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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2704

Something Old, Something Old

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

"One always wills one’s fate."
Thomas Mann (The Magic Mountain)

Vellupillai Pirapaharan wants his Fourth Eelam War declared, by his opponent. The war, in an undeclared form, has been here for several months; still neither side is willing to abrogate the ceasefire because of the obvious political costs of such a move. The JVP and the assorted Sinhala chauvinists may not understand this, but the government does, as does Mr. Pirapaharan. Therefore the Tiger leader is likely to persist with his words and deeds of provocation, hoping that either the government would oblige him by scrapping the ceasefire or retaliate in a manner that would enable him to justify a formal declaration of the Fourth Eelam War. He may have had his way if the dastardly attack on Defence Secretary (and Presidential sibling) Gotabhaya Rajapakse succeeded. Fortunately it did not.

Vellupillai Pirapaharan never ceased wanting his own separate state; and he always wanted to achieve it on the battle field. Any other goal, any other way would seem unworthy to the man who sees himself and his movement as the legatee to the great Chola Empire. Consequently Mr. Pirapaharan cannot be faulted for the wishful thinking and forlorn hopes of those who turn their backs on this reality, preferring to chase, forever, the mirage of a negotiated peace with the Tiger.

Perhaps the 2006 Heroes Day speech will serve to demonstrate the futile nature of any peace process with the LTTE; perhaps not. Because Mr. Pirapaharan always leaves some room for misperceptions, by those who want to misperceive. And the Tigers are already on record stating that they have not withdrawn from the CFA. Therefore a drastic change is unlikely on any front. The (undeclared) Fourth Eelam War will wax and wane; the world will insist on resurrecting the peace process; and the Lankan state and the LTTE will reiterate their commitment to the CFA and their desire for a negotiated settlement, even as offensives and counter-offensives come and go. That is unless we abrogate the ceasefire or give Mr. Pirapaharan a sufficiently reasonable excuse to do so.

The War

The world is changing; these changes will benefit Tigers more than they will the Lankan state. Last week a US federal judge ruled that President Bush has acted unconstitutionally in freezing the assets of two foreign organisations designated as terrorist outfits. One of these is the LTTE. This ruling is symptomatic of the changing US and global landscape. Interestingly this new ruling is the complete opposite of an earlier tentative finding made by the same judge on the same case. Obviously the politico-electoral developments on the domestic front plus the changing perception of the Iraqi war – from necessary struggle against terrorism to an unnecessary misadventure – had a bearing on this new ruling.

When Mr. Pirapaharan says that the "uncompromising stance of Sinhala chauvinism has left us with no other option but an independent state for the people of Tamil Eelam" he is probably looking ahead to a new Indian, US and global political landscape that is less inimical to organisations such as the LTTE, more prone to see them as rebels and not terrorists. If the Lankan state fails to come up with a devolution package that is acceptable to the moderate Tamils, if it fails to prevent the proliferation of human rights violations by its armed forces, then the Tigers would be able to .benefit from these global changes, as the only available ‘representative and protector’ of the besieged Tamils. We cannot avoid foreign interference by screaming from rooftops; instead we need to ensure that we leave as little room as possible for such intervention by taking care of our own problems and our own people before they become a problem, a concern to others. As President Premadasa pertinently said "foreign faces came to the North and East because of our disunity" (The Address to the Parliament – 19.4.1991).

The LTTE is very much part of the problem and should be treated as such. However the LTTE is not the (entirety of the) problem, as Sinhala hardliners think, a view the Rajapakse administration seems to share. Nor is it the solution or even part of the solution, as peaceniks and part of the international community believe. There has to be a double-barrelled approach to the Lankan crisis – one set of policies to deal with the Tigers and another set of policies to deal with the ethnic problem. The Tigers must be marginalised politically and weakened militarily; and there must be a political solution to the ethnic problem based on the principle of democratic devolution. These two tasks must be handled simultaneously and not sequentially.

More attention needs to be paid to the Southern front. The people may put up with economic hardships if the politicians are willing to do the same. In fact at a time like this the leaders must lead the way by voluntarily sacrificing some of their many financial privileges as an example to the rest of the populace. Unfortunately the opposite is happening. While preaching to the already overburdened masses about the virtuous necessity of making further sacrifices, our rulers have hastened to give themselves a hefty pay hike: “The President and all parliamentarians will get a thumping double pay hike with arrears….according to two resolutions rushed through the parliament this week… The two resolutions were passed without debate soon after the end of the committee stage…. The move follows agreement to this effect at a party leader’s meeting…." (Sunday Times – 26.11.2006). Clearly when it comes to fattening themselves in lean times the super-patriots, the appeasers and the Tiger stooges can make common cause. It is indeed striking that the President, the JVP and the JHU who talk incessantly about the need to for belt tightening in the name of patriotism have no compunctions about loosening their own belts (Incidentally this was a favourite practice of the UF government of 1970-77; the masses were told to put up with shortages and scarcities while the leaders lived it up – in the pungent words of Ranasinghe Premadasa samajavādaya became a samaja-vadaya for the people.). The trade unions, which had been quiescent up to now, are arguing that the goose and the gander must be given the same sauce. This may well mean a round of strikes in the coming year, further aggravating economic woes. And the resulting destabilisation will be beneficial to the LTTE.

Incidentally it behoves us to remember that the families of the soldiers and junior officers too will be adversely affected by the escalating cost of living.

A war has to be sustainable not just militarily but also politically, economically and psychologically. A polity which acts in a hypocritical and cynical manner may de-legitimise not only itself but also the very cause it is espousing.

The Political Solution

The President, responding to Indian pressure, announced in Delhi that the political package will be ready by the end of this month. If true, this will be a positive development, assuming that it is not retrogression from the 13th Amendment. Unfortunately one cannot but wonder whether this Presidential announcement is akin to the earlier announcement by Prof. Tissa Vitarana of an APC consensus on devolution. Made to placate the Co-Chairs this blatant falsehood drew the ire of the JVP. There is a postscript to this incident which again hints at the insincerity and cynicism of the powers that be: "Parliamentary group leader Wimal Weerawansa who spoke on the budget debate lambasted Vitarana for issuing the statement. He said the JVP knew nothing about it. the move was to lead to Vitarana telephoning the JVP representative to the APC, Dr. Wasantha Bandara. What he told him was shocking. Vitarana said he was sorry about the statement. He had been forced to issue it on the instructions of President Rajapakse" (Sunday Times – 26.11.2006). If true this incident speaks volumes about President Rajapakse’s approach to governance.

Mahinda Rajapakse says that the Tigers do nor represent Tamils. Unfortunately he acts as if the Tigers are the sole representatives of the Tamils because he is yet to negotiate seriously with the non-Tiger Tamil parties about the problems of the Tamil people. As long as President Rajapakse has no Tamil partner, so long as he refrains from joining hands politically with anti-Tiger Tamils, he will not be able to escape international pressure to negotiate with the Tigers. And he will succumb; he has no choice given Sri Lanka’s dependence on the world, financially and economically.

Unlike the LTTE the democratic Tamils want a political solution within an undivided Sri Lanka. So why not an APC type exercise, involving all anti-Tiger Tamil parties? Let the democratic Tamils come up with a common devolution formula which can then be presented to the democratic Muslim parties. The resulting consensus of the minorities can then be negotiated with the majority community (via the three main national political parties). The end result/s can be presented to the people through a referendum. A solution, if it is to be viable, cannot be imposed on the populace. A multiple choice referendum will enable us to discover where the people (Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim) are actually at on the issue of devolution.

Since the Sinhala polity seems manifestly uninterested in according a political role to the anti-Tiger Tamils it is up to them to take the initiative. The LTTE’s policy of eliminating all Tamil opponents has pushed these parties and their leaders into a position of near total dependence on the Lankan state for sheer survival. Though this impedes their independence to a certain extent, it need not prevent them from trying to carve out for themselves a political role separate from but not hostile to the Lankan state. Without such a role these parties cannot become a viable alternative to the LTTE or effective spokespersons for the voiceless and powerless Tamils. "The LTTE’s main weapon was the suffering and alienation of the Tamil people. Since the people did not count for others, the LTTE had undisturbed possession of this resource" (Report No 13). This must be changed if the LTTE is to be politically marginalised and military weakened.

The first step is a united front bringing together most (if not all) anti-Tiger Tamil parties. This is an urgent need because without a political role, the anti-Tiger Tamil parties degenerate into becoming mere ciphers of the regime and the state, which in turn will damage their credibility among the Tamils. The UTHR prophetically warned less than two months after the Good Friday battle: "The rebellion in the East presented an opportunity to take Karuna and his followers out of a culture of murder and give them, and the people, a better life. Instead the Sinhalese polity is repeatedly giving Tamils who oppose the LTTE the message that they only have utility value as hand grenades, bait (prawns to catch sharks) and killers. They matter as little as the military intelligence men regularly killed by the LTTE, who go into oblivion unnoticed and unmourned. Karuna too has been thrown back to survive on the very resources he acquired from his mentor and present arch-foe, Prabhakaran" (Information Bulletin No. 36 – 29.5. 2004 – emphasis mine). Such an outcome will benefit neither the anti-Tiger Tamils nor the Lankan state but the LTTE. Since the Lankan state is too obdurate to understand this bitter truth, it is up to the anti-Tiger Tamils to take the initiative in to own their hands and strive at a political solution to the ethnic problem that is acceptable to the moderates of all communities. Without such a solution and without such a viable and credible Tamil alternative, the Tiger, our common foe, cannot be defeated.

- Asian Tribune -

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