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The ghost of Anton Balasingham haunts the Sri Lankan state

Aug 7, 2010 10:39:07 PM- transcurrents.com

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Whether it is aware of this or not, a spectre is haunting the Sri Lankan state — the spectre of Anton Balasingham. The Sri Lankan state defeated and virtually destroyed Velupillai Prabhakaran’s LTTE, but it couldn’t and didn’t destroy Anton Balasingham’s LTTE.

The focus is now on the global logistical network of the LTTE, of which KP was a kingpin. This is all to the good but it is not good enough. The growing international pressures narrowing Sri Lanka’s global space are not the doing of the residues of Prabhakaran’s Tiger army or KP’s logistical network, nor entirely of the Sri Lankan government’s sins of commission and omission.

The project of Tamil Eelam is being kept alive internationally and the campaign against Sri Lanka is being driven by a politico-ideological international movement which was founded by and is the legacy of the main spokesperson, most able ideologue and chief negotiator-cum-public diplomat of the Tigers: Anton Balasingham. He established the London hub from which the concentric circles of influence still spread and have been replicated with necessary modifications in other parts of the world.

The legacy of the ideologue has lasted longer than that of the supreme military commander. It is Balasingham’s ideological and intellectual sophistication that tailored the message in such a way that young educated Tamils born in the West (not the ones ‘off the boat’ from VVT) could be attracted. It was also Balasingham’s skills as an interlocutor that opened so many doors in Western capitals; doors through which the traffic is still flowing and openings through which anti-Sri Lankan diplomatic impulses emanate.

Thus, Balasingham’s legacy seems at the moment, far more durable than Prabhakaran’s and Prabhakaran’s legacy is being kept alive by Balasingham’s, albeit with suitable modifications bringing it far more into line with the latter’s own, more sophisticated, Westernised, Marxisant-Realist thinking.

In a path-breaking interview obtained by Shamindra Ferdinando of The Island, the LTTE’s erstwhile chief of procurement ‘KP’ gives an interesting perspective on Prabhakaran’s defeat. In his re-construction, the most important single element is that Prabhakaran failed to understand the changed world order after 9/11 and to make the necessary adjustments. KP repeats this in an interview with Wathsala of The Sunday Leader. Dr. Rohan Gunaratane in a recent interview with Shakuntala Perera of the Daily Mirror reiterates this as KP’s fundamental difference of opinion with Prabhakaran: the latter didn’t understand the post-9/11 world order.

his is most interesting. The emphasis of the post-mortem of Prabhakaran moves from the local to the global, from the military to the paradigmatic and political-diplomatic. The unit of analysis is the ‘world order’ and the key driver, the changes i.e. the dynamics, in the world order.

While we may debate the weight that must be ascribed to this factor in a holistic, historical analysis of the fate of the LTTE and Prabhakaran, it does have the ring of truth: just as the dinosaur could not make the change necessary to survive the transformations in the external environment and thus died out, so too did the Tiger regular armed force.

The question is whether the same danger threatens the Lion? Will the same fate befall it? Has the Sri Lankan state understood the changes in the world order and has it made the necessary structural adjustments in order to survive and prevail? Isn’t the Sri Lankan side still trapped in the time warp of the Bush era and its GWOT (‘global war on terror’) discourse?

What the Sri Lankan side has failed to comprehend is that we are no longer in the post-9/11 moment. While the reaction to 9/11 does constitute an aspect of the world order, we are in a moment that has reacted against the bellicose nationalist militarism of the US neoconservatives in the wake of 9/11. The 9/11 moment was squandered with Bush’s Iraq war. The defeat of the US neoconservative paradigm of ‘anything goes in the war on terror’ has been replaced by a return to greater multilateralism, use of international organisations and institutions, respect for the rule of international law, a re-emphasis on human rights and humanitarian norms, greater media and religious freedoms and the whole package of Western liberalism.

Nothing symbolises the post, post-9//11 order than the ruling of the World Court on Kosovo’s independence, which was the upholding of a pre-Bush era victory for Clintonian ‘liberal humanitarian interventionism’ and the breakup of existing states on the grounds of violations of human rights specially of ethnic minorities.

Of course, the post, post 9/11 moment has features that countervail Western liberal hegemonism. Russia has re-emerged. The economic crisis has weakened the West, leaving China and India virtually unscathed. The USA is economically interlocked with and vulnerable to China. This too is an aspect of a mega trend: the rise of Asia and the possible eclipse in 25-50 years, of the West. But that is a megatrend, a powerful tendency and not yet an actuality. The actuality of the present is seen by the latest US naval exercises conducted by the powerful George Washington battle group, together with the South Korean armed forces, close to a strategic part of China.

So we are left with the question of who – which formation and force – is better geared to the changed world order, which is no longer simply that of post 9/11: the Sri Lankan state or the anti-Sri Lankan international movement for which the foundation was laid by Balasingham?

Balasingham’s diplomatic ghost, the international solidarity movement that was his legacy, and the allies it had leveraged were outclassed and outperformed by the broad united front forged by a Sri Lankan vanguard and its partners in the decisive diplomatic showdown in a multilateral zone of engagement in May 2009. That was achieved by a consciously Gramscian approach of convincing the many through a policy of principled stances, credible argumentation and flexible concessions to the sensitivities of friends and allies.

But that was then and this is now, and that moment of politico-moral hegemony has passed or been squandered. Paradoxically Sri Lanka’s global space has shrunk rather than expanded in this first post-war year. The global movement of secessionist solidarity, lobbying and public diplomacy initiated by Anton Balasingham is still functioning — unlike Prabhakaran’s defunct Tiger army — with new recruits and socio-political advances internationally.

We have no Balasingham out there. The Tigers don’t either, but with internationalist activism, ideological pedagogy and public diplomacy from his liberated zone in London, ‘Bala Anna’ cloned and mentored an entire cadre. In the new Cold War after May 2009, Balasingham’s ghost is proving more than a match for Sri Lanka’s schizophrenic persona of confrontational street theatre and conservative conventional diplomacy.