Contrasting performances in India

by Dayan Jayatilleka

"…as long as they accept, as we have previously said, our condition of being a country that will not tolerate shadows over its independence, and based on the principles of equality, reciprocity, non-intervention and mutual respect."- Raul Castro (Dec 2, 2006) 

Most Sri Lankans would be greatly relieved that war veteran, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse escaped the Tigers’ suicide terrorism. The lesson is clear: unless we pre-empt them, they will come for us and decapitate our nation. Of course preventive self defence does not mean doing so in the ill-thought out manner of Jayasikuru/Agnikheela/Muhamalai.

Mahinda’s Innings

Any patriotic Sri Lankan would also be pleased with the performance in India, of President Rajapakse and his team, including, prominently, Minister Douglas Devananda, who turned 50 just a few weeks before. (This despite Mahinda’s alleged marginalisation of Tamil democratic allies). On Indian soil, Mahinda Rajapakse held his ground, refusing to be cowed or crowded, declining to retreat from his representation and defence of the Sri Lankan position that:

(i) The LTTE has been waging a war of aggression, eschewing chances for a negotiated peace.

(ii) The democratic Sri Lankan state has the inalienable right to self-defence and prioritisation of national security.

(iii) The state is doing its best for Tamil civilians, and casualties among them have been inadvertent – due to the LTTE’s human shield tactics and "the fog of war"; some episodes are under investigation

(iv) The Sri Lankan government’s position is not militarist, the door is open for negotiations; with or without the LTTE the political reform component is maximum devolution either within a unitary state or a state that is neither unitary nor federal in nomenclature.

(v) Having learned from the fiasco of the domestically de-stabilising Indo-Lanka accord, this political reform will and must issue from a broad-based, multiethnic and multiparty consensus, which is already on the horizon.

Ranil’s spin

Meanwhile, the Leader of the Opposition and the UNP, Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe, also ‘messaged’ India. His speech to the Indian Institute of Management – republished in The Hindu -purveys subtle propaganda not merely against the Rajapakse administration but also against Sri Lanka in general, and the Sri Lankan armed forces in particular. Given the dangerous and consciously created slippage in Indian opinion and policy towards Sri Lanka, Mr Wickremesinghe’s efforts only add to those of Mr Vaiko and Nedumaran.

Consider for instance the following paragraphs of his speech. First, his second paragraph:

"After the elections, the LTTE started an Intifada type uprising in Jaffna, protesting that the Government was going back on its undertakings. Karuna’s paramilitary group re-commenced the killing of LTTE supporters. In retaliation, the LTTE started laying claymore mines and a number of military vehicles were blown up, resulting in a large numbers of deaths."

Firstly and most directly, by labelling it retaliation, he covers up the Tigers’ initiation of war against the state mere weeks after the election. Secondly and indirectly, by defining the actions of the LTTE’s civilian front as a protest against the newly incoming Rajapakse administration’s alleged resiling from the CFA, he confers legitimacy upon these actions and actors, notwithstanding the facts that the just-elected president had done nothing to signal withdrawal from the CFA; these protests called for the removal of the High Security Zones; and the civilian protestors were recruits to the LTTE’s new militia and had recently received military training.

In both instances, the LTTE’s actions are made to look reasonable and even justifiable. In both cases, Mr Wickremesinghe engages in a remarkable sleight of hand.

If in fact the LTTE’s attacks were in retaliation, they should have been against the Karuna group or their other Tamil rivals, not the Sri Lankan armed forces, which, even in Mr Wickremsinghe’s re-telling were not the perpetrators of the initial killings. If it were a matter of understandable ‘retaliation’, it should have been proportionate to the original incident, which was that of killing of two persons. Instead dozens of armed forces personnel died in a spate of claymore attacks and ambushes.

Secondly, Mr Wickremesinghe, who painstakingly contextualises all the deeds and depredations of the LTTE, chooses by contrast to omit the fact that the Karuna group attempted a peaceful resolution of their differences with Prabhakaran. It was the latter that brushed aside offers of mediation by civic leaders in the East and launched a military offensive on Good Friday 2004 – aided and abetted by Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga – against Karuna. So, Mr Prabhakaran got his ‘retaliation’ in first, as is his wont.

If the killings of the pro-Tiger elements in Jaffna were indeed by Karuna’s men, or any other group such as the EPDP, it was retaliation against lethal violence launched and sustained by Prabhakaran throughout the ceasefire period. Contrary to Mr Wickremesinghe’s insinuation, there is no legitimate reason for the LTTE to have targeted the Sri Lankan armed forces, killing up to 90 in the first few weeks after President Rajapakse’s election. This was before any attacks or counterattacks by the Sri Lankan armed forces.

Here is another extract of Mr Wickremesinghe’s lecture:

"The Government of Sri Lanka took no action to disarm the paramilitary, arguing that the Tamil paramilitary forces were operating outside the areas controlled by the Army.

As a result, violence erupted again in March. It escalated after the killing of a prominent leader of the TNA inside the high security zone in Trincomalee. The second round of talks, set for April 2006, was postponed. Since then, seven months of escalating violence have brought a suicide bomb attack on the Army Commander; the explosion of a land mine in Kebettigollawa, resulting in the death of nearly 60 passengers travelling in a bus; sea battles between the Navy and the Sea Tigers; the abduction and killing of Tamil civilians in Colombo District; air strikes within the areas controlled by the LTTE, including the Mullaitivu Hospital; artillery shelling of the Vaharai refugee camp; the Army clearing the LTTE from parts of Trincomalee District; the killing of another very popular TNA Member of Parliament; and the killing of security forces personnel, LTTE members, and Karuna group members."

Looking at this paragraph I have excerpted from Mr Wickremesinghe’s speech, one notes again the justification of LTTE aggression: "as a result" being the crucial phrase. What is their bloody aggression a result of? The Government’s refusal to disarm the alleged paramilitary groups as demanded by the Tigers in Geneva. Given that these groups were picked off like stray dogs by Prabhakaran’s killers during Mr Wickremesinghe’s CFA, how did one except them to survive other than by active armed self – defence?

In Mr Wickremesinghe’s paragraph reproduced here, there is no mention of the ethnicity of the victims of the Kebitgollawe massacre, namely Sinhalese, but there is a mention of those abducted or killed in Colombo, namely Tamil!

The bombing of the Mullaitivu hospital and the shelling by the army of the refugee camp are not explained as accidental – or even probably/possibly accidental -but are listed as if they were deliberate. There is a positive description of the late Mr Raviraj, but no mention – let alone description – of Mr Kethesh Loganathan, a well-known conflict resolution intellectual written up posthumously in the New York Times, and the Deputy Head of the Peace Secretariat, which was set up during Mr Wickremesinghe’s CFA!

The blame for the A-9 crisis is placed squarely on the government, By Mr Wickremesinghe:

"The Government closed the A9 route in August 2006. Under the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement, both parties had agreed to open the A9 route to facilitate the normal transportation of goods and persons; and provision was made for the safety of sea transport between Trincomalee and Jaffna. However, the LTTE has now stated that it cannot assure safe passage for ships passing close to LTTE-controlled areas."

There is no mention of the LTTE’s acts of war which preceded the closure and the tactical considerations which necessitated it. This is in sharp contrast to Mr Wickremesinghe’s repeated attempt to construct a chain of causation for the LTTE’s massive violence.

Military Win for Tigers is OK

Finally, Mr Prabhakaran’s deadly speech of Nov 27th is given some spin, the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE equated as sources of war, and the Tiger whitewashed as having changed positively over the past five years.

"Speaking at the "Heroes’ Day" Commemoration on November 27, 2006, the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabakaran, accused the Government of making the Ceasefire Agreement defunct by following what he calls "a war and peace approach." He stated that the LTTE has "no other option but an independent state for the people of Tamil Eelam." Nonetheless, he has not formerly declared a separate state. Neither has he given notice of termination to the Norwegian Government in accordance with the Ceasefire Agreement. However, he has announced that the LTTE is not prepared to "walk along the same futile path" and will re-commence "the freedom struggle."

It is clear then that the LTTE is ready to intensify the war. Its objective is a decisive military victory that will give it a significant advantage at the negotiating table when peace talks resume. The Government has responded by announcing its readiness for war….

…A lot of water has flowed under the bridge in the last five years. The LTTE itself has gained experience in negotiations and acquired knowledge on different systems of government.

Time is of the essence, and it is important that the peace process is finalised with the least delay. The Nepalese peace process, which started last year, has already been concluded and the parties have signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement."

Mr Wickremesinghe correctly deduces that escalation signalled in Prabahakaran’s speech is for the purpose of scoring "a decisive military victory". But he extends that deduction to the conclusion that Prabhakaran seeks "a decisive military victory that will give it a significant advantage at the negotiating table when peace talks resume." Now this is nowhere mentioned in Mr Prabhakaran’s peroration. Indeed, having criticised Mr Wickremesinghe’s interlude as well, he says he has dispensed with the old path of talks, and declares the intention to go well beyond it and set up the government of an independent state of Tamil Eelam.

"Decisive" though it may be in his understanding, Mr Wickremesinghe is untroubled by Prabhakaran’s project of a ‘military victory’. He does not urge the India or the international community to deter the LTTE or to support Sri Lanka in that eventuality.

A decisive military victory is by definition precisely that: decisive. In the event that the LTTE secures ‘a decisive military victory’, there is little left to talk about, except the total evacuation in defeat and disgrace of what’s left of the Sri Lankan armed forces (and state) from the North and East, and as Anton Balasingham said in the 1980s, "the issue of borders". So Mr Wickremesinghe’s optimism concerning the prospect of meaningful negotiations even following a "decisive military victory" for Prabhakaran is to say the least, unfounded.

What it may amount to is an attempt to reassure the West and India, that even if Mr Prabhakaran launches a drive for a decisive military victory, the international community need not fear and come to the assistance of Sri Lanka or hamper the LTTE, but should stand aside and allow Prabhakaran his decisive military victory, for that is but a detour to a negotiated peace!

No pal of Nepal

Mr Wickremesinghe’s reference to the fruitful Nepali peace process is wildly inapposite and deliberately misleading. Mr Wickremesinghe is either oblivious or chooses to obfuscate the very basic difference between the Nepali Maoist insurgents and the LTTE, as stated by the highly literate, educated leader of that insurgency, Comrade Prachanda, and reported some days back in the Hindu, the very newspaper in which Mr Wickremesinghe’s speech appears! Prachanda disclosed that his party sent representatives to study the situation in Sri Lanka recently, and concluded by contemptuously characterising the LTTE as "a narrow nationalist movement… with no political programme."

The LTTE’s Great Heroes Day usually features two speeches: one by Prabhakaran from Kilinochchi or Mullaitivu and the other by Anton Balasingham in London. This year, Mr Balasingham was seriously unwell, but two speeches there still seem to have been! Reading Mr Wickremesinghe’s speech I was struck by the news item of a teacher, Mr Dharmatilleke I believe, who upon learning that his brother, a Sri Lankan army Major, had worked for the LTTE (and that he himself had been an inadvertent beneficiary in as much as his treacherous brother had given him some money), hired a boat, rowed into the middle of a lake and jumped overboard, drowning himself in shame and atonement. It is an example to be commended.

-The Island

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