War of words

Published : Jul 17, 2009 00:00 IST

in Colombo

THE debris and imagery left behind by the political tsunami that hit Sri Lanka in the form of the announcement of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief Velupillai Prabakarans death on May 19 and the Tigers decimation as a conventional military force is yet to sink in. The repercussions are being experienced by the stakeholders in the three-decade-old ethnic conflict, but not necessarily registering. Only time will tell, if not entirely heal, where the island nation is headed.

More than a month has passed since President Mahinda Rajapaksa made the victory announcement in Parliament and proclaimed that Sri Lanka was one nation and that there were no groups other than the patriotic and the non-patriotic and promised a just, fair and equitable deal to all its citizens. On the face of it everything has changed, but nothing appears to have moved.

The Muslim Information Centre (MIC) notes in a commentary: Though the government says the IDPs [internally displaced persons] (nearly three lakh war displaced) are in transitional camps with all facilities being provided, the Tamils here and outside this nation call this a concentration camp as that of the Nazis. They charge the government for not providing the IDPs with adequate water, toilets, washing and bathing facilities. They also charge that their children are separated from them and taken away by the security forces on and off while the girls and women are raped.

True, it is an unrealistic expectation of a government to resolve the ethnic conflict in five weeks after the end of the war. However, the tragic part is the manner in which sections of the victors and the vanquished are bent on repeating ad nauseam their ostrich-like positions. The theme song of the extremists consumed by victory is that never has the island seen and will see another emperor like Mahinda Rajapaksa. The mood of the vanquished is best captured in this random quote floating on the Net: VP never born never died. Only visited this planet from 1954 to 2009.

For all his good intentions and politically correct statements and posturing, the President is perceived to be doing little to introduce the much-needed reality check. The MIC commentary says: The recent statement to prioritise the demarcation of Buddhist places in the north before resettling the war IDPs of the north by Jathika Hela Urumaya, a party with the government, and the charges of minority community politicians levelled at some government ministers involvement in colonising the eastern and the northern provinces with Sinhalese are matters making the ethnic problem more complicating and confusing. Will His Excellency the President move forward against the JHU and the JVP [Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna], sidelining them to solve the ethnic problems, is the question now posed by many.

The justifications provided by those in defence of the unending victory celebrations and the grand Eelam project are astonishing, to say the least. An article titled May 19 should be V-day, 2009 the Year of Victory, penned on June 13 by Dayan Jayatilleka, Sri Lankas Permanent Representative at the United Nations, in Geneva, reads:

The warning about the risk of triumphalism (by the U.N. Secretary-General) came days before the 65th anniversary celebration of D Day, by the leaders of the U.S., U.K. and France. While the risk of triumphalism does indeed exist and must be cautioned against, I think there is yet another risk, an opposite one, which we must avoid.

The USSR, which triumphed over the bulk of the Nazi fascist army, collapsed without a shot being fired, and that collapse was preceded by an ideological surrender in which everything positive in its history was turned upside down and held up for derision. In the recovery of its self-respect under President Putin, one of the first steps was to restore pride in the wartime achievements of the Red Army. Sri Lanka must learn this lesson. We have nothing to be ashamed of in our martial feats throughout our long history, whether successful (dutugemunu) or valiant failures against stupendous odds (puran appu). All we have to be ashamed of are periods of division, appeasement, surrender and occupation such as the Kandyan Convention of 1815, 450 years of colonialism in parts of the island, a century without armed resistance after the uprising of 1848, or the period of the CFA [Cease Fire Agreement] during which Prabakaran built up a state within a state with the support or tacit approval of our elected government.

My own view is that we should not only declare 2009 The Year of Victory and have celebrations at a provincial level, since every province (including Jaffna) contributed to the victory and benefited from the liberation from fascist terror and tyranny, but that we should also declare May 19th as Victory Day, to be commemorated by future generations down the ages. It is not paranoid to speculate that some would entice the IDPs with promises of refugee status in the West in exchange for false testimony of so-called war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan military, many of whom lie dead or disabled because we deliberately and rightly desisted from using airpower extensively in the final offensive against a deadly enemy entrenched among civilians. Having eliminated one separatist political entity that was not under the control of the Sri Lankan state, we would be permitting yet another space which is not subject to Sri Lankas sovereignty.

Three days after Jayatilleka penned these strictly private views, TamilNet woke up from its four weeks of slumber and announced a grandiose Eelam transitional government. One wonders how the dream of Eelam got transformed into e-elam in the vast confines of cyberspace. In its announcement on June 15 the TamilNet Editorial Board says:

A government in exile functions outside of its territory with an aim of taking control of that territory. Such a government may have already existed in an independent and sovereign country and have lost its power or may have been formed anew to claim an independent and sovereign country. Whatever the case may be, a government in exile needs a host country.

But the transnational government we speak of is a novel experiment that has no precedence. It is also advisable to create as many as possible grassroots democratic organisations among Eezham Tamils, vested with specific tasks to face the different facets of the current misery. Such grass-roots institutions are helpful in sustaining and safeguarding the democratic nature of the superstructure of transnational governance. If successful, and if the time demands, the transnational government can also become the government in exile.

Grassroots democratic organisations in transnational Eelam are a far cry from Prabakarans sole representative of the Lankan Tamils cause.

Amid such bombast, there is no dearth of sober voices. Swimming against the current. Notebook of a Nobody by Shanie in The Island is one such example. The condition of the nearly 300,000 displaced persons now interned in camps euphemistically called welfare villages continues to be appalling. Deprived of movement outside, having restrictions on access to the camps by those outside and not knowing the whereabouts of members of their own family is a traumatic reality for many, not only for those in the camps but also for the family and friends of these IDPs. Many of the camp officials, including the security forces personnel, appear to sympathise with these helpless civilians and have gone out of their way to help. But the harshness of the regulations comes from insensitive mandarins from the defence establishment in Colombo. They little realise that insensitivity in dealing with these civilians will only embitter and alienate them and their families. Unless the government has another undisclosed agenda, an opportunity for reconciliation and goodwill is being squandered.

The sober voices are being drowned by a section from within the government. The Western Use of Toilets, by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, secretary-general, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), is one such. The saddest aspect of the war of attrition that some prospective donors are conducting against the Sri Lankan government is that its main victims will be the poor civilians who were rescued from the Tigers. It will be remembered that their prolonged captivity was also due in part to the connivance of some Western interventionists in the Tiger strategy of dragging them along with the terrorist forces as they retreated. History now repeats itself in the determination to subject Tamil civilians to squalor in what the West presents as its subtle effort to ensure swift resettlement.

Veteran international columnist Eric S. Margolis, in an article reproduced in Sri Lanka Guardian, struck the needed outsider perspective. It read:

Charges by Tamils that Sri Lankas government is practising genocide are untrue, though its armed forces have caused high civilian casualties. This has been an ugly civil war with constant atrocities committed by both sides. Aside from small arms, the Tamils primary weapons were often bombs strapped on their bodies. This was a poor mans struggle against massive fire power and modern weapons. Civilians were targeted by both sides, or ended up in the crossfire.

As the old saying goes, war is the rich mans terrorism; terrorism is the poor mans war. Unless Colombo is magnanimous in victory, it risks rekindling a low-level insurrection. Indias 70 million plus Tamils are angry at the defeat and suffering of their cousins in Sri Lanka. Many are calling for Indian military intervention. If Sri Lankas Tamils are subjected to a Carthaginian Peace, there is a risk that Indias millions of sympathetic Tamils could become the source of new woes on the beautiful island of Sri Lanka.

Jayatilleka, in the same article, injected a note of realism on real issues and road ahead. This does not mean that the IDPs must not be treated as decently, humanely, equitably and generously as possible and processed out as fast as possible. Even from a counter-terrorism perspective, it is unwise to have large numbers concentrated in any one place under difficult circumstances. Our IDPs must be relocated in their own homes or villages, and the joint communique of Governments of Sri Lanka and India as well as that of the Government of Sri Lanka and the U.N. Secretary-General commits us to so resettling the bulk of the IDPs within 180 days. But this must be by primarily local efforts, involving the state, the local government authorities, the private sector, the civic associations and NGOs.

For their part the Sinhala chauvinists think that the 13th amendment is too much, and in any case they can prevail over the Rajapaksa administration not to implement it. In their dark fantasies both these extremist camps have forgotten one tiny factor: India. The full, if reasonably graduated implementation of the 13th amendment, is the cornerstone of our post-war relationship with India, the relationship which is the cornerstone of our international relations. As the paradigmatic victory in Geneva showed, we can win against the Tiger diaspora and the Western European bloc influenced by it, when we are supported by our neighbours, our continent and our natural constituency, the developing world plus Russia. In this strategy the support of India is critical. Without Indias support, the rest will distance itself from us, leaving us wide open to Western pressure and coercion. China alone cannot carry the weight: it is too far away and cannot be expected to risk its relationships with important powers for the sake of Sri Lanka.

What is e-elam all about? The Island noted in its editorial Stuffed Tigers, conmen, ectopic pregnancy etc.:

Close on the heels of the miscarriage of Eelam in Sri Lanka, there has come the news of an ectopic pregnancy overseas. The LTTE rump has declared the formation of a government in exile as a prelude to Eelam. Much hullabaloo is being made in some quarters about this pronouncement but it is nothing but a big ruse to prevent funds to the LTTE war-chest from drying up. Anyway, who is the lucky head of the government in exile?

We are told that a notorious arms smuggler known as KP has become the self-appointed leader of the LTTEs government in exile. Prabakaran and KP were chalk and cheese, the former a battle-hardened combatant and the latter a crook. Jackals wont succeed where Tigers have failed!

KPs Tigers are stuffed ones! They may look ferociously tigrine but they cannot claw or bite. This does not mean we should be complacent and lower our guard. There may be some splinter groups of brainwashed LTTE cadre seeking to avenge their leaders death. What a US envoy Thomas Pickering was his name said in Colombo in 2000 comes to mind: Eelam is possible only on a planet of the dead!

An extract from a column by a Tamil expat on June 21 perhaps best sums up what lies ahead:

As such, whether Sri Lanka is making or repeating history depends critically on whether the Sri Lankan government is heeding the rightful cry of the Tamil minorities to address the root causes or using the self-interests of Tamil opportunists to fool the world.

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