By Izeth Hussain –
At the moment of writing the vote has not yet been cast on a final anti-Sri Lankan US Resolution in Geneva. If no Resolution is adopted in favour of the immediate setting up of a mechanism for international investigations of alleged war crimes in the final phase of the war, and there are no Western moves for the imposition of sanctions against Sri Lanka, the SL Government can legitimately claim a triumph. At the time of the Cameron visit to Sri Lanka for CHOGM and in the ensuing months, it was widely and confidently anticipated – indeed it was widely assumed as a certainty – that there would be such action following on the adoption of a US Resolution. However the Government’s triumph would only be of a temporary and provisional order if, as is being anticipated at the moment of writing, the Resolution provides a reprieve of just one year: such action could be taken if at the end of the year the Government has not shown that it has got going with credible internal investigations into war crimes, and also taken effective action over a wide range of other matters.
How has this triumph – albeit of a temporary and provisional order – been achieved? I believe that the crux is the incompatibility between investigations into war crimes and movement towards a political solution and ethnic reconciliation. The Government took to emphasizing this incompatibility – an unanswerable point in my view – and has also managed to effect, or promote, changes of a radical order in the Draft Resolution. How can it be squared with any notion of equity that enquiries should be confined to war crimes perpetrated by one side only? Why should they be confined to the final phase of the war only? The British Foreign Secretary’s injudicious parallel with the case of Sierra Leone has led logically to the demand that India’s role in training, arming, and promoting the LTTE, as well as the crimes committed by the IPKF in Sri Lanka, be also investigated. I believe that it is very probable that these arguments have led to our being given a reprieve of one year. I feel that it is an achievement for which Foreign Minister G.L.Peiris should be given major credit.
However the triumph is only of a provisional order because at the end of a year the Government could find itself in very serious trouble: international investigations plus sanctions plus who knows what else? So, while the reprieve is a triumph for the Government, a successful US Resolution could be a major defeat with possibly horrendous consequences. What should be done? Since India is an integral part of the ethnic problem, not just an ancillary factor, we should recognize that there are four main actors in our ethnic imbroglio: the SL Government, the SL Tamils, the Indian Government, and Tamil Nadu. It should help if there is an understanding, not a formal agreement or treaty, between the two Governments which gets the broad consensus of the SL Tamils represented by the TNA and Tamil Nadu. It is important to bear in mind that the BJP in power will not strike the same postures as the BJP in opposition: in other words, it is extremely unlikely that a new Government under the BJP will act precipitately and push for Eelam. So an understanding should be possible about what should be done to move towards a political solution and ethnic reonciliation. In any case, even without an understanding, it seems obvious that the way forward is through implementation of 13A, making the NPC a success in meeting the grass roots needs of the Tamil people, plus more democracy, the democracy that is embodied in the LLRC recommendations.
However, there is an uncertain factor among the four main actors that I have listed above, namely the Sri Lanka Government. The history of our endlessly protracted ethnic imbroglio suggests that when it comes to the ethnic problem, we cannot assume that any of our Governments have had untrammeled power. The Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact of 1957 was torn up when members of the Sangha protested against it. It is known that when Chelvanayagam and other leaders of the Federal Party visited Bandaranaike at his residence that night the latter had wept, showing the prescience of a statesman who had understood the horrors that would follow from our ethnolunacy. The Dudley-Chelvanayagam Pact of a decade later was also aborted when the Opposition protested with the backing of the Sangha. Since then it has been assumed that when it comes to the ethnic problem the ultimate determinant is not the Government but a hard indissoluble core of Sinhala Buddhist chauvinist together with the Sangha.
But that widespread assumption representing orthodox thinking on our ethnic problem came into question after 1994. President Kumaratunge spectacularly offered Prabhakaran ten years of power over the North. There was no outrage expressed by the Sangha with the mass backing of the people. Nor was there anything like that kind of reaction when CBK made handsome offers of devolution between 1995 and 2000. Neither was there anything like that during the entire period of the internationally-backed peace process when it was widely assumed that any solution would only be on the basis of a very wide measure of devolution in the North and East. The conclusion has been drawn therefore that what looked like President Rajapakse’s grim determination to lose the peace in the five years after the 2009 victory has been due mainly to his anti-minority racism.
I would proffer a different explanation for President MR’s behavior. He has not been the main determinant in losing the peace. Between 1995 and 2000, and even more during the years of the peace process, the widespread assumption was that the LTTE could never be defeated militarily. There were very few dissentient voices against that conventional wisdom outside the armed forces and those identifiable as Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists. One dissentient voice was that of Dayan Jayatilleka, who consistently maintained that there was no reason at all why the LTTE could not be defeated militarily. Anyway, it is reasonable to think that it was that conventional wisdom about the LTTE’s invincibility that made many people accept the idea of a political solution through a wide measure of devolution.
Obviously that conventional wisdom has undergone a sea-change after the victory of May 19, 2009. In an earlier article I argued that President MR will go down in history for two achievements: defeating the LTTE and preventing the military coming to power in the aftermath of the 2009 victory. But he has found himself forced to prevent the latter outcome at a price. Since Sri Lanka is not Britain in 1945, since it does not have an advanced economy, the Government cannot be expected simply to disband the armed forces and expect them to melt peacefully into the wider society. Obviously the armed forces had to be allowed a special role, and that can be seen in a number of ways, most notably in the militarization – what I and many others regard as the disastrous militarization – of the North. At this point I must go into some speculation which to some readers may seem fanciful but to most as thoroughly commonsensical. I postulate a hard intransigent core in the armed forces that is opposed to any concessions being made to the Tamils for a political solution. I postulate also such a hard core in the Sangha, and further that the two groups are integrally together. It is that hard core that makes the Government what I called an “uncertain factor” among the four main actors in our ethnic tragedy.
The kind of hard core inner group to which I refer that is beyond the control of Government and people is not something peculiar to Sri Lanka. I have in mind the US military –industrial complex about the power of which Eisenhower alerted the American people in his farewell speech. Later, the military-industrial complex came to figure prominently in the conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination. He was seen as a liberal, who would be regarded by the American far right as akin to the communist, who among other things would want to withdraw from Vietnam, adversely affecting the interests of the military-industrial complex. Hence his assassination, which some saw as a coup d’état, after which the hard-liner Lyndon Johnson took power.
What should be done to counter the hard-core ultra opposition to a political solution and ethnic reconciliation? Only an appeal to the factor of hard power, I believe, will help. Some weeks ago the shadow Foreign Minister of the BJP declared that Eelam is a distinct possibility, and there were extremely menacing noises from Tamil Nadu. More recently the Russian take- over of the Crimea led to the drawing of some eerie parallels, which very probably caused some disturbance among the upper echelons of the State in Sri Lanka. What has to be emphasized to the hard-core ultras is this: within Sri Lanka Sinhalese hard power is dominant over the Tamils, but outside that framework Indian hard power would be dominant over the Sinhalese, and that fact can be expected to count – as long as the ethnic problem remains unsolved – in favour of the Tamils against the Sinhalese.
I have just seen the outcome of the voting at the UNHRC. India has abstained, which is a very positive development. It could be seen as a triumph for Sri Lankan diplomacy.