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UNDER SIEGE Sri Lanka in Geneva, March 2014

12 March 2014 04:30 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness or the fear of it makes Sri Lan­kan com­men­ta­tors on the draft res­o­lu­tion on Sri Lan­ka as well as the calls for an in­ter­na­tion­al in­qui­ry at the 25th ses­sion of the UN Hu­man Rights Coun­cil in Gen­e­va blame the Gov­ern­ment, the West (‘im­pe­ri­al­ism’) or the Tam­il di­a­spora. This uni-di­men­sion­al anal­y­sis fails to re­gard the thing ho­lis­ti­cal­ly, and nei­ther traces the chain of cau­sa­tion nor un­earths the root of the mat­ter.
 





Why Sri Lan­ka?
While it is the my­op­ic and mis­placed post-war pol­i­cies, na­tion­al and ex­ter­nal,  and the sheer crass­ness of the dis­course, of the in­cum­bent ad­min­is­tra­tion that has left us wide open to an in­tru­sive res­o­lu­tion for an in­ter­na­tion­al in­qui­ry, that alone is not an ac­cu­rate an­swer to the ques­tion that many, if not most Sri Lan­kans are grap­pling with to­day. That ques­tion is ‘why Sri Lan­ka?’ Why is Sri Lan­ka un­der far great­er scru­ti­ny than many oth­er states, for far less hei­nous sins? Why is the ‘in­ter­na­tion­al com­mun­i­ty’ that did not get on the LTTE’s case with the same de­gree of sus­tained pur­pose dur­ing dec­a­des of dai­ly ter­ror­ism, tar­get­ing Sri Lan­ka?

The an­swer is the ge­o­stra­te­gic weight and com­pa­ra­tive ge­o­stra­te­gic ad­vant­age of the Tam­il com­mun­i­ty in the world sys­tem, en­hanced, in­deed mul­ti­plied by the back­ward­ness of the Sri Lan­kan state.  In the glob­al ma­trix, the Sri Lan­kan state is back­ward in ev­ery sense, while the pan-Tam­il se­ces­sion­ist van­guard is more ad­vanced.
The Sri Lan­kan state — and the Sinh­al­ese— are no lon­ger in­ter­na­tion­al­ly com­pet­i­tive, while the Tam­ils are in­creas­ing­ly so. To spell it out, be­cause of the spe­cif­ic char­ac­ter of the di­a­spora, the Tam­ils punch above their weight in the world com­mun­i­ty while the Sri Lan­kan state and the Sinh­al­ese punch far be­low their own ear­li­er weight be­cause of the anach­ron­is­tic char­ac­ter of the of­fi­cial dis­course and the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the qual­i­ty of hu­man re­sour­ces of the Sri Lan­kan state, stem­ming from dec­a­des of sub­stan­dard so­cial pol­i­cies.

This di­ag­no­sis is con­firmed in a new and in­dis­pen­sa­ble book on Sri Lan­ka’s war by Prof Paul Moor­craft, Di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for For­eign Pol­i­cy Anal­y­sis, Lon­don, and more per­ti­nent­ly a for­mer se­nior in­struc­tor at the Roy­al Mili­ta­ry Acad­e­my, Sand­hurst, and the UK Joint Serv­ices Com­mand and Staff Col­lege. An in­ter­net search shows that he worked in Cor­po­rate Com­mu­ni­ca­tions in the Min­is­try of De­fence in White­hall and is a cri­sis man­age­ment con­sul­tant to Shell, Brit­ish Gas, 3M, and Stand­ard Bank.  He al­so worked for Time mag­a­zine and the BBC as a free­lance pro­duc­er/war cor­re­spond­ent. He has worked in 30 war zones in Af­ri­ca, the Mid­dle East, Asia and the Bal­kans, of­ten with ir­reg­u­lar forces. Most re­cent­ly he has been work­ing in Af­gha­ni­stan, Iraq, Pal­es­tine/Is­ra­el and Su­dan. Prof Moor­craft writes that:

“In some coun­tries the Tam­il com­mun­i­ty stood next to the Jew­ish di­a­spora if not in wealth, per­haps in or­gan­i­za­tion; it was less as­simi­la­ted too. It was much smar­ter at play­ing on ten­der hearts in the host com­mun­i­ty while fund­ing an in­sur­gen­cy back home. It out­did the Kurd­ish, Irish, Kash­miri and even Pal­es­ti­ni­an di­a­spora in this re­gard...



In Gen­e­va to­day, Sri Lan­ka must be re­al­is­ticêto­geth­er with its friends, it must ne­go­ti­ate flex­i­bly, cre­a­tive­ly and sin­cere­ly, mak­ing all com­pro­mi­ses nec­es­sa­ry to re­move any ref­er­ence to an in­ter­na­tion­al or ex­ter­nal in­qui­ry by any agen­cy what­so­ev­er



The Ti­gers’ In­ter­na­tion­al Sec­re­tar­i­at es­tab­lish­ed a world­wide sys­tem of weap­ons pro­cure­ment, fi­nan­cial, and po­lit­i­cal sup­port and me­dia out­lets. Much of the net­work sur­vived in­tact af­ter the de­feat of the in­sur­gen­cy in Sri Lan­ka it­self... Af­ter the LTTE was ban­ned in the US and the EU, var­i­ous front or­gan­i­za­tions were set up in fif­ty-four lo­ca­tions in thir­ty two coun­tries. The LTTE con­tained some bril­liant prop­a­gand­ists who es­tab­lish­ed a range of TV and ra­dio sta­tions, web­sites and prin­ted me­dia. The front or­gan­i­za­tions worked as­sid­u­ous­ly on for­eign pol­i­ti­cians as well as the ap­prox­i­mate­ly one mil­lion Tam­il ex­iles, no­ta­bly in Eu­rope and North Amer­i­ca. ...Hun­dreds of Tam­il schools were set up in the di­a­spora re­gions (350 in Eu­rope alone) to in­cul­cate third gen­er­a­tion chil­dren in the cause. Of­ten these chil­dren were mo­bi­lized on be­half of pro-LTTE pro­tests...

...around ten per­cent of Tam­il ex­iles were ac­tive rad­i­cals. They were of­ten suc­cess­ful busi­ness peo­ple and high­ly ca­pa­ble of or­gan­iz­ing vote banks in re­gions and cit­ies where their nu­mer­i­cal con­cen­tra­tion could sway the lo­cal votes and thus se­cure a ready ear from pol­i­ti­cians. In Brit­ain the LTTE (un­der a po­lit­i­cal and le­gal guise) formed dedi­ca­ted or­gan­i­za­tions to liase with both the La­bour and Con­ser­va­tive par­ties...”(Pp.103-105, ‘The To­tal De­struc­tion of the Tam­il Ti­gers’, Pen & Sword, UK, 2012)  




The op­tions
Bad as this pic­ture is, it leaves out the enor­mous weight of yet an­oth­er fac­tor: Tam­il Na­du, with its 70 mil­lion strong pop­u­la­tion. To­day Tam­il Na­du is bid­ding to play the same role in Del­hi’s pol­i­cy to­wards Sri Lan­ka that a near hys­ter­i­cal Cu­ban com­mun­i­ty in the state of Flor­i­da used to play for dec­a­des in Wash­ing­ton’s pol­i­cy to­wards Cu­ba.

Thus Sri Lan­ka is in a far worse sit­ua­tion in­ter­na­tion­al­ly than al­most all states, es­pe­cial­ly dem­o­crat­ic ones, which have won a war against a ruth­less non-state ac­tor be­cause the com­mun­i­ty that sus­tained that non-state ac­tor through all its fas­cis­tic dep­re­da­tions is far more sig­nif­i­cant than the com­mun­i­ties which sus­tained just as ruth­less or even far less ruth­less non-state ac­tors in oth­er con­flict sit­ua­tions.

Faced with a foe of such in­ter­na­tion­al ca­paci­ty, the Sri Lan­kan state had —and still has— one of three ways to go.

1. It could have in­creased its de­pend­ence on, com­pli­ance with and ca­pit­u­la­tion to the West.

2. It could have re­lied al­most ex­clu­sive­ly on strength­en­ing its ‘hard pow­er’ grip on the is­land, most es­pe­cial­ly its North and East — which is what the Ra­ja­pak­sa re­gime sought to do, driv­en by its Sin­ha­la hard-line fac­tion and/or dom­i­nant im­pul­ses.

3. It could have ju­di­cious­ly re­in­forced its lead­er­ship of the is­land (the DS Sen­a­naya­ka strat­egy) while ex­pand­ing its space and in­creas­ing its com­pet­i­tive­ness glob­al­ly. With var­ia­tions, this is the line of SWRD and Sir­i­ma Ban­dar­a­naike, Ra­na­singhe Pre­ma­da­sa and Laksh­man Ka­dir­ga­mar. So­ma­wan­sa Amar­a­singhe and Til­vin Sil­va can at­test, as can Nir­u­pam Sen and I, from long con­ver­sa­tions with an alien­ated and anx­ious Laksh­man Ka­dir­ga­mar, that this was not the line of Chan­dri­ka Ku­mar­a­tun­ga in the last (PTOMS) years of her pres­i­den­cy. 

It is the third per­spec­tive lis­ted here that was al­so the pol­i­cy prac­tice that en­a­bled Sri Lan­ka to pre­vail de­ci­sive­ly in Gen­e­va in May 2009 while West­min­ster was blocka­ded by thou­sands of Tam­il dem­on­stra­tors and the traf­fic in Gen­e­va was snarled up by tens of thou­sands of Ti­ger flag wav­ing dem­on­stra­tors block­ad­ing the Pal­ais de Na­tions (one of whom im­mo­la­ted him­self in full pub­lic view).






Stra­te­gic blun­ders
The mul­ti­ple yet in­ter­con­nec­ted stra­te­gic blun­ders of the pres­ent ad­min­is­tra­tion were:
a.    To for­get the po­lit­i­cal po­ten­tial of the in­ter­na­tion­al re­serve ar­my of Tam­il se­ces­sion­ism  em­bed­ded in Tam­il Na­du and the Tam­il Di­a­spora)

b. To be­lieve that it could be coun­tered with­out ei­ther the po­lit­i­cal em­pow­er­ment of the gov­ern­ment’s own Tam­il al­lies or a po­lit­i­cal rap­proche­ment with the ad­mit­ted­ly in­con­sis­tent and vol­a­tile mod­er­ates of the TNA.   

c. To be­lieve that the glob­al ge­o­stra­te­gic weight of the off­shore Tam­il com­mun­i­ty could be coun­ter­vailed with­out main­tain­ing the war­time al­li­ance with Del­hi and in­deed while re­neg­ing on the pledges made to In­dia dur­ing the war and just af­ter it.

The Tam­ils for­got both the ge­o­stra­te­gic weight of the Sinh­al­ese on the is­land and the ex­is­ten­tial re­al­i­ty that they had no­where to re­treat, and took them on fron­tal­ly in war. The Sinh­al­ese for­got the ge­o­stra­te­gic weight of the Tam­ils off the is­land and sought to re­or­der the po­lit­i­cal space of post war Sri Lan­ka in a man­ner that went be­yond a nat­u­ral and le­git­i­mate re­in­state­ment of Sin­ha­la lead­er­ship but sought to im­pose Sin­ha­la-Bud­dhist dom­i­na­tion out­side their nat­u­ral dem­o­graph­ic and cul­tur­al zone.  



Com­ing home to roost
In Gen­e­va this month, to quote Mal­colm X, “the chick­ens are com­ing home to roost”. That how­ev­er, is nei­ther a cause for grim sat­is­fac­tion at a come­up­pance nor is it the end of the story. The West is on the verge of get­ting it wrong as it did dur­ing the en­tire pe­ri­od of the Nor­we­gian ne­go­tia­tions and more es­pe­cial­ly the Cease­fire Agree­ment (CFA)— just as In­dia did in an ear­li­er ava­tar. It is one thing to seek to re­store equi­li­bri­um by con­tain­ment of the Sin­ha­la tri­umph­al­ism of the Sri Lan­kan re­gime and state. This would re­quire an even-hand­ed ap­proach. It is quite an­oth­er to shift from con­tain­ment of Sin­ha­la ex­cess to hu­mil­iat­ing roll-back and a man­i­fest tilt to­wards the Tam­ils, trig­ger­ing col­lec­tive mem­o­ries of col­o­nial bias and re­in­forc­ing old­er ones of South In­di­an ex­pan­sion­ism.

Just as the is­land’s South —and the South driv­en or South­ern cen­tric state—re­sis­ted and re­versed the hu­mil­iat­ing re­treat of the CFA years, the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­i­ty will sim­ply not coun­te­nance over-lord­ship by the West, Tam­il Na­du, and the Tam­il di­a­spora lob­bies even in the form of the Of­fice of the High Com­mis­sion­er of Hu­man Rights.     

The lat­est Chan­nel 4 vid­eo with its sick­en­ing­ly bes­ti­al nec­ro­phil­ic sex­u­al abuse, seems au­then­tic to me— but it comes from the same part of the mo­ral in­fer­no as  the vid­eo of US sol­diers un­zip­ping them­selves and pee­ing on dead bod­ies of Ta­li­ban ter­ro­rists. These crimes must be ex­posed and pun­ish­ed some­day, as they have been from Bra­zil to Ban­gla­desh— by the so­ci­ety it­self at a his­tor­i­cal time of its choos­ing.

Any kind of in­ter­na­tion­al in­qui­ry must be re­gar­ded as non–ne­go­tia­ble by any Sri Lan­kan ad­min­is­tra­tion. How­ev­er, the tech­ni­cal sup­port of the Of­fice of the High Com­mis­sion­er for Hu­man Rights may be sought for a ro­bust, credi­ble na­tion­al proc­ess.




Mood shift
If the UNHRC res­o­lu­tion con­tains the com­po­nent of an in­tru­sive ex­ter­nal in­qui­ry, the mood of the Sin­ha­la ma­jor­i­ty, with or with­out the Ra­ja­pak­sas, will be ‘the res­o­lu­tion be damned!’ The mood shift will be con­du­cive to more rad­i­cal shades of na­tion­al­ism. The re­sults of the up­com­ing pro­vin­cial coun­cil elec­tions will be in­ter­est­ing in this re­gard, not least as the re­spec­tive cam­paigns of the gov­ern­ment and the main op­po­si­tion are be­ing led from the front, by Ma­hin­da Ra­ja­pak­sa and Ra­nil Wick­re­me­singhe re­spec­tive­ly.

An in­tru­sive UNHRC res­o­lu­tion will see the is­land state evolve in­to a hedge­hog, how­ev­er short-lived that ava­tar may be. Since the TNA and NPC lead­ers have es­chewed the smart op­tion of play­ing good cop to the di­a­spora and Tam­il Na­du’s bad cop, open­ly call­ing for an in­ter­na­tion­al in­ves­ti­ga­tion and there­by paint­ing them­selves as an­ti-na­tion­al and pro-West­ern (as in the days of the col­o­nial com­pact), the psy­cho-po­lit­i­cal space for dia­logue and rec­on­ci­li­a­tion will nar­row rath­er than wi­den af­ter the pas­sage of an in­tru­sive res­o­lu­tion. This at­mos­phere and set­ting will be par­tic­u­lar­ly in­hos­pit­a­ble for any at­tempt at po­lit­i­cal rec­on­ci­li­a­tion by an in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion in Del­hi and/or a con­cerned South Af­ri­ca.

In Gen­e­va to­day, Sri Lan­ka must be re­al­is­tic above all else. To­geth­er with its friends, it must ne­go­ti­ate flex­i­bly, cre­a­tive­ly and sin­cere­ly, mak­ing all com­pro­mi­ses nec­es­sa­ry to re­move any ref­er­ence to an in­ter­na­tion­al or ex­ter­nal in­qui­ry by any agen­cy what­so­ev­er. If how­ev­er, the Res­o­lu­tion is en­dorsed while it con­tains such an ag­gres­sive­ly in­tru­sive com­po­nent, there can be no ques­tion of com­pli­ance or co­op­er­a­tion, cer­tain­ly with that as­pect, what­ev­er the cost. Sri Lan­ka will just have to take the hit, or, as El­more Leo­nard wrote (in­tro­duc­ing his hero Mar­shal Ray­lan Giv­ens, the pro­tag­o­nist of the TV ser­ies ‘Jus­ti­fied’), we’ll just have to “ride the rap; that’s all any­one has to do”.




Not a vic­tor’s peace
In 2009, Jus­tice CG Weer­a­man­try right­ly warned that a vic­to­ri­ous Sri Lan­kan state must avoid the bad ex­am­ple of the big pow­ers at Ver­sailles who im­posed a vic­tor’s peace on a de­fea­ted Ger­ma­ny on­ly to wit­ness the rise of Naz­ism. The Sri Lan­kan re­gime ig­nor­ed his ad­vice and now we have the re­sur­gence of the Tam­il se­ces­sion­ist proj­ect and the pros­pect of the en­cir­cle­ment of Sri Lan­ka. To­day, if it ca­pit­u­lates to the in­ter­na­tion­al hu­man rights NGOs, the Tam­il na­tion­al­ists, the West will make yet an­oth­er blun­der in its long line of blun­ders in Asia. A Trea­ty of Ver­sailles in re­spect of the de­fea­ted was hor­rif­ic in its re­sults, but to seek to im­pose a Trea­ty of Ver­sailles on a vic­to­ri­ous side— or to hold a Nur­em­burg Lite on the equiv­a­lent of the vic­to­ri­ous Al­lies rath­er than the de­fea­ted Na­zis— would be cata­stroph­ic in its con­se­quence. Since the JVP is no lon­ger au­di­tion­ing for the role of na­tion­al lib­er­a­tion or re­sist­ance move­ment, the agen­cy of re­sist­ance could be the very tar­get of the call for an in­ter­na­tion­al in­qui­ry. This time the South­ern/Sin­ha­la back­lash could shift the cen­tre of grav­i­ty to a rath­er more prae­tor­i­an pa­trio­tism. Un­sus­tain­a­ble though it will be as a proj­ect, it may serve as a hold­ing ac­tion and tran­si­tion.

It will al­so be but a symp­tom of a far more per­ma­nent re­al­i­ty which the West and the Tam­il na­tion­al­ists of­ten ig­nore: the two thirds of a stra­te­gi­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant is­land are in­habi­ted by an eth­nic com­mun­i­ty that con­sti­tutes two thirds of its pop­u­lace.
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