By Dayan Jayatilleka –
One good turn deserves another. Just as Mark Salter commends his book to me, I’d like to return the favor and commend one of mine that would provide a different perspective on the war and negotiations, namely ‘Long War, Cold Peace’ (Vijitha Yapa, 2014).
Salter is guilty of more than one category error. One is confusing terrorism with fascism. All terrorism is not fascist, but all fascism is terrorist. As Prof Walter Laqueuer, a world-renowned expert on fascism observed in his book The New Terrorism, which I quoted from and Salter chose to ignore, the LTTE was located at the interface of terrorism and fascism. When the war ended, The Economist noted that the Tamil Tigers were “almost classically fascist”.
The IRA never killed Senator George Mitchell or Tony Blair, but the Tigers killed Rajiv Gandhi, Ranasinghe Premadasa and tried to kill Chandrika Kumaratunga. The IRA never killed John Hume but the Tigers killed Neelan Tiruchelvam. The IRA never killed its own negotiator Gerry Adams but the Tigers killed Mahattaya. The IRA didn’t kill Bernadette Devlin, but the Tigers killed Rajani Tiranagama. The IRA didn’t shut down the Sinn Fein and kill Gerry Adams. The Tigers shut down the Peoples Front of Liberation Tigers and tortured and killed its head, the deputy commander of the LTTE, Mahattaya.
That’s not a minor distinction. That’s because the IRA and the LTTE belong in different categories. The IRA may have been terrorist, or in my book, an urban guerrilla movement that also engaged in terrorism, but was not fascist. The Tigers were fascist and terrorist.
The Norwegians should have known better, if they thought-through the implications of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. They certainly should have known better after the murder of Neelan Tiruchelvam.
As for the old trope that they kept the Indians in the loop, Salter should have researched why High Commissioner Gopal Gandhi, a dove, was pulled out of Colombo by Delhi in the middle of his term after he had endorsed the CFA, and replaced by the brilliant Nirupam Sen, who was a lucid hawk on the LTTE. He should have also asked the question as to whether the Norwegians consulted those Indians who had talked to Prabhakaran—such as Hardeep Singh Puri, who as President Kumaratunga used to say, had the longest conversation on record with the LTTE leader. They didn’t. I know. I asked him.
Lakshman Kadirgamar made a lengthy speech in parliament—the transcript of which was published as a full-page article in the Sunday Times (Colombo)—making a searing critique of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).
Furthermore, Mark Salter should have checked with President Kumaratunga why she and her Foreign Minister the iconic Lakshman Kadirgamar insisted that the Norwegians replace Erik Solheim as the head of the negotiating team, which in turn led to a strong protest by Balasingham. Norway complied by deploying Vidar Helgessen, who was senior to Solheim, as the head of the exercise. Chandrika and Kadirgamar made the request because the US administration informed the latter that Solheim had, on a visit to Washington, urged that pressure be brought to bear on Colombo. So much for absence of bias.
Successive Sri Lankan administrations and of course India as well had negotiated with the Tigers, all with the same outcome: the unilateral return to war by the LTTE. As the line attributed to Einstein goes, lunacy is repeating the same thing and expecting the same result. It was lunacy to keep working towards a negotiated peace with the Tigers.
When that effort is repeatedly made with an organization that is not merely terrorist but also fascist, then we enter the realm of appeasement. Since Salter’s initial article defended certain Lankan politicians and a political line, and recommended a particular political perspective for Sri Lankans – contrary to that which I had sketched out, as well as that which Sajith’s SJB has taken– let me say that his recommendation is as absurd as would have been a commendation of Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler in Munich (for the sake of “peace”), or of Petain for collaborating with the Nazi fascists.
The conflation of terrorism with Fascism is not the only category error Salter indulges in.
Take for instance Salter’s examples of Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. In the case of the former, we are talking about a foreign invading army and in the latter a history of colonialism. Negotiation is the only exit in what was clearly an unwinnable war, given the very nature of the conflict. Ours was no less demonstrably, a winnable war, given the drastically different context.
In Sri Lanka’s case, our armed forces were the military of a legitimate democratic state, fighting within its legitimate, internationally recognized borders, to defend the country by destroying an enemy with whom successive governments had tried to negotiate. In other words, while I would certainly admit that there were excesses, there can be no moral equivalence as Salter attempts to establish—and the Norwegians seem to have indulged in—between either the LTTE and the Sri Lankan state, or the Lankan war and those which involve foreign occupiers and invaders.
The war of the Sri Lankan state and its military was a Just War—though I have been among the first to state that it was not followed by a Just Peace.
The Sri Lankan electorate has just given a well-deserved and irrevocable political punishment to our local Chamberlain and his co-thinkers. They have ended up in the dustbin of History. Their ideology will never be successfully resurrected by its residual civil society adherents however they rebrand themselves.
Certainly, the newly emergent Opposition led by Sajith Premadasa will not abandon the path of enlightened patriotism, moderate nationalism and anti-racism.