By Malinda Seneviratne –
Kumaran Pathmanathan, KP that is, is a strange character and one that has become a ‘concept’ that is even amenable to inclusion in ideological lexicons, as in ‘KPism’.
For a long time, he was a key member of the LTTE. Indeed, some would argue, that he was as or more important than Velupillai Prabhakaran or Anton Balasingham to that much-feared and ruthless terrorist outfit. He was the LTTE’s main point-man internationally for all kinds of money-making rackets and arms procurement. After Prabhakaran and the entire military wing of the LTTE were defeated, KP was one of several pretenders to the terrorist throne, until he was captured by Army intelligence operatives and brought to Sri Lanka.
Since then, if there’s one (generous) word to describe what’s happened to him, it has to be ‘strange’. A top notch terrorist (some would say ‘THE top-notch LTTE operative) is not ‘rehabilitated’ or charged, unlike hundreds of others captured by or who had surrendered to the security forces. He was instead ‘detained’ and turned into ‘development partner’ cum ‘liaison officer with the “Tamil Diaspora (sic)”’.
Now if KP was evidence-free and charge-less, then why arrest him and at such a high cost to boot? That question was dealt with at the weekly media briefing on Cabinet decisions by Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella who made it out that the man wasn’t free, really, just on a long leash. Hulugalle said it was a victory to have a top ranking LTTE operative working with the Government on post-conflict reconciliation and rehabilitation. He had to, because the arrest, the manner of arrest and the Interpol Arrest Warrant certainly don’t add up to ‘no case’ or ‘no evidence’. Such directives and actions are not birthed by whim and fancy but by solid evidence.
Some are calling for KP’s blood. Not all of them were exactly calling for KP’s blood or Prabhakaran’s blood before the latter lost all his blood in May 2009, though.
Some are saying ‘release all other LTTE suspects’ or ‘put them on a similarly long leash’. That makes sense as per the sauce for the goose-gander theory.
Forgive and forget is all sweet and warm, let us hasten to point out. We can talk of Angulimaala and we have whenever it made political sense to do so. Not just in the case of KP but in all kinds of people guilty of all kinds of transgressions, big and small, money-related and otherwise, bloody and bloodless. Parliamentarians on the wrong side of the house have on many occasions crossed over to the ‘right’ side if they risked being caught on the wrong side of the law.
What it all boils down to then is not whether you’ve abided by the law or violated it, but whether you are on the right side of ‘politics’, whether or not you are on the right side of the law. It all adds up to a mockery of the criminal justice system.
In a post conflict scenario, there can be situations where the long term reconciliation interests call for leniency, which too can be legally facilitated (Presidential pardons, crown-witnessing and so on). One can also point out that although they are certainly not pampered detainees like KP, all the LTTE cadres who surrendered or were arrested are enjoying a pretty comfy existence, compared to say the pickpocket picked in Nugegoda last week or the prostitute taken in from a brothel last night. Those who blew up buses and trains, abducted children and stuck bayonets in the bellies of pregnant mothers and infants are getting the kind of education and skill-training (free of charge, mind you) that thousands of others of the never-hurt-a-fly (relatively speaking) don’t have access to.
The ‘strangeness’ about KP is that the law has not been visited or referred to in the entire story. The people of this country are willing to forgive and forget, they can come to terms with ‘turned-over-a-new-leaf’ and ‘that-chapter-is-closed’. The JVP is a case in point. The UNP and SLFP and all their various avatars have benefitted from that forgiving and forgetting readiness of the Sri Lankan voter.
It’s still too vague for a society that depends on formal laws and things like constitutions. In the case of the JVP there was amnesty; in the case of ‘Karuna’, a non-prosecution. Files can be closed, true, but not in an ad hoc way. They have to be legally closed if you don’t want to open a legal can of worms that can lead to a situation where we have anarchy in everything but name.
KP is ‘reformed’, we are supposed to think. His LTTE friends in Canada, though, haven’t dropped Eelam or burnt the LTTE flag, though. They still work with groups that are rabidly anti Sri Lanka and are hell bent on harvesting regime change by hook or by crook.
Fighting the war was tough. When wars end, mine fields, political and otherwise, are not automatically de-mined. KP is a mine that appears to be deactivated but may not have been. Even if he is not a mine or one that has been deactivated, KP is a ‘strangeness’ that needs a legal frame, not a media one.
The Government seems to be at a loss for words. And metaphors. And legal legs. Maybe that’s the KP-strangeness.