18 April, 2024



Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka –

Dayan Jayatilleka

Taken as a whole, the Norwegian study is a valuable and welcome addition to the growing literature on the war and our times. It is however, wrong or empty at its very core. Wrong not only in what it sees and says, but perhaps even more so, in what it does not—in what it fails to or chooses not to see and/or express. The NORAD study is characterised by an absent analytical core. Though I am critical of its post–mortem of the armed conflict and efforts at peace-making, the Norwegian study of the failed peace efforts in Sri Lanka does contain important and valuable observations concerning the international aspect (Ch 7: ‘The International Dimensions of the Peace Process’) and  domestic political dynamics and trajectories (Ch 11: ‘The Primacy of Domestic Politics’) .

In the section that deals with the international dimension the report significantly admits that “Possibly, Western pressure may have had an adverse effect, as it created additional anxiety and time pressure for the government during the final offensive” and goes on to quote a Wikileaks cable and an observation by me:

“Senior Sri Lankan diplomat Dayan Jayatilleka noted ‘It was a neck-and-neck race between the historic chance of finishing off the Tigers and concerted international pressure interrupting the offensive. […] The international pressure was too strong for the Sri Lankan state simply to ignore but too weak to stop the state’s military campaign. […] We had to outrun the pressure by accelerating the military offensive and closing the endgame as soon as possible’ (Jayatilleka, 2010).” (p 79)

The observations in the Norwegian study on Sri Lankan politics and political history are considerably more objective than most domestic commentaries, both hagiographic and hysterically denunciatory. The scholars from the School of Oriental and African Studies and the Christian Michaelson institute, brought together by NORAD have held up a mirror before the national political developments of the recent past.

The NORAD report sheds light on both government and opposition and explains the current crisis of the Opposition (UNP and JVP) as well as the trajectory and character of the regime.

“…The peace process contributed to this transformation through a number of mechanisms.

First, it contributed to a legitimacy crisis of the mainstream parties, particularly the leadership of the UNP which was seen to be too close to Western actors who threatened the sovereignty and unity of the state…” (p124)

“…with both the UNP and the SLFP politically compromised by their association with the Norwegian supported peace process – and the UNP in particular because of its dual ambitions of peacemaker and economic reformer – the JHU and JVP took over the nationalist baton. Controversial documents like the ISGA proposal or the P-TOMS agreement became rally points for nationalist mobilization. This volatile period thus marked an important change: previously mainstream parties had depended upon minority kingmakers (mainly SLMC and CWC) and a few crossovers to form a government, but in 2004, the SLFP-JVP tandem won with an almost exclusively Sinhala vote. Rajapaksa’s presidential election a year later repeated that pattern…there is little evidence that the [Norwegian] team appreciated the  fundamental shift that was taking place in Sri Lankan politics at the time.” (p 125)

The study does not regard the Rajapaksa administration as some unprecedentedly horrendous regime type, but understands its continuities with previous Sri Lankan governments while discerning the element of change, including the underlying ‘power shift’.

The observations in the Norwegian study on Sri Lankan politics and political history are considerably more objective than most domestic commentaries, both hagiographic and hysterically denunciatory.

“…Therefore, the peace process played a role in facilitating this power shift in which ultra-nationalism moved from the margins to the centre of Sri Lankan politics. There are of course a lot of intervening factors involved here, as already indicated. Three caveats need to be underlined. First, there are a number of longer-term patterns in relation to Sinhala nationalism, and the Rajapaksa government fits well within the tradition of populist leaders such as former presidents JR Jayawardene and Premadasa. The nationalist rhetoric, market oriented reforms alongside populist state welfarism, the valorization of ‘the rural’, and the emphasis on visible infrastructural development all have clear historical precedents.” (p125)

“….Foreign involvement in sovereign affairs, ‘unconstitutional’ engagement with the LTTE, the pro-Western course of the UNP government and economic reforms associated with it, all enlarged spaces for nationalist mobilization. These factors, in conjunction with shifts in the international context and the tilting of the military balance, enabled the Rajapaksa government to come to power, but also narrowed its options once there. Sri Lanka’s story is thus not only a story of peace efforts that were thwarted by ethnic nationalisms and terminated by war, but also a story of a peace process that fuelled a nationalist backlash and contributed to a situation where military victory could prevail.” (p127)

“…Bolstered by its military victory, the electoral success of the Rajapaksa government may have marked a transition to a largely uni-polar political system. The UNP was in disarray and proved unable to get back on its feet in the following years. Further impaired by its leadership crisis (Wickremesinghe refusing to step down despite successive electoral defeats), the UNP was unable to formulate a credible response to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s agenda of military victory, state-led growth and international realignment. With its overtly nationalistic, pro-poor rhetoric and strong-arm politics, the Rajapaksa administration also took the wind out of the

JVP’s sails and co-opted the JHU. There were also major implications for the minority parties. With no credible alternative sources of power the Muslim and Upcountry Tamil politicians lost bargaining power. Partly as a result of this, the political space for tabling minority rights became smaller than ever. With no change of regime on the cards any time soon after the defeat of the LTTE, most politicians felt opposition was pointless. Crossovers to the government soared, but on gradually deteriorating terms….” (p126)

The NORAD-SOAS- Chr Michaelson reading is devoid of rhetoric such as ‘despotism’ ‘tyranny’, ‘dictatorship’, and the discourse is a far planet from the shrill epithets of ‘Hitler’, ‘Nazism’ and ‘Germany in the 1930s’ that litter the more lurid of current political critique. Instead, this collective of researchers use the far more accurate scholarly definition to characterise the status-quo, namely, ‘uni-polarity’.  Whether that uni-polarity is irreversibly structural, systemic or a conjunctural ‘moment’, is a subject for debate and an object of action.  Unlike in the renditions of the local political commentators whose diagnosis places the blame entirely on President Rajapaksa and are therefore unable to point to an accurate policy or political prescription, the key vector is clearly identified by the Norwegian study: no “credible alternative sources of power” stemming from the “leadership crisis” of the UNP, itself due to “Wickremesinghe refusing to step down despite successive electoral defeats” and the party’s “inability to formulate a credible response”.

Running through the entirety of the NORAD study is the dual argument about (i) two contending ethno-nationalisms (or ultra-nationalisms) and (ii) the failure of the Sri Lankan state to reform/restructure. This argument is supported by and often attributed to a few Lankan social scientists.  Though containing considerable truth, the dual argument fails to grasp the main thing: as Sartre emphasised, what is most crucial is not what is done to you by others, but what you do with, and about, what is done to you. One is free to choose, and the existential choice one makes tells you about yourself and tells us about you– all the more so if it is a choice that is repeatedly made over time. Not many armed movements faced with the phenomenon of a state that refuses to or is agonisingly slow to reform, respond by assassinating neighbouring peacemakers like Rajiv Gandhi or wiping out competing guerrilla movements and intellectuals who were for federal reforms, such as Rajani Tiranagama and Neelan Tiruchelvam.

Aristotle was the first to point out that one size does not fit all, when he embarked on a comparative study of constitutions of the Greek city states and pioneered the classification of regimes, according to their internal arrangements and ‘animating spirit’ or governing ethos. For many long years I have argued emphatically that the same is true of non-state or anti-state actors.

The Tigers and their leader were of a qualitatively different category from, say, the Guatemalan guerrillas with whom the Norwegians dealt with in the peace process they successfully mediated.

This is not a prejudiced assumption which should have been made apriori by Norway. It is a conclusion that would have flowed had they undertaken a quite basic task of analysis, namely to study the earlier peace efforts that were made by India and Sri Lanka, and have detailed discussions with the Indian and Lankan negotiators. Even if one assumed ideological–cultural bias on the part of the Sri Lankans, searching conversations with the Indian negotiators of the 1980s (such as India’s man currently on the Security Council) should have been an obvious exercise. That this has not been mentioned or undertaken by the Norwegian study reveals that they are still unaware that they attempted to re-invent a wheel.

In an exercise that is pretty standard in the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit at Quantico, a study of the LTTE’s conduct during all previous ceasefires and efforts at negotiation would have yielded an unmistakable profile of the movement and its leader.

That in turn, would have helped construct a far less frail and foredoomed effort at peace by Norway. Given the character of the LTTE as analytically derived from its patterns of political (more correctly, politico-military) behaviour, a different and far stronger strategy could have been drawn up by Norway. Such a strategy would have had to be based on concepts of containment and deterrence, not of appeasement; a model emphasising conflict management rather than of conflict resolution. The primary object of containment and deterrence should have been of that party which had repeatedly returned to war– even against a non-Sinhala, secular, quasi-federal mediator (India) and a reform-minded President (Chandrika).

The final war was the sole option left open after the Norwegian failure to adopt a realist model of peace-making deriving from a comprehension of the character of one of the belligerents, itself deducible from (a) the political behaviour of that actor and (b) a comparative political analysis of other armed movements (e.g. Guatemala, El Salvador, Northern Ireland).

This study does not pose, still less grapple with the quintessential political question involved in the Norwegian and other efforts at a negotiated peace in Sri Lanka, and worldwide: how does one make peace with a non-state (therefore unconstrained) actor that is fanatical, politico-ideologically fundamentalist and totalitarian? Is peace possible, in the final analysis, with such an entity? If so, is it not only as a product of prolonged containment and firm deterrence, until that entity evolves/mutates, or decomposes/implodes? If not, surely war is necessary, and if we are to invert Machiavelli who said the only just war is a necessary war, is not a necessary war, a just war?

It is the enduring intellectual availability and strong international reassertion of a reformist liberal Realism — ‘post-Neocon Realism’ – that enables a clear understanding of why the Norwegian effort was foredoomed, and why the war had to be fought to win. It sheds light on why, with the domestic abdication or absence of a liberal realist political will to defeat the Tigers and defend sovereignty, leaving the task almost by default to a re-emergent ‘nationalist orientation’,  the aftermath was pretty much inevitable. A liberal realist perspective also informs us no less crucially, what must be done, undone and not done, for the peace too to be won.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    fanatical, political-ideological fundamentalist, tyrannical-how else to deal with, other than to annihilate root and branch, with no regard for collateral damage. This is the justification offered for the war- a war of conquest and subjugation. The political status of the Tamil nation obliterated through Executive proclamation, areas of traditional co-habitation under military occupation, yet no political solution, the imposition of a centralised, chauvinist-militarist regime with zero accountability.

    Verbiage does not subtitute for analysis. This is not an intellectual analysis, but a rigurtitation of political-ideological venom by a cringing careerist. The Sri Lankan State has been historically- and is – indeed fanatical, political-ideological fundamentalist, and tyrannical. But better to stay out of venomous verbiage and describe it as -rabidly chauvinist-hegemonic. The Tamil nation faced gross, systemic and intensifying discrimination and violent suppression enforced by every successive government. Sinhala Only language policy, repeated barbaric pogroms, taken for ride by false promises, outlawing the constitutional approach to self-determination, burning libraries ( a form of cultural genocide), attacking places of religious worship, desecrating monuments and cemetries, demonised, every effort at cosmetic reforms sabotaged by every successive Opposition, leading to open and flagrant rigging of the Jaffna DDC elelction in 1981. Cage and beat a dog for long and it will become vicious. The LTTE is a product of the State and the politics of the time. All Tamil political organisations were beholden to, and manipulated by India- by Delhi, the RAW and Tamil Nadu politicians, which encouraged dominance for their chosen agents. The EPRLF, of which provincial administration Jayatilleke was a sworn Minister, went all out to eliminate rivals, with the full backing of the IPKF. Selective memory is fatal to honesty. All groups were trained and armed by various forces within the Indian spectrum. The LTTE simply went all out to eliminate its rivals. Gruesome, tribalist blood-baths, yet, to be accounted for sociologically.

    Whatever the external factors and the environment, the LTTE is responsible for its political line, ideology and practice, ” an eye for an eye” frame of consciousness and practice- cruel and gruesome,. which ultimately made them kill the people they were to liberate, when under a brutal and encircling seige. Yet, such line and practice has to be analysed and located sociologically within the empirical, historical and causal matrix that made such neccessary and possible. That would be an intellectual analysis. But that quality of intelectaul honesty, integrity and rigor would be far too much to expect from a reeking careerist.

    • 0

      Here below is the best answer to Surendra ( who, going by his name, could be the crackpot Maoist who led the heavily Western funded National Anti-War Front during the war that the Tigers launched). -Dayan Jayatilleka

      A Sri Lankan Tamil who could have made a difference

      By M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS

      19 November 2011

      If the Tamil Tigers had not assassinated him, K. Pathmanabha would have turned 60 Saturday. A Sri Lankan Tamil who embraced militancy in the 1970s, Nabha – as he was known – did not have the glamour of Velupillai Prabhakaran. He did not kill at will. True, the man did later head a “People’s Liberation Army”. But it was a rag tag force more suited for a photo opportunity than to wage war against Sri Lanka.

      A humble man, he embraced Marxism like so many of his era. Nabha strongly believed that salvation for the Tamils lay in forging bonds with like-minded Sinhalese and building a new non-racist Sri Lanka. He did not advocate ethnic hatred. In the process, he lost the race among militants to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that ballooned with tit-for-tat killings after the 1983 anti-Tamil violence. The Tamil community then sought revenge. Prabhakaran delivered them what they wanted. The likes of Pathmanabha took a backseat.

      To the LTTE, men like Pathmanabha were a hindrance to the fight for Tamil Eelam. One day, Prabhakaran sent hitmen who shot dead Nabha and his close associates in Chennai in June 1990. For months previously, Nabha’s Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) had headed a provincial government in Sri Lanka’s northeast, mainly with New Delhi’s blessings. Once the Indian troops quit Sri Lanka, the EPRLF regime collapsed, thanks to new-found bonhomie between the LTTE and President Ranasinghe Premadasa.

      Like many Tamils ranged against the LTTE, Nabha fled to India. He felt he would be secure there. He had underestimated Prabhakaran. When he died, Nabha was only 39 years old. Tamil Nadu Police were lax in their investigations, thanks to which the man who oversaw the mayhem came back to India next year to mastermind Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. Nabha was no theoretician or a military craftsman. Like Prabhakaran, he was at home in Tamil. But unlike the Tigers chief, he was passionate about a dignified political deal for the Tamils.

      Born in 1951, Nabha was a student activist who became radicalized following the killing of 11 people at a 1974 Tamil conference in Jaffna. In 1976, when his middle class parents sent him to Britain for higher studies, he met fellow Tamils who shared his political views. In London, PLO representative Said Hamaami, later assassinated by radical Palestinians, helped a small group of Sri Lankan Tamils, Nabha included, to take military training in the Middle East. After a while, he returned to Sri Lanka where security forces were looking for him. He travelled in different identities, disguising himself as a worker or a shopkeeper or a student. He lived among farm workers.

      In 1981, Nabha travelled to Kumbakonam town in Tamil Nadu and laid the foundation for the EPRLF. He remained its general secretary till he died. He was not without faults. His EPRLF regime was accused of killings and more when it presided over Sri Lanka’s northeast. But his heart was not in breaking up Sri Lanka. He bitterly opposed the LTTE’s killing of innocent Sinhalese. Nabha constantly argued that Prabhakaran’s murderous politics would one day leave the Tamil community in ruins. Even when he died, trying to ward off AK-47 carbine with a pillow, no one would have imagined that he would prove to be so very right.


      • 0

        Is this man is a diplomat? looks at his language when he comment!!!

  • 0

    Norway and Solhem are either fools or have had a hidden agenda. For onething, only those that have an ulterior motive would have expected or come up with examples to intimate that India had colluded with Norway and/or Solheim to meddle in Sri Lanka affairs.

    In my opinion, Indian government may not have taken Solheim seriously and hence they may have taken time to realize who Norway and Solheim represents and more of their aim. But no sooner India realised that Norway and Solheim are puppets of the so-called International community or the gang of neo-colonialists and it is they who are behind the scheming, India must have become suspicious of their moves and kept out of it for they didn’t like it. The simple fact that India had not become a so-called co-chair of subsequent schematic ‘peace talks’ etc or offered pseudo loans to Sri Lanka as it does aftermath of ‘war’ is a good enough proof for this.

    Indian leaders have to be very patriotic if they are to reach the top. Though many a non Hindian had become Prime Ministers, no Tamil had ever managed to reach the top for Hindians were once bitten twice shy. Remember; PM, Nehru had to enact 17A in 1963 to put a stop to Tamil nationalists drive to create a country for Tamils by dividing India. So, in so far as India is concerned, Tamil leaders are fanatics and had set a bad record. And that’s why Kamaraj, a Tamil and a potential PM could only be a king maker. But two fellow Dravidians (not Tamils), Deve Gowda and Narasimha Rao had become Prime Ministers for they were proven Indian nationalists.

    So, it is obvious that no Indian leader would want Sri Lanka to grant devolution beyond 13A. One must be a fool to think otherwise. But Solheim and his puppeteers not just thought otherwise but did everything in their power to help LTTE reach Eelam by stages. They would have set the stage for it had RanilW become the President in 2005. In a way we are lucky for LTTE didn’t have the patience for Solheim and the gang to effect their sting operation.

    India knew LTTE would settle for nothing but Eelam. It also knew real Eelam will have a domino effect on Indian unity. And needless to say, Indian leaders knew that would be the end of India. So, it is obvious that they wanted to eradicate LTTE for good. The fact that India siding with its arch enemy, China to safeguard Sri Lanka for war crime accusations by the gang of neo-colonialists is good enough proof to discard Solheim’s claim “he still believes that the peace process could have produced a very different result.”

  • 0

    ‘cage a dog and beat for long time, it will become visious’, You people were made to believe that you are being caged by narrow minded fanatic Tamil leaders. Your Diaspora still working overtime to make you believe that myth is a fact. Put the past behind and think of our children. Why do we need to label us as Tamil or Sinhalese. What is the difference? Don,t we have murderes or fanatics all across ethnic lines? Each individual create their pschic enclave and they are scared to get out of it. That is what exactly happeing with this writer ‘Surendara’

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