By Imtiyaz Razak –
The Tamil Tigers unquestionably are the deadly elements of Sri Lankan society. However, the birth of the Tamil Tigers has roots in Sri Lanka’s history. They are the byproduct of decades-old failed politics and policies of the Sinhalese political class. There was not an overnight decision among the ordinary Tamils to approve the agendas of the Tamil Tigers. The failure of the Sri Lankan polity to meet the demands of the Tamil moderates was a key foundation for the origin of Tamil extremism in Sri Lanka.
One needs to realize that successive governments since 1956, controlled by the Sinhalese, failed to engage the Tamil moderates such as the Federal Party, which sought a comprehensive solution without jeopardizing the unity of Sri Lanka. However, Sinhalese collective, competitive chauvinism turned a blind eye to the Tamil moderates. Sadly, the choice of the Sinhala political class to use violence effectively damaged the Tamil trust in the political system and encouraged some Tamils to adopt violence.
Ranil Wickramasinghe, a former premier of Sri Lanka, echoed this truth during his visit to the United States. He rightly pointed out that “the Tamils tried peaceful protest, which soon degenerated into violence. With the underlying grievances being unattended, the stage was set for terrorist groups to emerge” (“Our Approach for a Better Tomorrow Free From Terrorism,” Daily News, July 25, 2002).
Separation may not be a desirable solution for the ethnic civil war that killed more than 75,000 people out of the island’s 19 million. It may trigger further instability. However, when a particular community is continuously denied its rights, there must be a solution to arrest an unhealthy political situation and give justice to the marginalized. The desire for partition could be challenged if the ruling elites show real willingness to act beyond the ethnic emotions and a commitment to sharing power with the minorities. This likely would undermine the agendas of the separatist movements, provided there is domestic and international political willingness to implement the agreement.
The demand of separation becomes strong when a power-sharing arrangement is not possible. The world recognizes that if the people do not want to cohabit in the same polity, partition should not be neglected automatically as a solution. This might be one way to manage the Tamils’ demands for political space since 1977. However, partition would not win the blessings of the global community. New Delhi and Washington, particularly, would refuse to go along with it for reasons best known to them.
If the global community thinks partition is not desirable, it needs to exert tough leverage on the Sri Lankan ruling elites to improve the human rights of the minorities by giving political space for a power-sharing democracy. Sri Lanka will continue to be home to deadly but motivated Tamil suicide bombers if there are no outside pressures.
*Dr. Imtiyaz, the Asian Studies and Department of Political Science, Temple University, Philadelphia, teaches courses on Modern India, Modern China and comparative politics such as nationalism and ethnic conflict and foreign governments and politics. His most recent research examines issues pertaining to Muslims in Sri Lanka and China. His scholarly pursuit has born fruit as publications in leading journals such as the Journal of Asian and African Studies (JAAS), the Journal of Third World Studies (JTWS), Journal of South Asia and Asian Affairs. This article appeared today (June 15, 2012 in The Washington Times