational and multi religious diversity and cross border influence has been a strikingachievement, in stark contrast to the failure to generate fealty to an idea of Sri Lanka outside of cricket matchesand an idea of being Sri Lankan which is not a synonym for Sinhalese or Sinhala Buddhist. India has a greater percentage of Hindus than Sri Lanka has of Sinhala Buddhists and yet, it resisted the temptation, despite thepartition and emergence of Pakistan as an Islamic state, despite the murder of Gandhi by a Hindu fanatic, of declaring itself as anything but secular. It is the combination of (a) a unifying vision of India, (b) quasi federalism(linguistic regions/states), (c) secularism, (d) democracy, (e) the retention of the English language at the upper reaches of the state apparatus, education and the parliamentary process, supported by the might of the Indianarmed forces that has kept India together in the face of all odds, and the breakup of both empires and multinationalstates. In short, and contrary to Prof Peiris’ version, it is India’s soft power together with its hard power, and not itshard power alone or pre-eminently, that is the secret of India’s unity and consolidation as a nation. As for Switzerland, I suppose the discussion has as much point as the one on India, because Prof Peiris and thoseof his ideological tribe live in a mental universe of ‘Sri Lankan exceptionalism’, as distinct from its specificity.Therefore, not merely any notion of universality but any recourse to comparative politics (pioneered by Aristotle)has to be abandoned!Let us conclude with the bottom-line strategic equation. I really do not know whether “The average reader, I guess,is expected to feel, “look, this guy is such an expert in strategic cum military matters…” I do suppose though, thatthere is a fair likelihood that my name was not drawn at random out of a hat when I was invited to be a member of the International Expert Group (INTEG) of SECURITY INDEX, a Russian journal on international security; the‘academic and policy quarterly journal’ of the Russian Centre for Policy Studies, Moscow-Geneva-Monterrey. (Icontinue to function as a member despite not being an ambassador any more, and indeed when I wasn’t one,between my Geneva and Paris stints).