Colombo Telegraph

Countering The Eelam Project – Part II

By Izeth Hussain

Izeth Hussain

What, then, should be done to counter the Eelam project? The first step should be to identify the forces working towards the implementation of that project. The LTTE and the Tamil diaspora taken together as an entity certainly constitute one such force. After the spectacular success of the recent protest meeting in Jaffna, Chief Minister Wigneswaran is regarded as the local avatar of that force. That might not be a mistaken view, but we should not make the mistake of giving him too much Importance: the truth about him probably is that he is a puppet on a string. That follows from the fact – as I have argued in earlier articles – that by themselves the local Tamils will count for nothing in the Eelam project, as they are no more than a minority defeated in war without the capacity to wage war again in the foreseeable future. They count only because of the external dimension of the Tamil ethnic problem.

In that external dimension the most important force is of course India. The possible fall-out in Tamil Nadu of what is done to the Tamils here makes it a legitimate interest of Delhi – a legitimate interest that however could come to have illegitimate extensions. What I have in mind is that India under certain circumstances could come to share the LTTE’s interest in establishing Eelam or something close to it. One way that could come about is through another anti-Tamil holocaust as in 1983, which could lead to an international invocation of R2P – the responsibility to protect – giving India license to intervene in Sri Lanka as it did in East Pakistan in 1971. But it is difficult to believe that the Sinhalese leadership will ever be so foolish as to perpetrate another 1983 as a way of “teaching the Tamils a lesson”.

Another possibility – a far more realistic one – is that security preoccupations arising out of increasing Chinese power in the Indian Ocean could lead India to want Eelam or something close to it in the form of a confederal arrangement for the Tamils. The objective would be a pro-Indian enclave in the North East with a base in Trinco. Changes that have been taking place in recent times in the political configuration both in this region and globally have to be taken into account. After the elections of last year the new Government took to treating China in a rather summarily dismissive, even insulting, way but it found itself forced to change track abruptly. The reason was simply this: China has the money, India and the US don’t. The new Government and India and the US were made to face up to certain facts: after centuries of humiliation by the West, China had stood up under Mao, it started marching forward under Deng, and nothing in the world is going to stop that onward march. That fact has to impact on the Indian Ocean region whether India and the US like it or not.

Globally changes of the greatest significance are taking place. We are clearly witnessing the demise of the American Empire, which was presciently expected in Emmanuel Todd’s book of 2004 After Empire. He showed prescience also about the resuscitation of Russia’s status as a great power, which we are presently witnessing under a brilliant performance by the Russian leader Putin. Of particular significance is that the US monopoly to wreck the Middle East is being successfully challenged by Russian support for the Assad regime in Syria and for Iran. The Russian rapprochement with China, together with possible rapprochement with the Islamic world where the US is universally hated, could have much significance for the future particularly if Russia chooses to play a role as the sole Eurasian power in the world. The most important fact is that China has greater economic power than any other country. In the context outlined in this paragraph the special relationship that India has been building up with the US makes it look comparatively weak. The point I am getting to is that an Indian sense of vulnerability could result from that and could lead to security preoccupations revolving around its strategically vital neighbor Sri Lanka.

I am not suggesting in the preceding part of this article that India will suddenly pounce on Sri Lanka, establish Eelam in the North East, and secure for itself a base in Trinco. That is not how powerful countries act towards the weak. The historical evidence shows that almost invariably they seek a moral justification before they whack the weak. Furthermore although India has established itself as a regional super power it has yet to qualify as a world power, entitled to strut about on the world top and order the affairs of the world together with its peers. For that it has to show that it can act responsibly and contribute worthily to a new world order. Breaking up Sri Lanka in an act of naked realpolitik would therefore be inappropriate.

A moral justification for intervention in Sri Lanka can be found only in one of two ways: that Sri Lanka has got together with a third power in a way that imperils India; or that its ill-treatment of the Tamils justifies foreign intervention on the principle of R2P – the responsibility to protect. In either case it will help justify Indian intervention if it can be made out that it is meant to benefit an oppressed minority, namely the Tamils. In concluding the first part of this article I pointed out that public opinion in France is solidly sympathetic to the Tamils because they are seen as victims. I am pretty sure that that must be the case all over the developed world. I can attest that in France that is the consequence not of the gullibility of the French people who have swallowed LTTE propaganda whole but of assiduous work done by Tamil expatriates over the decades both in Paris and the provinces. That, I am sure, has been the case in the rest of the developed world also.

Have our Governments matched that Tamil expatriate performance? Had any of them even begun to match it? I am sure not, for two reasons. One is that on the Tamil side the best available talent would have been used, while on the Government side it would have been for the most part the worst. It has to be expected that in any contest the first rate will win over the third rate and the tenth rate. The second reason is that the Government’s publicity drive would have focused mostly on the one point that the LTTE was a terrorist organization and nothing else. But the peoples in the developed countries would have been sophisticated enough to draw a distinction between the LTTE and the Tamil people who are seen as victims. I don’t think that any of our Governments have even seriously addressed the question of reaching out to the peoples of the developed countries in the way the Tamil expatriates have.

The sympathy for the Tamils as victims in the West and elsewhere could weigh significantly in the balance should the day come when India considers intervening in Sri Lanka. It is time to correct that simplistic image of Tamils as victims. I would suggest a three-pronged publicity drive. Firstly the Sinhalese side must jettison the notion that the LTTE was a terrorist organization and no more than that. It was certainly guilty of terrorism, horrendous terrorism, and was justly branded and proscribed for that. But the Sinhalese side must acknowledge that it was also a national liberation movement that fought magnificently to affirm the human status of the Tamils which was denied by relentless State terrorism from 1977 to 1983. It must be acknowledged that the Sinhalese side compelled the Tamils to fight. Otherwise, I strongly believe, there will never be ethnic reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Secondly, details must be given to show that the Tamils are not just victims. They spurned every move towards a political solution and were therefore responsible for the continuation of the war. Details must be given to show that the LTTE degenerated from a national liberation movement into a lower middle class Pol Potist movement. Relevant details would be the genocidal expulsion of eighty thousand Muslims from the North; the kidnapping of children for use as child soldiers; the use of three hundred and thirty thousand Tamils as human shields; and the exercise of absolute and totalitarian power over the Tamil people.

Thirdly, we have to offer a political solution to show that the Tamils will not be victimized in the future. It has to be shown that devolution on an ethic basis can be expected to compound the problem, not solve it. A brief but scholarly article that powerfully expounds that case is the one by M.L. Wickramasinghe in the Island of October 9. My proffered solution is based on the fact that in India over a hundred and seventy five million Muslims have been living for the most part in peace, amity, and co-operation with the Hindus since 1947 without any devolution for the Muslims. The explanation is to be found in India’s fully functioning democracy. How can India object to our emulating a model that has proved to be successful in India itself since 1947?

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