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Friday, June 14, 2024

Threatened suspension of talks by TNA would benefit only extremists on both sides

 Dayan Jayatilleka
The threatened suspension of talks by the Tamil National alliance benefits no one, the Tamils or the Sinhalese, the TNA or the government, the North or the South. Or if I may amend my statement immediately, it would benefit only the extremists on both sides of the ethnic fault lines, within and outside the island.
Political dialogue is in and of itself desirable. It should not be conditional, still less suspended.

In a situation of mounting polarisation occasioned by unfair external pressure, it is all the more vital to keep the bridges intact, the traffic moving and the communication lines open.

The TNA has done well electorally, both at parliamentary and local government levels. It has certainly made a far better recovery against far greater odds and in far shorter a time span, than has the main democratic opposition, the United National Party, under its present and perennial leadership.

However, while this reality must be recognized, so too must the TNA recognize the political achievement and strength of the incumbent administration as manifested in its electoral performance and the sheer weight of the numbers it represents.

What this should amount to is a mutual recognition of reality or recognition of a dual reality (that in the South and the north, among the majority and the main minority). Such a realisation should result in the further realisation that there is no alternative to continued, structured dialogue.

Of course such a dialogue will be fraught. There is a trust deficit. It is not merely the government and the security establishment but a larger segment of the Sinhalese who do not quite trust the TNA because of its relatively recent history of support for the secessionist terrorist Tigers, its refusal to make a self criticism on that count or a criticism of the LTTE, its links with and intermittent echoes of the discourse of the more militant elements of the Tamil Diaspora, and therefore its possible adventurist behaviour if it wields any significant territory based political autonomy-and the strategic and security implications of such behaviour.

On the part of the TNA, its misgivings about the state’s policies in the former conflict zones have been set out clearly in its latest statement signalling a suspension.

Both sides have to realise though, that nothing can be achieved by pressure, escalation, threats and unilateralism. On the island, the demographics are heavily skewed one way, while in the larger space, regional and global, it is skewed in the other. This makes for a balance of power that prevents zero-sum outcomes and dictates a continuing dialectic of dialogue, the outcome of which can only hover around the axis of the implementation of existing Constitutional arrangements for autonomy with compensatory swaps.

It is laughable to assume that an administration and a citizenry that could not be intimidated by decades of the deadliest terrorism and open warfare and years of external pressure from powerful quarters, will blink —or can be seen to blink— in the face of the ultimatum by a party that at best, represents fewer than half a million people in a country of twenty million; a party that backed the wrong horse or Tiger.

This is so unrealistic as to be a little lunatic, and therefore we must assume that there is a larger underlying design: to put it simply, a trap for Sri Lanka. That trap is not meant to trigger acquiescence in the TNA’s demands; it is meant to explode the bridges of dialogue and cause a rockslide which buries political reconciliation between the communities. It is a trap meant to cause polarisation; to widen the fault lines into a chasm.

Looking at it from my vantage point, I see a global design. It has at least two prongs. Along one axis, the Channel 4 movies are used as spearheads, moving from London through Chennai to Bangkok. The intention is to shift public opinion in these societies, so that governments find it that much more difficult to support Sri Lanka diplomatically. The second prong is within Sri Lanka, sabotaging the dialogue between the TNA and the Government.

The projected endgame is clear. As the manhandling of Sri Lankan pilgrims in Tamil Nadu reveals, the design is to provoke ethnic violence in Sri Lanka, in the form of something which can be magnified as another July ‘83 or an impending July ‘83. In a variant or accompaniment of this tactic, the TNA’s ultimatum may be followed within months by a civil disobedience movement, which hopes to trigger a violent crackdown, which can then be magnified by the Western media. The global opinion having been created (Channel 4 etc) and the diplomatic trap having already been laid, any such episode will cause a global tsunami against Sri Lanka, resulting in the reversal of our historic military victory and the creation under external auspices and as an external protectorate.

Of course this is only one scenario. The other is TNA’s ultimatum could result in a protracted political stalemate and vacuum. The Northern provincial councils may be held, but the public opinion response to brinkmanship is far more likely to delay than expedite it and to cause as much hedging and sledging as possible. In the meantime if there is no political dialogue and therefore no reliable peace partner available across the table, the neoconservatives could be strengthened almost by default, notions of ‘ total security’ could become the dominant or excusive logic, the contours on the ground could be reconfigured unilaterally, while the inevitable demographic trends do the work of attrition. Another generation would live wasted, desultory lives.

In the face of external pressure and internal withdrawal and protest, the power-bloc could reconfigure itself, with the centre of gravity shifting in a more hawkish direction, prefiguring the next stage of political evolution.

The TNA must not play the game of the radical elements of the Tamil expatriate community and/or of extra-regional powers. It must commit itself to an overarching Sri Lankan identity however it seeks to re-frame and re-define that identity through negotiation. It must adopt a policy of permanent political presence and participation both at the periphery and at the centre. If the emerging trends in the Opposition come to fruition there will be a clear bi-partisan consensus.

In the end Sri Lanka must and will prevail. It will do so because it is more in the right than in the wrong; more sinned against than sinning, on two major counts, those of accountability and sovereignty. As Anatole Lieven and John Hulsman remind us in their anti-neoconservative volume ‘Ethical Realism’, while Tacitus attributes to a barbarian chieftain the moral critique of Rome, namely that it “creates a desolation and calls it peace”, the great classical historian and realist had no doubts that even if that were so, the Roman empire was morally and ethically superior to the barbarians and the choice to be preferred.

Lieven and Hulsman also recall that the great strategic thinker and Christian theologian of the 20th century, Reinhold Niebuhr was clear that the atomic bombings at the end of WW2 did not mean that the Allies did not wage a Just War. Therefore even if everything that Channel 4 and Gordon Weiss et al say is factually accurate— which they clearly are not (as the counter-documentary ‘Lies Agreed Upon’ and the MoD Report ‘Factual Analysis’ tend to demonstrate)—Sri Lanka must not submit to an international Inquisition.

The young ideologues of humanitarian intervention should study the superb new book, On China, by the great Henry Kissinger, which contains the following reflection which should be committed to memory:

“In Asia…sovereignty, in many regained relatively recently after periods of foreign colonization, has an absolute character. The principles of the Westphalian system prevail, more so than on their continent of origin. The concept of sovereignty is considered paramount. ..Non-interference in domestic affairs is taken as a fundamental principle of interstate relations.” (On China, Allen Lane, London, 2011, p.515)

The campaign to make Sri Lanka submit is the furthermost reach of Northern hegemonic ideology into Asia, in the attempt to roll-back national sovereignty and impose, in an infinitely elasticised version of the Responsibility to Protect, new rules of the international game. The target is apparently China but is actually the Rise of Asia, and the tactic is the old one of divide, debilitate and rule (or re-assert). If Sri Lanka submits it will be a defeat for Asia as a whole.


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