War, Forever?

“I tremble to think of the future.A?a??A?.with history being made only in terms of outrage and violence”.

Tagore (quoted in Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-minded Man A?a??a?? Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson)

Vellupillai Pirapaharan is wedded to the goal of his own separate state; democracy, for him, is an anathema. Therefore as long as he is alive the LTTE cannot be accommodated within a democratic Lankan state. But there is no such incompatibility between Tamil nationalism and Sri Lanka. In fact a democratic Lankan state would need to accommodate Tamil nationalism via a generous dose of devolution, in order to achieve peace and stability and to remain whole, by pre-empting a Kosovo outcome.

Given Mr. PirapaharanA?a??a??s maximalism, the war against the LTTE is unavoidable. Though a negotiated settlement is impossible with the LTTE it is both possible and necessary vis-A?A?-vis Tamil nationalism. Therefore a war against Tamil nationalism is unnecessary and undesirable. The only possible, workable antidote to Tamil nationalism is the creation of a Lankan identity encompassing all ethnic and religious communities on the basis of equality and mutual tolerance. If we fail in that task, and if we try to respond to Tamil nationalism militarily, the Lankan conflict will never end. And that is the future Sri Lanka can expect from the Rajapakses.

The confirmation of this comes from none other than the Army Commander himself. At a meeting with a group of foreign correspondents Gen Sarath Fonseka has said, “Even if we finish the war, capture the whole of the north, still the LTTE might have some members joining themA?a??A?. There are people who believe in Tamil nationalism. The LTTE might survive another even two decades with about 1,000 cadres. But we will not be fighting in the same manner. It might continue as an insurgency forever” (BBC A?a??a?? 30.6.2008).

Prophetic words indeed. A never ending conflict will be our fate if the Lankan state fails to understand the difference between Tigers and Tamils, between Tiger fascism and Tamil nationalism. A never ending conflict will be our fate if the Lankan polity fails to win over/neutralise Tamil nationalism by coming up with a reasonable political solution to the ethnic problem. A never ending conflict will be our fate, if the regime clings to the unitary state at all costs, ignoring the need to allay Tamil fears and accommodate Tamil interests. Going by the Army CommanderA?a??a??s words, the powers that be are ready for such a long term conflict. Perhaps a perennial conflict is their interest, because it will enable them to use patriotism as a cover for unintelligent governance and to subdue political dissent using national security concerns. But for the country and the people such a perennial conflict will be an unmitigated disaster. Peace and development will remain elusive goals; democracy will be undermined; and Sri Lanka will become a less habitable place.

The World of Extremism

Extremism thinks in black and white. The Tigers methodically destroyed all intermediate spaces in Tamil polity and society, using as their justification a tenet that is fundamental to all fundamentalisms A?a??a?? anyone not with us is with the enemy. A disturbingly similar polarisation is happening in the South as the Rajapakses strengthen their stranglehold on the country (a feat that would have been impossible but for the presence of Ranil Wickremesinghe as the permanent Leader of the UNP). Opponents of the regime are being branded as traitors, a necessary prelude to the using of state power to cow them into silence and inactivity. This is evident in the regimeA?a??a??s approach to such diverse groups as media personnel and striking workers. Buy naltrexone hcl

The brunt of this process of polarisation is being borne by Lankan Tamils living in Sri Lanka, especially in the North-East. Both the LTTE and the government demand their uncritical allegiance. Any sign of dissatisfaction, any deviation from the official line by them is regarded as acts of treachery. The LTTE sees in Tamil parents, unhappy with its brutal conscription drive, traitors to the Tamil cause. The regime sees in Tamil civilians, critical of aerial bombings and indiscriminate shelling, traitors to the Lankan cause. The LTTE demands from Tamils total fealty to Tiger Eelam. The regime demands from Tamils total commitment to a unitary Sri Lanka. Neither side is willing to make allowances for a Tamil nationalism that is non/anti-Tiger and critical of the politico-military excesses of the Lankan state, opposed to a unitary Sri Lanka but willing to accept a united Sri Lanka.

President Mahinda Rajapakse does not even believe in the existence of an ethnic problem; at the ceremonial opening of the Arugam Bay bridge he reiterated that there is no A?a??E?communal conflictA?a??a?? in Sri Lanka. Given these ideological blinkers and the regimeA?a??a??s close alliance with Sinhala supremacist entities, a political solution is unlikely to materialise so long as Rajapakses are in power. In the eyes of the Rajapakse regime there is no real difference between Tamil nationalism and Tiger fascism; one is the other in disguise. This political hallucination is changing the nature of the war from a war against Tigers to a war against Tamils. The shocking story of a A?a??E?security operationA?a??a?? which forced around 800 Tamil residents of Colombo 15 to leave their houses in the early hours of morning to be videotaped is but one example of the regimeA?a??a??s proclivity to extend the war from Tamil Tigers to Tamils in general.

According to the Sunday Times of 6th July, Sri Lankan diplomatic missions have been ordered to request their host governments to ban commemorations of the Black July by LTTE A?a??E?front organisationsA?a??a??. If this request was made concerning the Black Tiger Day, the Great Heroes Day or any other date specific to the LTTE it would have been understandable (and necessary). But Black July was a Tamil tragedy. The victims of that orgy of violence were not Tigers but ordinary Tamil men, women and children. Therefore any attempt to prevent the commemoration of Black July (on the grounds that Tigers will benefit from such commemorations politically and financially) will be seen, correctly, as an anti-Tamil act, by the Tamils, the West and India.

Extremism is blind. It is the acme of inanity and insensitivity to try to prevent the Tamil Diaspora from commemorating Black July. Moreover no Western country will ban Black July commemorations. Firstly such a ban will be undemocratic (unless the demonstration is being organised by a proscribed entity); secondly these countries are sympathetic to Tamils and most of them do make a distinction between Tiger terrorism and Tamil nationalism. This ill-conceived request demonstrates yet again how the regime undermines the Lankan cause with its extremism and irrationalism.

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At the beginning of this war the government stated that the Tiger strength is limited to about 8,000 cadres. The Army Commander says that so far 9,000 Tigers have been killed, attributing this discrepancy to “additional Tiger recruitment, some of it forced, as well as deployment of home guards and police officers to fight” (BBC A?a??a?? 30.6.2008). If the Army CommanderA?a??a??s explanation is correct, it highlights an important factor in this war A?a??a?? the need to deprive the Tigers of new recruits. Given the emphasis Gen. Fonseka has placed on killing Tigers, it makes sense to ensure that the ones killed are not replaced with new ones. The fortunes of war therefore would partly depend on our capacity to wean the Tamil people away from the Tigers. If we fail to do so, we will enable the LTTE to prolong the war by gaining more recruits and more support, both nationally and internationally. As the UTHR points out in its latest report, “There is no doubt that the Government is bombing and shelling people who are prisoners of the LTTE. The young are conscripted in the manner that cattle come of age are taken to the slaughter houseA?a??A?..The new conscripts, who hoped against hope that they could escape, are put through brainwashing. Given the political reality of a detested government, most are turned aroundA?a??A?..” (Information Bulletin No. 46 A?a??a?? 8.7.2008).

Dangers Ahead

Playing with words and calling the war a A?a??E?humanitarian operationA?a??a?? will not work, particularly if the A?a??E?humanitarian operationA?a??a?? affects the Tamils on the ground in a way that is the polar opposite of A?a??E?humanitarianA?a??a??. The Human Rights Watch has accused the government of illegally detaining around 400 civilian Tamils who had fled into government controlled territory for safety from ongoing operations, in a camp in Kalimoddai, in Mannar, since March this year. “No court has authorized their detention and no charges have been filed against any of the campA?a??a??s occupants, in violation of international human rights lawA?a??A?A?a??A? The Sri Lankan army has publicly indicated that Kalimoddai is just the first of more proposed sites in Vavuniya district to detain persons fleeing fighting in the LTTE-held VanniA?a??A?.. On May 10 and 11, local authorities conducted a survey in Kalimoddai camp to assess the wishes of displaced persons on their preferred place of residence. Out of the then camp population of 257, only five families indicated a wish to remain in Kalimoddai. The large majority indicated that they wished to leave and had alternative places to stay, including with nearby host families. To date, unconfirmed information indicates only 28 people have been released” (Sri Lanka: End Internment of Displaced Persons A?a??a?? 3.7.2008).

Quite obviously this is not the way to treat the people fleeing Tiger territory to escape the ongoing war. Such treatment only proves the LTTE contention that the Lankan state is the enemy of the Tamil people and will treat them not as citizens but as enemy aliens. If the Tamils in the Tiger areas are assured of a friendly reception, freedom and better living conditions in government controlled areas, then many would be tempted to flee. But if all they can look forward to is the life of an unofficial prisoner, many may be tempted to join the Tigers, out of sheer desperation.

The regimeA?a??a??s tendency to see a Tiger in every Tamil is undermining our relations with Tamilnadu, as the fiasco of the fishermen demonstrates. It is important to prevent the LTTE from using some Tamilnadu fishermen to ferry arms. But this must not be done in a manner which antagonises most Tamilnadu fishermen and regional politicians. After all, in the final analysis it is the Tamilnadu factor which will be decisive in IndiaA?a??a??s Sri Lanka policy. This is particularly so, given the possibility of early elections (with the left withdrawing its support, the UPA regime has lost its majority; though it is expected to win the upcoming confidence vote it may remain unstable and thus acutely conscious of the next election). In this context the ongoing conflict between the Lankan Navy and Tamilnadu fishermen can take a turn that is extremely damaging to Lankan interests. Some of the fishermen are on a strike protesting against A?a??E?atrocitiesA?a??a?? by the Lankan Navy. If the strike spreads and a wave of anti-Lankan feeling becomes evident in Tamilnadu, the Central government may be compelled to A?a??E?do somethingA?a??a?? (against Sri Lanka) to pacify regional politicians and win the regional voters.

We may be able to defeat the Tigers militarily. But we will never be able to defeat Tamil nationalism militarily. The West and India will not permit us to do so. If the scenario mentioned by the Army Commander becomes a reality and the Eelam war continues, even after the defeat of the LTTE, as a counter-insurgency campaign against Tamil nationalism, the situation will be extremely conducive to a Kosovo outcome. With the odiously terroristic LTTE out of the way, India will have no compunction in donning the mantle of the A?a??E?protector of Tamil peopleA?a??a?? and stepping in with plan for de-facto separation, with the full backing of the West.


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