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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2584

Return to Kadirgamar Doctrine

By Dayan Jayatilleka

“I think the LTTE, by contrast, though surely is pursuing terrorist objectives, has the ultimate political objective to establish some sort of framework where the rights of Tamils can be respected.”
- US Ambassador Robert O Blake (Daily News, Dec 5, 2006)

Prabhakaran has raised the stakes by announcing his drive for nothing less than an independent state of Tamil Eelam; a country carved out of our own, the only one we have. He has not been able to gain any support from outside the global Tamil community. For us that’s a relief, but not much. Prabhakaran’s gamble is to appeal to a globalised tribalism; a pan-Tamil sentiment in a community that is now worldwide. The active support of even a fraction of that community of 90 million, embedded as it is in places as significant as the USA, EU and India, is sufficient to swing the outcome against Sri Lanka and in favour of Tamil Eelam.

Country at Crossroads

We are at a crossroads. Either we devolve power adequately, and adequately fast, or we lose whatever international support we have, with some sympathy accruing to the LTTE in this crucial coming year when Prabhakaran’s war reaches fever pitch.

This is only part of the problem we face. The other part, so often forgotten by advocates of devolution, is that excessive devolution of power, undertaken without due process and at excessive speed, will only result in upheaval in the Sinhala areas, objectively weakening the Sri Lankan state and helping the Tiger cause in that crucial year. As we experienced in the 1980s, chronic instability in the South, our home base and centre, and the rear area of our armed forces, is even less affordable than conflict in our North Eastern periphery.

We are at the intersection of two stark truths. Nationalists (conservative and radical) tend to ignore the first one while internationalists (liberal and progressive) tend to ignore the second.

The first truth is that world opinion, and therefore the policies of vitally important states and governments- is poised to shift against Sri Lanka, and perhaps even towards a benign neutrality to the Tigers, if Sri Lanka does not grant a sufficient degree of autonomy for the Tamils/Tamil majority areas. We cannot sustain this war much further, and indeed ourselves, economically, financially and militarily- without autonomy for the Tamils and Muslims.

The second truth is threefold: firstly, the Sri Lankan armed forces will not fight for federalism; no soldier or sailor will risk death or dismemberment to grant Tamils a federal solution. Secondly, the majority of Sinhalese, i.e. the majority of the majority, or quite simply, the majority, are opposed to federalism, period. Thirdly, federalism may in fact be undesirable, even damaging.

Federal Fallacy

A distinguished historian of Sri Lanka, Sorbonne and Oxford-educated Prof Nira Wickramasinghe has argued recently that:

"Colombo-based think-tanks, untouched by the complexity of the population distribution of Sri Lanka and by the overlapping of identities and cultural practices, continue to advocate a federal re-organization of the state as the formula for solving the "ethnic problem". They are implicitly supported by aid donors and multilateral agencies.

But the formation of cultural enclaves as a solution to the demands for justice by the Tamils of Sri Lanka is both troubling in itself, and inadequate or insufficient. Since more than half of the Tamil-speaking people live outside the would-be devolved regions (i.e. the north and east) it is the Sri Lanka state in its entirety that needs to undergo a drastic change…

…Dividing territory according to "cultural identities" with the view to devolving powers should not be considered a panacea. Sri Lankans deserve better than two federal units, mirror images of each other, each practicing similarly exclusivist policies, each fostering dreams of authentic cultures and pure "races". (‘Beyond the federal argument’, in Sri Lanka: The politics of purity, Daily Mirror, Nov 27, 2006)

So Sri Lanka is caught between an unsustainable unitary model and an unattainable, un-implementable and undesirable federal model.

O, Blake!

This is not the only trap Sri Lanka is caught in. In the interview given by US Ambassador Robert O Blake to the Rupavahini last Thursday and reproduced in the Daily News yesterday (Dec 5, 2006) he asserts that although the LTTE objectives are terrorist, its ultimate objective is a framework in which Tamil rights are respected! There is not shred of evidence, produced or available, for this fantastic interpretation. All evidence is to the contrary, including Mr Prabhakaran’s latest speech. If a fair framework is what the Tigers wanted, they could have stayed with the Indo-Lanka accord, or accepted President Kumaratunga’s 1995 or 1997 ‘package’ or stood by the Oslo understanding on federalism. Is Ambassador Blake’s contention that the LTTE’s ultimate political objective of a separate state of Tamil Eelam is unexceptionable or that an independent state is the ultimate framework in which Tamil rights are ultimately/adequately respected? Is Ambassador Blake in possession of evidence that Tamil rights are respected in the areas under LTTE control; areas which are embryo and holographic projection of what the LTTE’s ultimate objective and framework would look like?

The US ambassador also says that al Qaeda is a stateless outfit unlike the LTTE. But what of the US civil war against separation, against a Confederate army which was rooted in the Southern states? And what of Hamas, which is elected, has territorial roots but is shunned by the US which supports Israel's war against it? Hamas parliamentarians were kidnapped by Israel, which still holds them- with no demands from the US for their release. What of Hezbollah, a resistance rooted in Lebanese soil, represented in parliament, but anathema to Mr Blake’s leaders, who supported Israel’s war against it, a savage war which caused considerable civilian casualties not least through the use of US-made cluster bombs? (May we please have some?)

Thus we see that Sri Lanka is stranded between, on the one hand, international friends and allies who are not willing to support it except in limited fashion, are even beginning to go soft on our separatist enemy, and on whom we cannot rely, and on the other hand, potential friends and allies who are more reliable but have not yet been reached out to adequately.

Way out, path forward

Sri Lanka cannot afford to remain in these twin traps, paralyzed, as Prabhakaran launches his historic ‘final war’.

There is a way out of each trap.

The contradiction between a unitary state and a federal one can be resolved by non-federal forms of devolution and regional or provincial autonomy. The year 2000 draft constitution presented by President Chandrika Kumaratunga is one such example. Lakshman Kadirgamar made the strongest argument for such devolution in his parliamentary speech that day in August, when he pleaded with the House to arm him in his global campaign against the Tigers; arm him with something with which he can answer those in the world’s capitals who, when he seeks a crackdown on the LTTE, keep asking him what Sri Lanka is willing to give the Tamils as distinct from the Tigers.

Another solution was provided by Minister Douglas Devananda, accompanying President Mahinda Rajapakse to New Delhi. He argued for the Gordian knot to be cut: hold elections to the Provincial council. When asked about the absence of peaceful conditions there, he replied that presidential and parliamentary elections have been held in those areas even in times of war, so why not the provincial council elections? The logic is irrefutable.

It is however, not an unproblematic course of action - the problem being the Supreme Court judgement. Can elections be held to a single merged council or to two councils simultaneously or sequentially? In 1988, under the Indo-Lanka accord, an election was held in the East but none in the North. A no-contest agreement was sewed up in the Northern Province by host India. This demonstrates that even under the Accord, it was possible to have a differentiated, staggered approach to elections in the North and East. Thus Minister Devananda’s suggestion is perfectly feasible.

The second trap is that of international relations. We are reliant on and vulnerable to those we cannot count upon, given the weight of the pro LTTE Tamil lobby in and upon those countries. While we must base ourselves primarily upon our own natural strengths – chiefly the advantage in numbers, population - we are unable to go it alone as the ultranationalists would prefer it. The answer is to reduce our vulnerability by two means: personnel and policy. We must upgrade the quality of our representation and interface with the outside world, while diversifying our strategic dependence through the adoption of a Realist policy of multi-polar power balancing.

Let me break it down, at the risk of being blunt:

Relations with the USA:

If Milinda Moragoda were given the task, he could significantly enhance our support from the USA, both among Democrats and Republicans, as no other could. (No, not Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose affiliations are exclusively with the Republican neoconservatives).

Relations with India:

Karu Jayasuriya is affiliated with the family of the late Gamini Dissanaike which has a special relationship with the Gandhi family. Dr Sarath Amunugama was engaged together with Gamini Dissanaike in drafting the Indo-Lanka accord, and is also one of the country’s leading specialists on the ethnic problem. Either Karu or Amunugama, or preferably a combination, could effectively enhance relations with India. Furthermore, Sri Lanka’s CP, which has relations with the Indian Communist parties, an important part of the governing coalition, could be deployed to that same end.

The economy:

President Premadasa was able to maintain the country’s sovereignty jealously in a time of war because the economy was running efficiently and well, attracting foreign investors. Productivity was high and full sovereignty was, in short, affordable. The UNP was always better at running the economy- and Karu Jayasuriya was a successful businessman, handpicked by Premadasa to promote foreign economic relations as ambassador to Germany. If the UNP dissidents (the respectable ones, not the ruffians) were incorporated in government and handed economic portfolios, things will run more efficiently, the country can be promoted overseas and foreign and local investors will be more forthcoming.

Diversifying our support sources:

Contrary to uninformed opinion- and so similar to accusations against President Premadasa- President Rajapakse did not erode our relations with India. Relations with India were deteriorating during the last stage of the Chandrika administration and not due to her fault either. The fault was India’s. Indeed President Kumaratunga vented some of her disappointment with India in an interview given to Nirupama Subramanian of The Hindu. Her main charge was India’s hands-off behavior during the critical period in 2000 when the LTTE attempted to retake Jaffna.

One must recall that New Delhi turned a Nelsonian eye in 2000 - and Kofi Annan as well as a top US official expressed concern over an “emerging humanitarian crisis”- despite the offer of a generous devolution package for Tamils, impeccable conduct towards civilians by our armed forces, and enhanced economic ties with India. This makes nonsense of the charge that Mahinda Rajapakse’s mindset, instead of Tamil Nadu’s weight and the exigencies of coalition politics, is primarily responsible for India’s present behavior.

Sri Lanka’s finest – indeed iconic- foreign minister, Hon Lakshman Kadirgamar had begun to be disillusioned with India in the last stage of his life, and had already initiated the process of reorienting Sri Lanka’s relations towards China. I say this not only – or primarily- drawing from conversations I had with him, but because he signaled it quite clearly, in the presence of Indian diplomats , when he spoke at the BMICH with China’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapakse on the podium. If I remember rightly, Mr Kadirgamar contrasted China’s unconditional support and solidarity with Sri Lanka, especially on the issue of separatism, with that of some of our friends and neighbors.

Contrary however, to the simplistic view of the JVP and other ultranationalists, China cannot be our sole friend and ally, or even pick up the slack left by all others if they pull back. But relations with China - and most emphatically Russia- must be qualitively enhanced. We must strive for strategic pacts with both, because these countries have no pro-Tiger Tamil lobbies and are:

1. Unambiguous about separatism and terrorism and the way to combat them.

2. Strong and successful economically (Russia has oil).

3. Producers of excellent military equipment which they will sell without the reluctance and refusals of the West.

4. Asian and Eurasian powers, on the ascendancy rather than decline and overstretch.

5. Will support us against calls for sanctions.

One hopes that Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake negotiated some military assistance (training, advisors) from the Vietnamese and Cambodians, who are maestros in guerrilla and counter-guerrilla warfare - but I see no reason for such an optimistic conclusion.

It is a pity, and an unaffordable error, that Lakshman Kadirgamar’s final directions and initiatives in the domain of Sri Lanka’s external relations, have not been followed and built upon, as he surely would have done. With Prabhakaran striving for a decisive military victory next year, this grave error could amount to criminal negligence.

- Asian Tribune -

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