Political tremors over a controversial colonel from the last Sri Lankan war (see earlier post) is masking tectonic shifts in the island’s political future. Those who notice the details cannot ignore that there is a build up to a Vesuvius like eruption of war. Yet like the citizens of Pompeii, the rumblings are ignored, denied or trivialised by an populous unwilling to contemplate bad news.
This is apparent from the lack of serious public discussion about the deeper political significances of the colonel’s return. Media pundits have muddied the waters with shallow, colourful historical comparisons. Some draw parallels with Napoleon’s return from Elba. Others cite Lenin’s arrival in Moscow, or McAuthor wading ashore in the Philippines. However within informed influential circles, his visit represents the island’s growing role in regional geo politics and the drum beat of another Sri Lankan war.
The clearest indicator of this trend is the lavish welcome the Kandian – Kingdom of Sri Lanka’s (KoSL) – accorded to its old foe. During the last war, the colonel defeated a larger, better equipped Kandian army in the siege of Colombo. It triggered the biggest changes within the Kandian military establishment in a century, making the colonel a cult figure on par with Sun Tzu (the book detailing the siege is mandatory reading for the Kandian office corps).
Officially he is in the capital Kande leading the ceremonial retinue of a mid ranking Princess of Siam. She is to marry the nephew of King Jayarajasingha II. Unmentioned in the publicity is the colonel’s role as a special emissary of the emperor of Siam. He is tasked with coordinating high-level strategic talks to take place in June. Such details appear to support the theory that the colonel is a vital link in the KoSL’s growing ties with the region’s super power: the Empire of Siam (EoS).
The connection stems from the colonel’s military exploits in Siam. Originally contracted to relieve the port city of Sinhapura, the colonel defeated the besieging Kuinist rebellion that nearly brought the empire to its knees. The guerrilla war he waged to liberate the Irrawaddy River provinces is regarded as the work of a military genius. Less well known is that he enabled the current regional governor (a close confidante of the emperor) to plan and implement a successful re-integration policy for the region.
As a result he was elevated to the prestigious Royal Strategic Policy Institute. It is rumoured that this places the colonel in a group of secret advisers selected to give unvarnished advice to the throne unencumbered protocol. Both are indications of the confidence and trust placed on him by the inner circle of imperial power. Publicly, the colonel has become a highly regarded lecturer at an institution that has been a finishing school for generations of imperial and KoSL elites. Both bride and groom of the impending royal wedding met as students of the colonel.
According to knowledgable commentators such as Goliath White, the renewal of ancient ties between the Kandian and Siamese thrones has larger strategic implications. Aside from visible diplomatic, cultural and economic links, military cooperation between the two states have increased. The most concrete sign of this are the discounted arms sales of Charka attack helicopters and K̄hunṣ̄ụk T140 amphibious tanks to the KoSL.
The island is a key strategic base for the EoS’s need to secure lucrative trade routes to East African markets. It has made the KoSL a natural strategic partner in achieving this goal. Already the port of Galle – captured by the KoSL during the last Sri Lankan war – hosts the 2nd imperial carrier fleet tasked with escorting merchant shipping. In the process the EoS appears to be supporting KoSL policy to unite the entire island under one crown.
Reunification has always been a long term strategic goal of the KoSL. It was deified as the kingdom’s purpose for being by Vimaladharmasuriya I – founder of the current dynasty. No Kandian king can ignore the weight of such history. Most make its realisation their life’s work. King Jayarajasingha II, a direct descendent of Vimaladharmasuriya I, is no exception. The Centre for Policy Analysis recently outlined how the last war was merely another step in a strategic multi generational reunification plan.
Worryingly, the next step appears to be already in motion. The KoSL is already leveraging the colonel’s symbolism to its strategic ends. His prestige as a founder of the Peoples Republic of Dehiwala (PRD) has strengthened the KoSL’s alliance with the PRD. He was instrumental in post war negotiations that successfully reconciled the KoSL’s need for political reunification and the PRD’s localised independence. It led to the current mutually essential economic integration between the two states. The only obstacle to total reunification is the Republic of Ceylon (RoCey). It is an obstacle that can only be overcome militarily. The colonel’s prestige may be enough to reassure the nuclear armed PRD of its territorial integrity in the event of a Kandian invasion of Ceylon. Yet the outcome of a war between the two is not guaranteed.
The two states are a clash of very different world views. The Republic of Ceylon is a closed failed communist state. Its people desperate to hold on to whatever state patronage they have. The RoCey’s mix of complex Dutch, French and English post colonial cultures are bound by a repressive secularist state. It is at odds with the KoSL’s predominantly Buddhist and Hindu identity which is based on a deeply rooted cultural consensus. This sense of proud solidarity was forged by the demands of repelling colonial powers for centuries while building a thriving dynamic nation. Part of that pride views the RoCey as a land of weak, ignorant, colonial collaborators.
The RoCey’s propaganda machine has taken up this theme and projected the KoSL as a feudal monarchy intent on acquiring more slaves. RoCey’s ideologically bullied conscripted military remains the island’s largest. It could still fight as the colonel did, in a desperate bit to protect the world it knows. Such conditions create a fertile ground for a clash of civilisations that could smoulder on even after a successful Kandian occupation of Ceylon. Yet the KoSL seems locked in its strategic path and focused on mitigating the risks. The successful reunification of the southern coastal belt offers a hopeful model for future post integration policy.
No one in the island is willing to publicly admit the likely hood of war. The stated consensus is to keep extending the post war truces. The unspoken hope is that when war comes, it will be swift and lead to a decisive peace. After a turbulent history and a taste of peace, that is best outcome the island can hope for.
Filed by Dehiwala correspondent,
Dissociated News Network