By N. Sathiya Moorthy
The pace of the world today leaves little time for issues and events that may have a long-lasting bearing on individuals and communities. Translated, it could mean that the international community could well throw up its arms in disgust and pass on, or end up doing rash and negligent acts that could have consequences for the affected nations and communities, unknown to the rest of the world and unacknowledged by the perpetrators.
For the youth of the 21st millennium, Afghanistan and Iraq are the prime example. The ‘Cold war era’ was witness to such global handling of regional and sub-regional conflicts by the two super-powers. For every Vietnam, there was a Czechoslovakia. The Afghan conundrum, as we know now, had its origins in what the West said was ‘Soviet occupation’. Moscow, not many would remember, said it had been ‘invited’ by the Afghan Government. The very history of Afghanistan, since the days of the British rule in India, would be a reminder as to how such things play out. Such has also been human history from time immemorial.
Stake-holders to the Sri Lankan ethnic issue have to look at the current global interest in the nation’s affairs in context, and draw their lessons. Over-simplification, as seems to be the case with the Government perception, can hurt. Over-emphasis on international involvement, as the TNA leadership seems hoping for, can lead to too much of expectation, and a consequent sense of ‘cheating’. Both sides have revelled in this for decades now, and have refused to draw lessons.
In a way, the TNA leadership has been doing the right thing, swearing by the international community. On the one hand, that is one, and possibly the only way of bringing around the Sri Lankan Government, to see ‘reason’. In the immediate context of intra-Tamil politics, rather intra-TNA politics, it is also the only way that the moderates could keep the ‘extremists’ at bay. The consequence of their internal rivalry was also to blame for the current and continuing fate of the Tamil community in the country. The Government needs to appreciate it all.
The Sri Lankan State has its difficulties. The TNA needs to appreciate the same. For every B-C Pact and D-C Pact that the Government of the day dishonoured, there was enough provocation from the Tamil side. That story is seldom being told. It has not definitely been acknowledged. The world was readjusting itself those days to the post-war era. The way colonial British rulers left the shores of Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, without second thoughts, when they found the going tough in India, should hold a lesson for the present-day stake-holders in the country.
Neighbouring India, which showed an interest in subsequent decades, when Tamil refugees began arriving on its shores in hundreds of thousands, too was recovering from Partition and was preparing for life without colonial masters. When India first, and the rest of the world since, found time and energy to expend on Sri Lanka, it had almost reached a point of no-return. To the world should go the credit for putting a semblance of order in the contemporary Sri Lankan thinking, including that of the Tamils. Some in the country would blame the world for the same, nonetheless. It is easy for either or both sides to the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka to tire out the world, as they had done in the past. In a novel yet un-repented way, they even forced out the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF), which was called in to ensure ethnic peace, at the instance of the Government of the day and the moderate Tamil polity. It is another matter that the LTTE, which was a party to the process, and acknowledged as such, would fight the IPKF, instead.
The Government, in contrast, stopped with aiding and abetting the LTTE in the process. A conflagration between the armed forces of the two countries, instead, would have been unthinkable. Such a course would have had consequences for not just the two nations and their peoples, but also for the South Asian region as a whole. In the ‘Cold War’, it would have developed a geo-political angle, too. It is happening now, instead, in the post-Cold War era, nonetheless.
The question is if Sri Lankans, the Tamils included, want their nation to be the battlefield of sorts for geo-political competition. They need to ask themselves if they want their fate to be linked to issues that have no relevance to their own cause and complaints – and could escalate into situations where either side would cease to be masters of their own fate. The ‘Geneva vote’ has shown where it all could begin. But it does not prescribe an end-game. Like the players, the perpetrators too do not think about the ‘day-after’. That is the lesson from Afghanistan and Iraq, Vietnam and Hungary. In the World War era, Germany showed the way, either way – of being hurt, and hurting others.
The Sri Lankan stake-holders have displayed, over the years and decades, an unexceptional knack for tiring out the world. It left the world frustrated, yes. But it did not serve the Sri Lankans of either hue any purpose other than the vicarious glee of being able to laugh at the world when they had hurt themselves. The world has recovered from such surprises, but the Sri Lankan stake-holders have never ever recovered from the trauma of their own making – for which again they obtain vicarious pleasure, blaming the world, instead.