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Third Parties & Tamil National Movement
1 August 2006
The ‘Eelam pundits,’ as Taraki put it, and Tamil politicians in Colombo purveyed the myth that an impartial and powerful third party could altruistically intervene to ensure a just settlement is reached for the armed conflict and to enforce it is implemented by the Sinhala state. So they championed the Indian state as that third party and discouraged Tamils from examining its role through the prism of its geopolitical interests in the region.
Taraki observed almost three years ago that
“from 1983 to 86, it was taboo among Tamils to propagate the truth that India was exploiting their cause to gain a foothold in Sri Lanka. The few who dared to speak about India’s hegemonistic designs were admonished not to be too rash lest we provoke Delhi’s ire and cause a disruption in the weapons handouts by the RAW”
The naïve pro-Indian tilt unfortunately convinced most Tamils to welcome the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord and enthusiastically greet the Indian Peace Keeping Force. Indeed they compelled the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Leader V. Prabhakaran to suspend hostilities, which he did reluctantly and against his better judgement at the Sudumalai meeting in August 1987. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
The next generation of ‘Eelam pundits’ – both local and expatriate – are also deluding themselves by turning a blind eye to the geopolitical objectives of the co-chairs (US, EU, Norway and Japan) of the Sri Lanka donor consortium. They claim the co-chairs led by the US are growing disenchanted with the intransigent Sinhala nationalist leadership for its repeated avoidance of a compromise federal formula for conflict resolution. They point to US Assistant Secretary Richard A. Boucher’s reference – the first time by any US official – to a Tamil ‘homeland:’ Tamils have, he said, “a very legitimate desire ... to be able to control their own lives, to rule their own destinies and to govern themselves in their own homeland, in the areas they’ve traditionally inhabited” (TamilNet, 4/jun/06).
They draw comfort also from the 30 May statement by the co-chairs which “encouraged” the government to “show that it is ready to make the dramatic political changes to bring about a new system of governance” (The Morning Leader, 31/may/06). And Norway blamed the EU’s proscription of the Tamil Tigers for the breakdown of “talks” (Agence France Presse, 10/jun/06). Desperately clutching at non-existent straws, the ‘pundits’ interpret these interventions as possible indications the US and the other co-chairs could be veering around to acknowledge the legitimacy of the LTTE-led Tamil National Movement.
Consequently, they are quick to dismiss critical assessments of American interests in South Asia, of the US geo-strategic manoeuvres to encircle China, bring India to heel and to entrench US domination of the Indian Ocean maritime lanes. Rather, they vaguely hope the Tamil National Movement ought to take advantage of what they assume to be American disillusionment caused by Sinhala obstinacy and strike a timely ‘deal’ with the US. The ‘pundits’ do not spell out the terms of this symbiotic arrangement but they are not difficult to guess. One has only to reflect on the ‘deal’ the hapless King Dharmapala of Kotte made with the Portuguese traders to protect his throne from Prince Mayadunne in the early 1500s, in order to grasp the nature and probable consequences of the equally flat-footed tactics of today’s ‘pundits.’
The Americans, however, have left nothing in doubt. The US grandiosely set out to remake the world in the first flush of triumphalism following ‘victory’ in the Cold War. Convinced the US possessed unchallenged global power, American policy makers – especially influenced by neo-conservatives – unabashedly expressed hegemonic visions. For that reason policy benchmarks that emerged in the 1990s provide a rare insight into American thinking on foreign policy, especially on national liberation movements.
The United States Institute of Peace convened in 1995 a daylong conference on Self-Determination: Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity, and the Right to Secession in conjunction with the policy planning staff at the US Department of State. The aim was to explore how the US government should respond to movements for self-determination growing in number and deepening in intensity around the globe. They were concerned about the trend towards state formation, which political geographers were to analyse at their 1977 international conference in Washington DC.
An eminent panel concluded that the first decade of the 21st century would witness the radical redrawing of the world map, giving rise to an estimated 300 independent countries – an increase of about 50 per cent – by the year 2010. Two years after the conference 15 new states replaced the Soviet Union; Yugoslavia gave rise to four new states and two more, Montenegro and Kosovo, are impatiently waiting in the wings; Slovakia became independent of the Czechs; and the demands for redrawing borders continue to grow.
In this context, the report of the US Institute of Peace conference has interesting insights into US policy. The participants endorsed the regressive and anti-democratic stance of the international community that the existing national borders of countries are inviolable irrespective of how, by whom and under what conditions they were drawn. The general tenor of the discussions is that ‘minorities’ must be satisfied with “intermediate categories short of statehood that can address minority group’s interests and aspirations, such as membership in various international forums and organisations.” In other words, ‘minorities’ within a state territory must accept their subordinate place.
No wonder, then, the participants did not recommend federal or confederal structures as “intermediate categories.” The reasons are obvious. ‘Minorities’ would then have access to and exercise state power, a profoundly disturbing prospect for conservative academics and policymakers steeped in majoritarian prejudices. Instead, the participants gave as examples of “intermediate categories” toothless “international forums and organisations” and irrelevant “assemblies of national minority affairs, local autonomous administrations, decentralised and local forms of government, and mixed commissions...to continue dialogue on the issue.” In other words, they advised “minorities” not to resist but to “dialogue,” to work towards an accommodation with the more powerful majority on terms effectively laid down by that majority. The expectation – based on primitive Social Darwinism so close to the American heart – is that ‘minorities’ would be assimilated in the long run.
The participants predictably used the term ‘pluralism’ to mystify the existence of large and small nations within a state territory. The mystification has a political objective. The smaller nations are reclassified into lesser ‘minorities,’ which they claimed (a) have no right to an independent state (because ‘minorities’ do not possess national rights), (b) should disband their military organisations, if any, and (c) must concede that there can be only one armed force, that of the major nation, within one state territory.
The psychological roots of the pathological opposition to the emergence of independent states are a conservative knee jerk reaction, driven by the primordial fear of change.
The adverse economic consequences the west feared could flow from the proliferation of independent states were obliquely stated in the conference report. After noting “the ‘unstoppable drive’ of people in the Third World wanting what the advanced industrial nations already have,” the participant alleged as follows: “this situation threatens those in the wealthier nations who are concerned that their benefits will decline as more economic resources are transferred abroad and those in the Third World who lead more traditional lives and generally do not aspire to what they perceive to be ‘crass materialism.’”
In other words, the west and the United States in particular know that each new state is the vehicle through which one more nation acquires a place on the world stage. They fear that each such nation could then make and enforce its demands, for a more equitable distribution of resources and wealth in the international arena and through the United Nations in particular. It is, therefore, in the self-interest of the “wealthier nations” to prevent stateless nations from establishing their own states.
The aim is to put a ceiling on the number of nations represented by their states and thereby limit the demands for justice in the international arena. The participant cynically sanctified this anti-democratic ruse by alleging that preventing new states emerging in the Third World would also protect “those in the Third World who lead more traditional lives.” In short most of the poor (‘traditional’) want to remain poor! And it is national movements struggling to establish independent states in Asia and Africa that threaten the rich north and undermine the poor south!!
So the exceptions participants made, that “secession can be a legitimate aim of some self-determination movements, particularly in response to gross and systematic violations of human rights and when the entity is potentially politically and economically viable,” are merely formal, bland statements with neither moral relevance nor political teeth. For the conference report contains no consensus on the criteria for political and economic viability. Indeed the provision for instances of “gross and systematic violations of human rights” is a transparent deception. This is evident from the arrogant view confidently documented in the report that “the United States…should make it clear to those seeking independence that they cannot object to the violence waged against them by claiming they were simply attempting to exercise their ‘right’ to secession.”
Not surprisingly, the US is assisting the government to upgrade the destructive capacity of its Sinhala armed forces. The co-chairs’ pro-state bias has been comprehensively exposed during the protracted ‘talks’ during the ceasefire over the past four years. The EU proscribed the LTTE obviously with the concurrence of the other three co-chairs; all of them are turning a blind eye to the Sinhala government’s brazen covert operations against the LTTE and the several hundred extrajudicial killings and involuntary disappearances of Tamil civilians executed with utter impunity by the Sinhala armed forces. That delivered a crippling a body blow to the co-chairs’ much-flogged ‘neutrality.’
A telling instance of this bias is the assertion by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission’s head Ulf Henricsson defending the government’s refusal to disarm Tamil paramilitaries as agreed at the February 2006 Geneva ‘talks.’ The Mission admits paramilitaries function in areas controlled by the Sri Lankan state. But it enthusiastically accepts the government’s disclaimers of collusion with paramilitaries and asserts there is no conclusive evidence of such collusion. The implication is obvious: the Mission absolves government for reneging on its commitment in Geneva. Henricsson in fact is explicit. He suavely explained: “I think they (security forces) will have a lot of problems, if they do it (disarm paramilitaries). Further I don’t see any reason for the government to do it. To be honest, if you have a warring faction against you and if your enemy is split, why should you try to stop that. Have you read Machiavelli?” (Sunday Observer, 7/may/06).
Clearly the Mission and the co-chairs expect and encourage the government to use the paramilitaries to weaken the LTTE-led Tamil National Movement. So it is no surprise that they have not called President Mahinda Rajapakse’s bluff, that he is striving to formulate a ‘devolution’ proposal through his All Party Conference (APC). The co-chairs must surely know the Constitution massively centralises power in the executive president and explicitly forbids devolution; at best it allows only meagre decentralisation of authority. This has been a well-know fact from 1978, when the Constitution was introduced. The group of constitutional experts Rajapakse appointed ostensibly to explore avenues to ‘devolve’ power are of course fully aware of the legal barriers; and he and the majority Sinhala experts have no intention whatsoever of amending the Constitution to dilute the centralised presidential powers. The co-chairs surely know this too.
So Rajapakse is not staging the APC circus to deceive the co-chairs and by extension the international community. On the contrary, they are all colluding to hoodwink Tamils with a so-called political alternative the APC and Experts Group are expected to dredge up.
A political alternative, however illusory it may be, is the lynchpin in the co-chairs’ ‘counterinsurgency’ strategy that pivots on weakening the Tamil Tigers. The twin tactics are to convince the Tamil people that there is a political alternative to the Tamil Tigers’ military agenda and to persuade expatriate Tamils that support for the LTTE-led armed resistance is counterproductive. In this context the apparently pro-Tamil interventions by Boucher, the co-chairs and Norway must be interpreted at best as feeble damage limitation exercises and crafted to salvage their plummeting credibility and to neutralise the rapidly intensifying support for the LTTE among Tamils.
Of course the co-chairs’ jugglery of ‘peace process,’ ‘homeland,’ ‘dramatic political changes,’ and so on do not distract Tamils from the central reality. And that reality is the following:
(a) the current unitary Constitution forbids a federal alternative and any devolution of power;
(b) the Sinhala leadership inside and outside the government is committed to defending the unitary state while mouthing dishonest slogans about devolution;
(c) LTTE’s engagement with the ‘peace process’ has conclusively shown Tamils that the Sinhala leadership is incapable of constructing a viable, federal alternative;
(d) the third parties seek to cover up this grotesque fact; and
(e) when the Sinhala president, Rajapakse, makes deceptive claims about ushering “maximum devolution” within a unitary state he, like his predecessors, intends to preclude power sharing with Tamils in the Centre.
In short, decentralisation of authority under a unitary state will create a Tamil Bantustan in the North-East Province. Is that the intention of the third parties too?