By Izeth Hussain –
History is bunk – Henry Ford
I am writing this second part of my article because the first clearly required clarifications and expansion at certain points. The most important matter requiring clarification concerns the question whether President JR was justified in caving in to the Indian demand that military operations be stopped at Vadamarachchi and not be extended into Jaffna. He declared that he had no option other than giving in to the Indian demand because the rest of the international community had abandoned Sri Lanka. I would acknowledge that that reason constituted strong justification – indeed unanswerable justification – for what he did, in terms of the information available to the public at that time. Rather than suffer the horrors of an Indian invasion, with all its unforeseeable consequences, it was obviously better to reach accommodation with India about a peaceful solution to the ethnic problem and get the IPKF to deal with the LTTE rebellion.
JR’s justification revolves around one point: the abandonment of Sri Lanka by the international community, which made this country totally vulnerable to India. On this a clarification of the utmost importance has to be made. The international community did abandon us, it is true, but that was on the question of the air drop and on nothing else. The invasion of our air space was an act of aggression, but it was not condemned by the international community. Only Japan demurred by holding that India had committed an act of transgression, meaning that it had violated international law but not in a way that amounted to aggression. The reason for that position was of course quite clear. The turning away of the Indian flotilla bearing food stocks followed by the symbolic air drop focused the international mind on the possibly mortal danger of food scarcity in the North. The air drop was therefore seen as bearing a humanitarian import, and therefore at the worst it was transgression and not aggression.
The case for our troops to proceed to Jaffna after the successful Vadamarachchi operation, in defiance of India, was not presented to the international community at all. What would have been the outcome if it was? A pointer to the answer was provided by the reactions of the Ambassadors of India’s other neighbors to the dispatch of IPKF troops into Sri Lanka. Usually Ambassadors are very reticent about saying anything that might seem even remotely critical of the host Government. The then Secretary W.T. Jayasinghe and I as second-in-command found that on the contrary the South Asian Ambassadors made it quite clear that their Governments were very upset by the Indian troops coming in at our invitation, that by that action we had let the whole South Asian region down, and that very probably the Indian troops would never leave Sri Lanka. If such was the reaction over Indian troops coming into Sri Lanka at our invitation, what would the reaction have been if Indian troops had invaded Sri Lanka?
What about the possible reactions of the rest of the international community? I have already made the essential points on that subject in my last article. The international community cannot take away the primordial duty of any government to put down a rebellion by any means, including military means. That follows from the principle that the very raison d’être of the state is that it should have a monopoly of the means of violence. As I pointed out in my last article the collateral damage that would have been unavoidable in taking Jaffna could have been contained within reasonable limits. I cannot think of any sound reason on which the international community could have denied the Sri Lankan Government its primordial duty of continuing the war to end the LTTE rebellion. Under the circumstances I find it very difficult to believe that India would have dared to invade Sri Lanka if President JR had stood his ground.
But there is the contrary argument that power is the ultimate determinant in international relations: therefore, if President JR rejected the Indian ultimatum and allowed our troops to proceed towards Jaffna, India which was already the de facto regional great power with some claim to regard Sri Lanka as part of its turf, would have invaded this powerless country with uncertain but certainly horrible consequences. The analogy cited in connection with that argument is the establishment of Bangladesh in 1971, which involved the breakup of Pakistan. That country had as its very close ally the most powerful country in the world, the US, and it also had very special relations with China which was notoriously the antagonist of India. But neither of those powers would take anything more than token action to help Pakistan. In fact Sri Lanka did more for Pakistan by allowing its armed forces personnel to transit through Colombo in civvies. Therefore, in bowing to the Indian ultimatum, President JR acted in a way that any responsible Sri Lankan leader would have.
However, the analogy with Bangladesh is invalid, and hardly any serious analyst of international relations will take it seriously. The point is that morality does count in international relations. It has always done so – at least to some extent – and in the post-Second World War world it has counted far more than ever before in human history. I happen to have at hand the book The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916 to 1931 by Adam Tooze, a brilliant scholarly work that shows how earnest the big powers of that time were in trying to build a new world order in which there would be no more wars. The quest for that became far more earnest after the Second World War because it was realized that after a third world war there might be no world left at all. So, in the contemporary world, the factor of morality counts far more in international relations than ever before, and what went wrong for Pakistan in the moral dimension was that the atrocities perpetrated by its armed forces turned international opinion against it to a very serious extent. The Beatles performed at Trafalgar Square to raise money for the Bangladesh independence struggle and Andre Malraux, great novelist and former Cultural Affairs Minister of de Gaulle, actually wanted to go to Bangladesh and fight for it. Refugees poured into India by the hundred thousand, two million in all, and even so Indira Gandhi spent around eleven months in stoking up international opinion against Pakistan before getting her armed forces to intervene. The analogy with the Sri Lankan situation in 1987 is surely ridiculous. If President JR had rejected the Indian diktat the situation would have been this: the Government of a small country, constituting no danger to any other, merely wanted to exercise its primordial duty in putting down an armed rebellion by military means. India would never have dared to invade Sri Lanka over that.
So the notion that President JR caved in to the Indian demand because he had no other option, the international community having abandoned us, was certainly an erroneous one. Was there some other explanation? It somehow came to be believed widely that the real reason why our troops did not proceed to Jaffna after Vadamarachchi was that according to an authoritative military assessment our troops could take Jaffna but would not be able to keep it. Somehow it has been in my mind that the officer who made that assessment was none other than General Cyril Ranatunge. According to the details given in K.M. de Silva’s book General Ranatunge would have been about the last person to make such an assessment. It was the failure to follow up his Vadamarachchi victory with a further campaign that led to the postponement of the victory over the LTTE by twenty two years, resulting finally in 100,000 deaths most of which could have been avoided.
*To be continued..