23 October, 2020

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‘Long War, Cold Peace’ – The Unfinished Story Of An Unfinished Conflict

By Lasanda Kurukulasuriya

Lasanda Kurukulasuriya

Dayan Jayatilleka’s Long War, Cold Peace – Conflict and Crisis in Sri Lanka’ appears at a moment in history when Sri Lanka stands at a crossroads.The war is over but there is yet a crisis of reconciliation and a crisis of state to be resolved, and so a stable peace still eludes us. These are the issues that Jayatilleka primarily worries about in his new book. It runs into several sections and sub sections on the historical record of how we came to be where we are.

The first aspect of the crisis of reconciliation is located, as it has been by many others, in the need to forge an overarching national identity that includes all communities. A less obvious aspect of the crisis that the author identifies is what he calls “the crisis of post war consciousness and discourse.”

“Those who call for a just peace refuse to admit that it was a just war and therefore face a crisis of domestic legitimacy. Those who maintain that it was a just war fail to call for a just peace, a peace with justice for the Tamil community.

The Tamils for their part have failed to make a clean break from their recent past of support or sympathy for secessionism and terrorism.There is no post war discourse which combines a strong position in defence of the war with a strong drive for a sustainable peace on a new basis of a fairly redrawn ethnic compact. This is the crisis of post war consciousness and discourse.”

It is in this important area that the book makes its main contribution — one of its objectives, by the author’s own admission in the preface, being to provoke the debate and discussion that is needed. ‘Long war, cold peace’goes headlong into the narrative without detaining the reader with the niceties of a foreword or intro written by some other scholar etc. If the book comes across as having been produced in a hurry, it is because it was.

The author and publisher (Vijitha Yapa) were keen to “send the manuscript to the press in time for the March 2013 session of the UN Human Rights Council and the discussion on the event.”

The book combines documentary, analysis and opinion (at times all rolled into one) drawing on the author’s multifaceted experience as a political scientist, academic and diplomat. He was also briefly a minister of the ill-fated North East Provincial Council (NEPC) formed in 1988 under EPRLF’s Varadharajah Perumal. Chapter three(‘Conflict and Negotiations’) that deals with the formation of the NEPC and the reasons for its failure is one of the book’s most detailed and nuanced sections. This is no doubt owing to the author’s degree of proximity to and involvement in the events chronicled.

Starting from the genesis of Tamil separatist violence this section traces the trajectory of the Eelam Left, the shifting balance of power between its constituents, the LTTE’s rise to pre eminence,the bloody serial massacres tha teliminated its rivals, the Indo Lanka Peace Accord of July 1987, the developments leading up to the outbreak of war between the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and the LTTE in Oct 1987, the formation of the NEPC and the factors leading to its eventual collapse.

The seemingly intractable interplay of forces at different levels – inter-state as well as intra-state, is made comprehensible,aided by reference to the “unchronicled and undocumented processes that were going on at that time.”

‘Long war, cold peace’ does not pretend to be a complete historical account of the war, and its narrative does not proceed in a straight line. While it deals withthe important landmark events and issues(the Eelam wars, July 1983, the Indo Lanka Accord, the Ceasefire Agreement, the P-TOMs, the military victory over the Tigers, post war politics, the international dimension) the book’s interest lies more in the author’s analytical approach and ability to place things in perspective.

There is an ethical dimension to the discussion that runs through it like a sub text, and this is where the book’s appeal would lie for those with a philosophical turn of mind. The author’s encyclopedic familiarity with political theory,conflict situations and armed struggles elsewhere in the world allows him to make comparisons at every point (Columbia’s FARC, Central America’s FMLN and URNG, the MNLF in the Philippines, SPLA in Southern Sudan, the PLO and the IRA).This constant cross-referencing helps the reader to understand the particularities of Sri Lanka’s crisis and its manifestations. It also helps to separate criticisms that are valid from those that are not.

In the latter part of the book that deals with the international dimension, Jayatilleka refers to the ongoing discourse on war crimes and says “the assertion that the endgame that actually took place needs to be investigated as a war crime” is baseless.The reasons he gives, briefly are, firstly, the Tigers were a fascist force that had to be decimated. Secondly the Sri Lankan forces had to operate according to a tightening timetable not of their own choosing. Thirdly at no time were civilians wittingly targeted as a matter of policy, nor were they boxed in and deprived of an exit by the state.
In no way does this argument amount to a dismissal of human rights as “a Western invention or booby trap.” Though there are constant attempts to use human rights to undermine national sovereignty, Jayatilleka pleads that the answer is not to shun human rights but to protect them ourselves.

It is imperative to realise that the international pressures “are a symptom and byproduct of something that has gone wrong in our external relations and our ability to communicate with the world.” The only real antidote against these pressures he argues is to have “strong, credible, NATIONAL institutions and mechanisms.”The author offers pointers as to how, in his opinion, the crisis of reconciliation can be resolved. Central to that project is his belief in the 13th Amendment and the urgent need for devolution of power.

If this book has an ‘unfinished’ feel to it, this is probably not unrelated to the fact that the conflict itself remains ‘unfinished’. Having been rushed to press, the manuscript’s main weakness is an element of repetition, duly apologised for in a note by the author. Some sections have been drawn from his previous publications. This creates a certain unevenness in the text, as the reader has to constantly shift gear so to speak, adjusting to varying levels of intensity of analysis and slightly different stylistic approaches adopted in different sections.

However, consistency of philosophical approach is maintained throughout and this gives the work a binding coherence.’Long war, cold peace’ may be a bumpy ride, but worth it for the reader who, at the end of the journey,will arrive at a better understanding of the most urgent issues of our time.

*This article is first appeared in Sunday Times Sri Lanka

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    A far better book is the “Broken Palmyrah.”

    The Tamils for their part have failed to make a clean break from their recent past of support or sympathy for secessionism and terrorism.

    Using phrases like “terrorism” – which by the way is absent from the Broken Palymrah – shuts the door for any possible ethnic reconciliation. Scholars of quality do not use such phrases in their professional writings. Dayan Jayatilleke, unfortunately, is only one step above a politician. So one should take his “analysis” with a grain of salt.

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      “Using phrases like “terrorism” – which by the way is absent from the Broken Palymrah – shuts the door for any possible ethnic reconciliation. Scholars of quality do not use such phrases in their professional writings.”

      If it walks like a duck.

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    “the assertion that the endgame that actually took place needs to be investigated as a war crime” is baseless.

    Baseless or not can ONLY be determind by an independent,international
    investgation.

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    Dayan puts the crux of the matter well when he says, “there is no post war discourse which combines a strong position in defence of the war with a strong drive for a sustainable peace on a new basis of a fairly redrawn ethnic compact.” A consensus along those lines was emerging in the country among ordinary people of all communities soon after the war ended. This common sentiment would have become the post war discourse had the opinion makers for both Tamil nationalism and the government not thwarted its natural progression. Unfortunately the ordinary people across ethnic and religious barriers who are for the most part decent and fair-minded are not the “discourse-manufacturers.”

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      “A consensus along those lines was emerging in the country among ordinary people of all communities soon after the war ended. This common sentiment would have become the post war discourse had the opinion makers for both Tamil nationalism and the government not thwarted its natural progression.”

      Excellent point.

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    Dear Padraig, I am in near-total agreement with you. At the moment I can do no better than contribute to further explication and clarification by quoting a renowned Israel strategic thinker’s evaluation and summary of my perspective.

    Dayan’s book on Castro merits attention

    A top Israeli scholar-analyst, who served as adviser to several Prime Ministers, has described Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka’s book on Fidel Castro as a ‘fascinating book’ that ‘deserves attention by all concerned with global norms’ in a review posted in January 2013 on Amazon.com.

    Yehezkel Dror, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was Senior Policy Planning and Analysis Adviser with the Israeli Ministry of Defence, a consultant of the Israeli Cabinet Office and advised several Israeli Prime Ministers.

    Professor Dror served on the Israeli Government-appointed panel that investigated the military’s performance in the 2006 Lebanon war. The Harvard educated academic is the author of ‘Israeli Statecraft: National Security Challenges and Responses’ (Routledge).

    He has served as a senior staff member of the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California, directed the Strategic Studies Section of the Davies Institute for International Relations at the Hebrew University and is a member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies and of the Club of Rome.

    In the review entitled ‘Realistic Ethics for Revolutionary Violence’, Prof. Dror wrote:

    “This is a fascinating book discussing the author’s understanding of the ‘ethics of violence’ of Fidel Castro. I am not qualified to express an opinion if and how far the book correctly describes the actual behaviour of Castro. But the book does present impressive ethics of violence fitting bloody revolutionary situations, as developed and expressed, at least verbally, by one of the most interesting and relatively successful revolutionary leaders of the 20th century.

    In essence, the suggested ethics justifies the use of violence, including extreme forms, if essential for making a revolution succeed, while restraining unessential violence not justified by evil acts which justify retribution. Thus, violence was not condoned against soldiers fighting on the battlefield against Castro’s troops, but was regarded as fully justified against those torturing revolutionaries, murdering them after they capitulated, and engaging in violent anti-revolutionary actions after the victory of Castro.

    Comparing such ethics of revolutionary violence with the barbarism of deliberate mass killing by Germany’s National socialist regime, or Stalinist Soviet Russia, or mass killing terrorists, or African tribal ethnic killings, demonstrates the importance of developing a realistic ethics for revolutionaries – fitting, for instance, the Syrian revolution.

    Trying to apply the norms of international humanitarian law to such situations is inappropriate and cannot work, while the absence of realistically applicable rules abandons the domain to normless behaviour. As revolutions are sure to characterize humanity for quite some time, because of transformative historic processes, there is much to learn from this, discussion of Castro’s explicit normative thinking, however probably idealized.

    Therefore, this book deserves attention by all concerned with global norms, who should take into account the realities of revolutionary processes so as to limit violence to what is realistically necessary and morally justified in such extraordinary situations.”

    Emeritus Prof Yehezkel Dror awards Dayan Jayatilleka’s book five out of five stars, the highest possible rating.

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    Dayan,

    Seems to be a fairly dull book. Given your experience in being a member of the North East Provision Council you witness your boss Varadaraja Perumal not even get a Chair to sit on despite banking on the 13th Amendment; I would have expected you not to be a second hand car salesmen.

    What is worse is that you are now in direct competition with the other Sinhalese non-intellectual Rohan Goonratne on the “Terrorism” issue. You your self seem to have forgotten the times that NIM was gunning for the terrorist called “Dayan Jayatillake” who as also considered a traitor for working with Tamil groups.

    As for the the Tamils, the terrorists are their brothers sisters cousins and relatives driven to do what they did due to state terrorism. The US does not want parrayas to joint their “Anti Terrorism” campaign. But since it is not very nice only for white people to complain all the time about “terrorisim” it is good to have some brown people being on the lookout. Goonratne is doing a good job there. No need to compete compete with him.

    What is really dull about your book is that you ask the same dull question ” What is wrong with the Tamils ? “

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    What is even worse is that you provide an even duller solution.

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    “Having been rushed to press, the manuscript’s main weakness is an element of repetition, duly apologised for in a note by the author. Some sections have been drawn from his previous publications. This creates a certain unevenness in the text, as the reader has to constantly shift gear so to speak, adjusting to varying levels of intensity of analysis and slightly different stylistic approaches adopted in different sections.”

    Those are common failings in Sri Lankan books.

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