By Izeth Hussain –
History is bunk – Henry Ford
Why did President JR refuse to extend the Vadamarachchi operation and go all out for a military victory over the LTTE? I believe that the explanation is that he had already been engaged in a tripartite conspiracy with India and the US – a benign conspiracy with the best of intentions behind it – to solve the ethnic problem. The Peace Accords of 1987 and the coming of the IPKF troops were the consequences of that conspiracy. The dispatch of the flotilla and the air drop were parts of an elaborate charade meant to serve the purposes of that conspiracy.
My evidence pointing to that conspiracy has of course to be of a circumstantial order because it is hardly the kind of thing on which documentary evidence will be available. I begin with what happened some weeks before the air drop when things were hotting up to a potentially dangerous extent. Until then relations with India over the ethnic problem had been handled by – I believe – Ministers Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake. Suddenly, on a Saturday morning, I was called to the Foreign Office by the then Foreign Minister Hameed. I helped in the drafting of some documents, and from that point onwards and until sometime after the Peace Accords were signed the Foreign Ministry played a central role in the external dimension of the ethnic problem. Why did that shift of functions take place? I believe that the reason was that Minister Athulathmudali was a “hardliner” who would have wanted to extend the Vadamarachchi victory. He would therefore have been deeply antipathetic to a program that led to the Peace Accords. Minister Hameed, on the other hand, would have obeyed every command of President JR without demur.
The next significant occurrence took place on the morning after the Indian flotilla was turned back. US Ambassador Jim Spain sought a very early meeting with Foreign Minister Hameed to convey a message from his Government. The first part of the message was that by turning back the flotilla our Government had missed an excellent opportunity of defusing a dangerous situation. The second part of the message was that the Indians would on that day do something that we would find extremely displeasing. The US Government strongly advised that we should not over-react. That was a reference to the air drop that would take place that afternoon. I think we can safely assume that the US Ambassador was not merely passing on information gathered by the CIA. The message was rather a carefully considered policy statement of the US Government. The first part of the message was clearly sympathetic to the Indian side, and so was the second part of it, but equally clearly the message was not meant to be hostile to Sri Lanka: rather it was meant to ameliorate Indo-Sri Lankan relations that had become highly problematic. The crux of the message, however, was that Sri Lanka should not do anything foolhardy such as shooting down one of the planes engaged in the air drop. On that point I feel certain that the US was acting on the request of the Indian Government.
The most significant occurrence pointing to a tripartite conspiracy took place just after the signing of the Peace Accords. For some time before that the then Foreign Secretary W.T.Jayasinghe and I had been receiving hints from the Ambassadors in Colombo that some sort of Indo-Sri Lankan agreement was in the offing. I told WTJ that so abrupt a volte-face from hostility to agreement seemed to me most unlikely unless there was some third force, a powerful third force, in operation to bring the two sides together. He told me on the morning after the signing ceremony that my surmise was shown to be correct when just after the signing ceremony was over the US Ambassador walked up to President JR and handed him a letter. That clearly amounted to a deliberate ostentatious public display of US support for the Peace Accords. It was clear also that for the US to express that support in written form meant that it was already aware of every detail in the Peace Accords. It seems reasonable to think that the signing ceremony was the maturation of tripartite action that had been going on for weeks.
I told WTJ that it seemed worthwhile to establish who prepared the documents. Sometime later the Foreign Report of the London weekly the Economist reported that the documents had been prepared in a Western capital – if I remember rightly London. I mention this detail particularly because there was such a high degree of the clandestine in the lead up to the Peace Accords that my use of the term “conspiracy” seems quite appropriate. I must mention also that President JR is supposed to have asked for the IPKF troop to be sent here only when he met Rajiv Gandhi in Colombo. The lightening celerity with which scores of thousands of Indian troops came here is difficult to explain – pointing in fact to preparations of several days or weeks. There must be many other significant details known to others who have chosen so far to be reticent.
I will now conclude this article by making a few observations on the question, Was President JR a traitor? I must emphasize to the reader that in my title I was raising a question, not stating a conclusion, and here I am addressing the question briefly without providing anything by way of a definitive answer. My reason for doing this is that it seems to me extremely important in political analysis to raise questions even when in the present state of knowledge no definitive answer is possible. The answers can come later. I must add at this point that in JR’s case it is not sufficient to explain practically everything he did on the basis that he was an old fox.
I have grounded my argument in this article on the material provided in the first few paragraphs in K.M. de Silva’s book. It does seem very plausible that if the Vadamarachchi military operation had been extended the LTTE would have been defeated long before 2009. Certainly, it was not simply a matter of extending the military thrust into Jaffna because by 1987 the LTTE was well enough equipped to continue fighting a guerilla war. After the Rajiv Gandhi assassination the LTTE would have lost its Tamil Nadu hinterland, an essential requisite for waging successful guerilla warfare. My common sense tells me that ultimately what would have counted against the LTTE was the small extent of Sri Lankan territory, which would have enabled the Government troops to hunt out and confront the guerillas in positional warfare without too much difficulty. We must bear in mind that in 1987 the LTTE was nothing like the very redoubtable fighting force that it became in later years.
The case for extending the Vadamarachchi operation was very strong, indeed irrefutable. But President JR chose an alternative path on the ground that there was a threat from India and the international community had abandoned Sri Lanka. I have already exposed all that as absolute nonsense. At this point I will pose just a few questions. There were certainly food shortages in Jaffna but nothing like famine conditions, and even if there were would it not have been possible, quite easily, to take corrective action by sending food supplies? Where was the need for an Indian invasion to prevent famine? Certainly there would have been atrocities committed during the Vadamarachchi operation, the kind of atrocities known as the “horrors of war” which have been a staple of warfare right down the ages. Was the IPKF fighting against the LTTE expected to be free of atrocities? I find it impossible to believe that India would have invaded Sri Lanka if President JR had stood his ground.
But instead of continuing the Vadamarachchi operation he chose an alternative path that led to disaster for Sri Lanka. It should be useful to bear in mind a distinction that Marxists make between one’s subjective intentions and what one’s actions amount to objectively. Whatever may have been JR’s subjective intentions, his choice of that alternative path was objectively that of a traitor. It should also be useful to bear in mind the following quotation from E.H. Carr’s What is History?: “Everyone knows today that human beings do not always, or perhaps even habitually, act from motives of which they are fully conscious or which they are willing to avow; and to exclude insight into unconscious or unavowed motives is surely a way of going about one’s work with one eye willfully shut”.