by Dayan Jayatilleka
The LTTE was a separatist army, which was out-thought, out-fought, defeated and almost destroyed by a better armed force, the Sri Lankan military.
Separatism is a political project, an ideology and an idea. Political projects, ideologies and ideas cannot be defeated by armed force. They have to be defeated by better political projects, ideologies and ideas. We have won the war for the elimination of a hostile armed force and for the territorial reunification of this island. But we have not yet won the political and ideological war – the war of ‘isms’-- which is a war of “heart and minds”.
Separatism on the island is on the retreat but is strengthened by the existence of a powerful separatist movement overseas. There was a Khalistani (Punjabi Sikh) separatist movement too in the West, especially Canada, but it dissolved after the military defeat on the ground in the Punjab. That hasn’t happened here in the case of Tamil separatism. This is because we have not followed up the military victory swiftly enough with a political move. Separatism existed before Prabhakaran was born. To defeat separatism the state has to remove the conditions which give rise to separatism and sustain separatism.
Separatism is both a political phenomenon and a state of mind. Take a simple example. Why do couples separate or divorce? Because they are unhappy! So we must remove the conditions that create such unhappiness between the various communities that live on this small island. We have to put forward a vision of a post-war Sri Lanka which can bring together and satisfy the basic aspirations of all communities. We should have an effective post-war policy and vision.
The state has successfully used ‘hard power’. It has to do the same with ‘soft power’. Hard Power is the power to compel, represented by military force, while ‘soft power’ is the power to attract. The combination is called ‘smart power’. To defeat separatism here and abroad, we need to deploy ‘soft power’ and ‘smart power’. The President has made a good move by appointing Prof GL Pieris as Minister of External affairs, but that alone will not be enough, because we must develop an appealing vision of Sri Lanka that can counter separatism by attracting the Tamil people. Control and coercion through ‘hard power’ alone won’t work.
If one talks of hardcore LTTE cadre, the regrouping is not very visible. These moves must be proceeding clandestinely. The Tigers have got a heavy battering. However what is visible is a global Tamil separatist movement with two spearheads, the Global Tamil Forum in the UK, and the Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (PTGTE) in the USA and Switzerland. They are doing some effective work for their cause. They have won over significant elements in the UK Labour party.
They have staged referenda on Tamil Eelam in many countries. Of course this exercise has involved only about hundred thousand people, but that has resulted in setting up structures all over the world. They have shadow Cabinets in many countries which can negotiate with governments and political parties. They have even made an abortive effort to penetrate revolutionary Venezuela! The separatist cause has many personalities in the spheres of arts, media and youth culture in the USA—the rap singer MIA is the best known example.
What is the possibility of another conflict? There are four kinds of conflict possible. One is a Cold War which is already ongoing globally against Sri Lanka. This brings pressure from other governments and established international organisations against us.
The second possibility is non-violent civic resistance on the part of the Tamil people in the North and East. This is a Mahatma Gandhi-Martin Luther King option, which Chelvanayagam and Amirthalingam already resorted to. If the state or para-state forces resort to violence to crush it, the earlier mentioned global Cold War against us will intensify. The visit of Ms Samantha Power, an assistant of President Obama and a member of the powerful National Security Council, shows that the Sri Lankan state is under the (passing) scrutiny of the White House.
The third kind of conflict which is possible is that by regrouped Tiger cadres, who may feel after several years of peace, that the Tamil people are deeply unhappy and that the Sri Lankan state has lost international support. If that is their perception, they may use Tamil Nadu as a rear base once again, re-insert themselves into Sri Lanka’s North-East and re-launch low intensity guerrilla warfare. One cannot rule out that some Eastern Tamils may also welcome them.
The fourth form of possible conflict is of direct external intervention as a result of a UN decision or an India-US agreement, and it will take the form of a ‘peacekeeping operation’, but will carve out certain areas as no-go zones for the Sri Lankan state. Look at what happened in Georgia. Also remember that when the sanctions against Iran were passed by the UN Security Council several weeks ago, both China and Russia voted with the West and did not veto it.
Today, Tamil separatism has renewed and reorganised itself. Internationally we are under greater pressure than we were immediately after the victory. World opinion seems to think that we have not arrived at or even moving in the direction of a fair and sustainable peace and therefore all these questions are being raised as to whether ours was actually a Just War!
We are wasting valuable time even now. Today we have to deal only with the ITAK/TNA led by parliamentarians we have known for a long time: Sampanthan, Suresh Premachandran, Senathirajah etc. They are not as moderate as Douglas Devananda but they are still, moderates and parliamentarians. If we don’t come to an agreement with them, Sampanthan who is 80 years old will not be around anymore. Then we may have to deal with a more militant leadership. What if we are faced with underground resistance committees of unknown citizens, coordinating a non-violent movement? If we crush it we will be stepping into the trap laid for us externally.
I think we have two options by which we can pre-empt this scenario. Either we can hold Northern Provincial Council elections in accordance with the relevant provisions of the existing Constitution or we can open talks with the TNA and EPDP on the basis of the Tissa Vitharana APRC proposals. If we had done either of these we wouldn’t be facing all this pressure on alleged war crimes. If we show the world a transparent political process of ethnic reconciliation, we can reduce the mounting international pressure.
The Tamil separatists are waging a round the clock war to strip away our legitimacy in the eyes of the world’s people. It is like an election. We have to win over a global majority. We seem to be losing the war of world opinion; the battle of ideas and mass communication being waged in the global media.
The qualities and policies that won the war are not necessarily those that can win us the peace. Sometimes, it is the opposite attitudes and qualities that are necessary. We must not only win the war, we must not lose the peace. We must win the peace!
If we want to defeat separatism finally, the state has to broad base itself, turning all communities into shareholders. Everyone’s collective identities have to be respected. The state must be a neutral umpire between communities. If not, and we want it to give umpiring decisions in favour of the majority, we can expect attempts to resist and secede, and we will be discredited in the world.
The world must see that Sri Lanka belongs to all its citizens; to all its communities. Adopt a policy of merit and giving everyone a fair chance, irrespective of ethnicity or religion. Our post-war order must be guided by the Buddhist perspective of the Middle Path. The state should suppress the call for separation and reject that for ethno-federalism on the one hand, and for hyper-centralised rule on the other. It must reject and rise above Sinhala and Tamil extremisms (which reinforce each other). Recall the lesson of world history that a country can lose the fruits of military victory by overstretch. The state mustn’t try to control everything in the North and East.
The mighty Soviet Union which defeated Hitler’s armies, dissolved without a shot being fired because it tried to maintain a closed system. We can learn from all over the world. Our policy makers must not be afraid to consult others who have faced similar problems and have been successful or have achieved what we wish to achieve, such as economic success. There is an Asian economic miracle taking place around us. If we don’t resolve our internal problems through political and social reconciliation, we shall be unable to participate in and benefit from that Asian miracle. Every community has links with some section of the world or the other. Why not turn these into assets, bridges, instead of seeing these connections as a threat?
Our people refused to surrender to terrorism despite decades of suicide bombings, while many other societies would have surrendered. Our people picked a government which would defeat the enemy, and kept supporting it and pushing it forward and sacrificing and producing volunteers to fight, until the job was done. We defeated the Tigers because it was a People’s War. Now our people must continue to reject political projects which would give away to the Tamil Diaspora, the gains of that victory, and support political projects, political lines and leaderships which can heal the wounds of war, unite all the peoples of this country, reject extremisms, and tread the Middle Path into the future.
The majority community must not make the same mistake the minority community made. Tamil nationalism overestimated itself, relied on its military power, and underestimated the Sinhalese and the Sinhala spirit. As a result it fell to a great defeat. The Sinhalese must not overestimate themselves and underestimate the Tamils and the spirit of the Tamil community.
Both communities must learn the lessons of the past and be determined not to repeat the mistakes which led to the tragic cycle of bloody conflict. We must turn the page, open a new chapter. The Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims must learn to respect one another, give each other space and co-exist peacefully on this small island home of ours. What other viable choice to we have?
We must not be prisoners of the past. We must not be closed-minded, we must be open-minded. All of us, our peoples, of all communities, must feel safe and free. We must look to the future, and imagine the kind of future we would like for ourselves, our families, and our society. We have lost many decades and must catch up with what has been termed ‘the March of Asian Modernity’ into the 21st century.