Where's the Endgame?
The only real losers in the Sri Lankan civil war are its citizens, argues NILANTHA ILANGAMUWA
Who are the real losers and winners in Sri Lanka? Why, after crushing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May, 2009, does the tear drop shaped country remain in a state of pathetic instability? The insurgent group waged a war against the government of Sri Lanka for almost three decades demanding a separate state, which would have been one-third of the country and two thirds of a maritime area called Eelam.
The war against the LTTE was not a victory or the creation of any one person. Perhaps it was a result of the misleading struggle by the LTTE, internal conflicts and the failure of political wisdom of the movement. The leadership of the LTTE always believed in military strength rather than political ideology, even though the LTTE created bitter conflicts within the community they also eliminated all other insurgents groups. According to the The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli, a wishful political ideologist in ancient Western history, correctly pointed out; "A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules, and it is of such force that it not only upholds those who are born princes, but it often enables men to rise from a private station to that rank. And, on the contrary, it is seen that when princes have thought more of ease than of arms they have lost their states." (Chapter XIV ). Eventually the LTTE leader, Mr. Velupillai Prabhakaran (November 26, 1954 May 19, 2009) started the military struggle and he believed the solution must come through military victory not the political/negotiation path. Perhaps the LTTE decided to eliminate the political ideology of the Tamil Community by killing prominent democratic politicians and ideologists.
However we cannot claim that only Tamil politicians helped the LTTE. Especially A. Amirthalingam, the late leader of the TULF helped the LTTE to emerge as a powerful force. Two of its prominent youth wing members, Uma Maheshawaran, joined the LTTE as its co-chairman and Urmila Kandiah, as its first female member. Furthermore the LTTE's first international representative N.S. Krishanan was introduced by Amirathalingam. Krishnan was the person who introduced Antion Blasingham to Prabhakran, who later became the theoretician of the LTTE. Amirathalingam also introduced T. S. Pathmanathan or simply 'KP' to Prabakaran."When the pressure was mounting, we took a boat from Valvettiturai and sought refuge in India. At that time crossing the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary was no problem. The then TULF leader A. Amirthalingham introduced me to Prabhakaran in mid 70s, most probably in 1976 and since then we worked together." ( KP speaks out in an interview with the Island , Colombo based daily on July 29, 2010)
In 2008 during the discussion about the Tamil insurgency, Mr. Rajasingham who is the father of late Mrs. Rajini Thiranagama, told the writer that the LTTE killed his daughter because they wanted to turn their struggle into a permanent
militant operation and that they believed the solution could only come through military means. They decided to eliminate anyone brave enough to have moderate views and ideas on the struggle. In my view, the LTTE's highest point was during the potential political settlement during 2000-2004. However, the serious internal conflict in March 2004 marked the beginning of the end. It was a nightmare.
History has taught us that the struggle between the GoSL and the LTTE brought far greater benefits for the Regime than ever before.
Insurgency in the south
Since Sri Lanka received independence from the British in 1948, there have been three main insurgents against several regimes, which were dominated by lower caste Sinhalese and Tamil youth. The three uprisings were brutally defeated by the military which killed a large number of people who belonged to the organisations. Sources reveal that Sinhalese and Tamil insurgents against the Central government actually started in the mid 60s, but there were only few minor incidents were reported until the 70s.
Indeed, the 70s was a land mark decade in Sri Lankan history during which many incidents took place against the government. After that thousands of people were wounded, disappeared and killed with total disregard for any norms and standards. In April 1971 a rebellion by Sinhalese youth in the South led by Patabandi Don Nandasiri Wijewwera or Rohan Wijewwera (July 14, 1943-November 13, 1989), ended with the killing of at least 15,000 -20,000 lives in five weeks. The average was 3,500 deaths per week.
It was first major mistake by the political rival groups against the regime. It was unbelievable how the so-called Marxist leader like Rohana Wijeweera consulted his horoscope to ascertain the best time to declare war against the GoSL. This does not speak well of the mentality of the so-called leaders. What we had was a Marxist leader who followed Brahmani rule to declare his communist campaign. This joke is everywhere in the country's political system.
The offensive against the 1971 rebels was the first time the Regime carried out extrajudicial killings in Sri Lanka, even the defeated the JVP insurgency was much easier for the regime to deal with because the main opposition, the United National Party also backed the military. "The event of 1971, the first JVP insurrection and the state response to it, when rebels were frog marched to the nearest cemetery or bridge over a river and shot in cold blood." (pp. 620) has pointed out in his book the Sri Lanka in Crisis: A lost generation - Untold Story by Prins Gunasekara.
The regional Leader of the JVP in the Baduraliya Police area, 25-year-old Naranbedde Piyadassi, an ex-Buddhist monk when pleading guilty to the charges of conspiracy to overthrow the Government by attacking police stations in the area said before the Commission
"The JVP is not a proletarian political party. It does not serve the purposes of proletariat. They tried to fulfil the middle class selfish intentions. What the leaders wanted was to make the youths who brave and loyal to their motherland targets to attacks by the bullets , the bombs, the rifles and the armoured cars and kill them and take over the leadership over their dead bodies and rivers of blood. That proved futile and we were happy. If they came into power it would have been harmful to the workers and the ordinary masses. In one of the books I read, a certain philosopher made a statement like this, every individual who had tried to change a historically immature social system become a traitor in history.' Today we too have become real traitors of this era attempting to change the social system. These traitors are not the comrades by the leaders including me who held responsibility." (pp. 271 The JVP -1969 -1989 by A.C Alles.) This is a reflection of the JVP's uprising against the regime, and the harvest of the insurgency in Sri Lanka.
Even after the '71 uprising the leaders of the JVP, Wijeweera made confessions before the Criminal Justice Commission that the experiment to overthrow the Government lacked of vision even though they followed a political ideology.
According to Rohana Wijeweera, "In April 1971 the revolutionary preconditions for the seizure of power by the proletariat and for and armed revolutionary struggle were absent. This is my view. In the absence of a revolutionary situation -- i.e. both objective and subjective conditions -- an armed uprising was not possible. My view is that the conditions were not ripe for organising an armed revolutionary uprising to size state power. The objective conditions were maturing fast, but they were still unripe. It had not reached a stage where the masses saw no other solution but revolution. It is true, however, that then, as now, society was moving in that direction. The subjective conditions were also lacking; that is a revolutionary party that has steeled itself, won the support of the masses and is fit to lead them in an armed struggle for power. The Janath Vimukthi Peramuna was developing and moving towards that goal, but had not reached full maturity. We failed at that time to establish the J.V.P. in the Northern and Eastern provinces and in the estate sector as a political force. And then there was the question of mass support ... the J.V.P. had not reached the stage where the masses could see is as a real alternative to the government, accept its leadership and join in the class struggle under its banner. In our Marxist conception, a revolution armed uprising -- is not something done behind the backs of the masses; ... I reject the position that it was a J.V. P. decision to seize state power on April 5, 1971. I do not admit that. But as I discovered later and something I do not deny is that there have been instances when certain comrades of the J.V.P. in the face of intolerable repression, resorted to a struggle against such repression." (pp 267, The J.V.P 1969-1989 authored by A.C. Alles.).
It was not only in the '71 insurgency but also during the '88-'89 periods, the same things happened and Wijeweera was executed by the Government. Eventually many Tamil organisations faced the same fate when sat for negotiations, settlement or confrontation with the military.
There were as many as 32 Tamil insurgent groups in Jaffna peninsula during 80s and they were taking logistic and financial support from Tamil Nadu, India and also a few Middle Eastern countries as well. During that crucial period some sentimental views arose in Tamil and Sinhalese youth. Tamil youth were believed by Indians to be their guardians, while Sinhalese youth were considered a common enemy.
However India's role in Sri Lanka is very complicated. There have been no efforts by any central Indian Government to resolve the root causes of the problem in Sri Lanka apart from calling for a "sustainable political solution." Even during the final phase of last battle between the LTTE and the Government forces, the Indian role was crucial and they were fully backed the Government.
Now India and China have entered into a cold war in an effort to win Sri Lanka's local market. According to Bruce Douglas Haig, former Deputy High Commissioner of Australia to Sri Lanka in 1994 , "Sri Lanka wrongly believes that it can be very cleaver and play China and India off against one another for advantage to the Sri Lankan Government. It will end in tears with Sri Lanka losing autonomy. It was a big mistake to get into bed with China, particularly under the nose of India. The Sri Lanka Government has stupidly, in my opinion, stupidly transgressed Indian notions of its sphere of influence. My own government has behaved just as stupidly and clumsily toward India." (Interview with the Writer to the Sri Lanka Guardian on June 10, 2010)
The farcical death unto fast by Minister Wimal Weerawansa was political drama which was seen as a ploy by the president to escape the political debacle after he conducted fake discussions with opposition leader Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe for so-called "constitutional reforms." Mr. Ranil Wickramasingha is a politician who has never shown concern for anything else other than remaining in the leadership of the UNP. It is obvious that nothing can be done to reform the UNP without the resignation of the failed leader. However today the opposition party of Sri Lanka is the guardian of the Rajapaksha administration and it's all mistakes can be covered by the UNP.
The lost art of system
According to former President of Singapore Lee Kwan Yew, "fights a cringe, as if fighting off a bad memory-or my bad analogy. He starts to say something, then stops, then leaves it at referring to Sri Lanka's president: 'I've read his speeches and I knew he was a Sinhalese extremist. I cannot change his mind." (Citizen Singapore: How To Build A Nation - Conversations with Lee Kwan Yew by Prof Tom Plate ). Furthermore, he status: "The present president of Sri Lanka believes he has settled the problem; his Tamil Tigers are killed and that is that." ( Ibid) This is what we now have in Sri Lanka, they believe eliminating an opponent is the solution and they are forcing others to justify the kind of acts they have done and continue to do.
Today, Sri Lanka is facing three critical situations, one is the policing system in Sri Lanka is very weak, second is the unlimited corruption from top to bottom and third is the religious based discrimination.
The policing system in Sri Lanka is weak and relies on torture in order to carry out "investigations" into crime and corruption to fill their pockets. However, the vision statement of Sri Lanka Police reads: "Towards a Peaceful environment to live with confidence, without fear of Crime and Violence." And its mission statement says,"Sri Lanka Police is committed and confident to uphold and enforce the law of the land, to preserve the public order, prevent crime and terrorism with prejudice to none equity to all."(Quoted: police.lk) This is absolutely false when compared to the present situation of policing in Sri Lanka. We do not have to look far to see examples of the unfortunate situation of policing in Sri Lanka. Today even retired police officers speak out against the police department in Sri Lanka.
Recently Seetha Kumarasinghe, a fifty-six year old retired woman police sergeant, gave an interview to the Asian Human Rights Commission and revealed, "... the relationship between the police and torture is like the relationship between the tree and the bark. These two things are so close and inseparable. Large number of police officers, the majority, believe that they cannot find any information or correct evidence without the use of torture." (AHRC statement: AHRC-STM-153-2010). This is the real face of the police in Sri Lanka and there is no hope of progress in society without urgent reforms of the police department.
The second problem in Sri Lanka is corruption which has spread into all institutions in Sri Lanka today. From top to the bottom corruption is common. It is nothing more than an illusion for the Regime to talk about constitutional reforms without properly implementing the 17th Amendment to the Constitution which introduced independent commissions for human rights, policing and elections.
In his article former Inspector General of Police in Sri Lanka, Frank de Silva said, "The weakening of the administrative structure, ... at least in respect of the police, had the result of nullifying many of the relevant provisions of the Police Disciplinary Code and the Establishment Code. Any administrative action had to await the conclusion of the bribery case in court. The vagaries of court decision and the time-lapse are well-known. These added to the problem for the administration to take effective preventive action against bribery. Effective supervision by the administration, such as it was, was barely feasible in an immediate sense. The argument may be advanced that this result was not the intention of the new law. Such explanation does not stand ground." (Measures for control of corruption Sri Lanka Guardian - July 26, 2010). As he says, Sri Lanka has no need of more laws or regulations but that the implementation of the laws which already exist.
The third problem in Sri Lanka is their religious based discrimination. In my previous writings, I have said that Sri Lanka never practiced real Buddhism but instead only a type of Buddhism that is a replica of the Brahmanism of India.
Our Buddhist monks are not true Buddhists and do not practice what Lord Buddha preached. A true Buddhist monk will value the Chiratha Bikkawa Charikan bahujana hithaya sukayaâ [Most readers will not know what this means] at any cost. But this does not happen in Sri Lanka. They behave like the Hindu Brahmins wearing yellow shawls and pretending to help the poor people. Most of the Buddhist monks are following the so-called caste system which was received from Brahmanism. Very recently a leading Monk in Anuradhapura, the most sacred city of Buddhists, said that he wanted a few "Govigama" caste boys to train. There are plenty of examples outside Colombo, especially in rural areas, as to how lower caste people are discriminated by other who claimed that they are higher caste.
There was a case reported in Walapane, Central province of Sri Lanka, about a school girl who went to school wearing slippers because she did not have money to buy shoes. The school principal called the student to him, took her slippers and burned them. He told the student that she belonged to a lower caste and if she did not have shoes she should not come to school. Caste based mentality is everywhere in Sri Lanka from top to bottom. Caste is main fact of the control wheel of the present regime as well.
The answer to the question that I raised in the beginning is simple. The losers are always the ordinary people who suffer from both sides; from the acts of the rebels and the military regime.
What is the point of talking about free and fair elections if they have no right to elect the leader of their choice? What is the point of talking about free education if there is no independent access to the government schools? What is the point talking on equality if discrimination is everywhere? What is the point talking of human rights if the relationship between the police and torture is like the relationship between the tree and the bark. The evil is within us, not from the outside. It is laughable to talk about sovereignty. "Presence of mind . . . is nothing but an increased capacity of dealing with the unexpected," says Carl von Clausewitz. Presence of mind can solve the root causes of the problems in Sri Lanka. Without it there is nothing to hope for in seeing genuine leadership in Sri Lanka other than players and jokers who bring us their nightmares.
Nilantha Ilangamuwa is a editor of the Sri Lanka Guardian. He can be reached at editor@srilanka guardian.org