Negotiating Tamil Sovereignty with the Powers – What the Diaspora Diplomats can do
Originally published on TamilNet
Various Tamil diaspora organizations have already started gearing up towards the forthcoming UN session in Geneva. While some believe that the resolution this year might take Sri Lanka to task over human rights, others argue that it will only be an encore of last year’s resolution, one that gives more legitimacy to the fundamentally flawed LLRC and providing Sri Lanka more time to strengthen its military occupation and colonization of the Tamil homeland.
Some have said that America wanted to bring a “stronger” resolution, but that it was watered down owing to India’s compulsions. It seems rather ironic though, that America, which was able to convince India to toe its line in the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement – definitely an issue of much greater strategic importance to India than Sri Lanka – was unable to bring India to its line over the issue of a political solution in the island.
It should be clear that the ‘strategic partners ‘, US and India, are at the moment more or less on the same line as far as the national question of the Eezham Tamils is concerned, the former promoting ‘positive elements’ in the LLRC and the latter, the 13th Amendment. The view that neither can provide any meaningful solution to the Eezham Tamil nation has been consistently expressed by Tamil writers, analysts and activists.
There are other lines too. Some like International Alert use ‘soft power’ to encourage Tamils to collaborate with the Sri Lankan government and to work within the unitary state model. A rapidly emerging ‘South Africa line’ is promoting concepts taken from other contexts, like the sharply criticized ‘restorative justice’ model, and the Harare Commonwealth Declaration, which might have some relevance as concerns “individual’s inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which he or she lives” provided this is placed in the context of the genocidal oppression that Eezham Tamils face as a nation in their occupied homeland. But sadly, context is what these actors mostly ignore.
The International Crisis Group’s line is considered among a few sections in the diaspora. In an interview to TamilNet on October 2012, Alan Keenan said “I hope there will be, an independent investigation into the incidents leading up to the end of the war, and preferably also post-war, the question of genocide should be included among those issues.”
As regards a question on the right of the Tamil people to have a sovereign state of their own, Dr. Keenan responded that in the current context, the demand for separation is not a wise one and if a larger percentage of the Sinhala population was more sympathetic to this demand, it could be pursued.
The ICG report “Tamil politics and the quest for a political solution” released on November 2012 promoted similar ideas. The report suggested “To be successful, the Tamil struggle for rights and justice cannot depend primarily on international support. Tamil politicians and civil society will have to engage more directly in political debates beyond devolution and the north and east and build alliances with southern civil society organisations and parties interested in promoting democratic reforms.”
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to term this idea as ‘idealist’ despite it coming from an organization that is supposed to analyze politics on the basis of historical fact rather than hypothesis. A torturous 65 year history – since the unitary state in the island created by the colonial powers was handed over to the Sinhalese – shows that the Sinhala nation has stood by regimes that progressively intensified persecution and genocide of the Tamil nation.
While a minuscule minority of Sinhala progressives have supported the Eezham Tamil nation’s political rights, only those who have denied it and trampled on it have been the prime movers among the Sinhala nation.
Utopians can entertain fantasies about some time in the future when a majority of the Sinhalese shall recognize the misdeeds of the past. But considering the accelerated rate at which Sinhala militarization and colonization, assaults on Eezham Tamil identity and territory, in short, the protracted genocide of the Eezham Tamil nation is continuing, the Tamils are likely to end up as dispersed tribes and artefacts in a Sinhala museum by the time this realization among the Sinhalese occurs. In a realist analysis, Eezham Tamils neither have time nor the demography on their side.
These, in general, are lines that the diaspora encounter in 2013, three and a half years after the internationally abetted genocidal massacre at Mu’l’livaaykkaal.
What is to be done?
Years back, ‘Taraki’ Sivaram, senior editor of TamilNet assassinated by Sri Lanka, had drawn a line between the control over monopoly of violence by the Sinhalese in unitary Sri Lanka to the constitutionally sanctioned political violence against the Eezham Tamils via the 6th Amendment that made any person or organization demanding self-determination as beyond the frameworks of basic political and civil rights.
While this Sinhala monopoly over violence was halted for a brief period when the LTTE was functional as a de-facto state, after an internationally co-ordinated counterinsurgency campaign against the Tigers, aided by world powers for their vested interests, it was restored in a severe and virulent form post-May 2009.
Without any effective social or political power among the Eezham Tamils in the homeland to check it, the Sinhala military apparatus has deeply entrenched itself in the Tamil homeland, engaging in land grabs, Sinhalization, colonization, besides systematic abuses targeting women and the youth in specific. Besides a planned erasure of the territorial contiguity of the Tamil homeland, these acts are designed to permanently mutilate the Tamil nation. All of these have been documented by non-Tamil sources as well and the Establishments are well aware of them.
While the strategy for the Tamils world over should be the restoration of Tamil sovereignty, the different Tamil diaspora organizations negotiating with powers must arrive at a consensus to pursue an immediate tactic to alleviate the mutilation of the Eezham Tamil nation in the Tamil homeland by the occupying Sinhala military.
This can happen through an interim solution of an intervention of international powers in the island to facilitate the dismantling of the Sinhala military apparatus, thereby placing a check over the Sinhala monopoly over violence which is currently playing out as unchecked genocide.
A TamilNet editorial piece ‘Declare for referendum in any unity meeting’ published on July 2012 charted out a blueprint alluding to such an interim solution.
“The US and India should jointly facilitate conditions to conduct a UN presided referendum. The other powers may be left out, as they never cared for entering into any political interaction with Eezham Tamils.
The SL military has to be completely removed or strictly put under barracks during the interim period. Paramilitary groups have to be completely disarmed.
A situation has to be created for the free travel and interaction of the diaspora with the Tamils in the island. Palaali and Trincomalee airports have to be opened for this purpose.
A UN presided committee of stakeholders and a police recruited by it should take charge of administration, civil security and the process of referendum.”
This was also echoed in the suggestions put forth by new generation activists commenting to TamilNet in response to Tamil civil society submissions at the recently held ‘Exploring peaceful options’ meeting, convened by the GTF and facilitated by Berghof foundation. They said “The demands have to concentrate more on matters practically facilitating ground realities such as an interim international takeover of the situation, complete removal of occupying Sinhala ethnic military and other SL security forces as the SL military now functions in police uniform, ban on colonisation and guarantee to the territorial integrity of Eezham Tamils, and free access to the diaspora to reach out to its people in the island.”
In the current conditions, this tactic of an interim solution of intervention by international powers can be considered a necessity if the strategy of restoring the sovereignty of the Eezham Tamil nation is to be pursued systematically.
Only if the intervening powers ensure that the genocidal Sinhala military’s stranglehold over the Tamil homeland is broken, the 6th amendment declared null and void, there is a pre-constitutional recognition of the Eezham Tamil nation’s sovereignty and territoriality and an agreement to engage with the Tamils on an extra-constitutional solution, and Tamils in the diaspora and refugees from Tamil Nadu get free and safe access to their traditional homes, can the interim solution work effectively.
A submission by the Tamil civil society at the Berghof foundation meeting mentioned above states clearly why a “pre-constitutional recognition of Tamil Nationhood and self-determination” was imperative and why the 13th amendment or a federal constitution would not work.
Likewise, the tragic history of PTOMS experienced by the Eezham Tamil nation, which the Establishments are well aware of, should also inform why any solution that gives legitimacy to the Sri Lankan constitution can only be fundamentally flawed.
But will Sri Lanka let this happen? Will Sri Lanka’s friends let this happen?
Sinhala diplomat Dayan Jayatilleka, a staunch defender of Sinhala state’s genocidal war on the Eezham Tamil nation, in a recent article cited Sun Tzu’s famous injunction “know yourself, know your enemy”, ‘enemy’ of course being the Tamil diaspora and Tamil Nadu. This article, written in an uncharacteristic forthright manner, provides insights to Tamil diplomats also to “know your enemy”.
About the attitude of Sri Lanka’s Sinhala rulers Dr. Jayatilleka writes “When they look in the mirror they do not see themselves or us as we are, they see Israel. This dangerous delusion confuses this small island which is vulnerable to a naval cordon sanitaire and whose significant military assets can be neutralized in a single strike by its giant neighbour, with the most powerful military entity in the Middle East. It confuses a state which has a powerful ethnic lobby in the world’s sole superpower with Sri Lanka which has and can have nothing of the sort.”
He further adds “Sri Lanka has not a single of Israel’s advantages. It cannot be any kind of model or inspiration for our conduct towards our Tamil citizens in the former conflict areas, the region or the world.
Colombo’s current delusions of being an Israeli type garrison state, seem to regard China as being to Sri Lanka what the US is to Israel as security patron and diplomatic guarantor, though their respective strategic capacities and global reach are vastly different.”
As a second crucial flaw made by the Sinhala rulers, he writes “the Sri Lankan leaders do not understand the limits of their state’s own hard power, in relation to both the soft power of other communities (Tamils, Muslims, Christians) and the hard power of other states (India, the USA). In short they do not understand the balance of power outside their shores. They do not grasp the larger reality in its tangible and intangible dimensions.”
Indeed, Sri Lanka is no Israel. Its military elite like Jagath Jayasuriya may speak about “enhanced C4I capability”, but its base is made of lumpen rural peasant youth who have a xenophobic mindset and paranoia of anything that they see as alien, western or more progressive than what has been instilled to them through the Sinhala Mahavamsa mindset.
While Pirapaharan’s LTTE built a fledgling air force from available talent in the Eezham Tamil nation, the Sinhala military had to rely on external aid even for elementary radars. Sri Lanka’s native model of COIN was genocide pure and simple. Thanks to international guidance, the Sinhala state’s intent to commit genocide was given a lethally effective COIN. Observers among the powers are well aware of the consequences of this, even if they choose to remain silent about it now.
Given this state of the Sri Lankan military, the Sinhala diplomat is right to be apprehensive that a single strike by a super power can take out the entire Sri Lankan military might, for all the bravado it puts up in military conferences.
Sri Lanka is not a market hub either. In simple economics, the combined capital of the Eezham Tamil diaspora and Tamil Nadu can buy out the Sri Lankan economy many times over. Sri Lankan economy thrives on militarization, a war economy even in supposed peace time. Here is where Dr. Jayatilleka fails to throw light on China’s interest. This model can adapt perfectly well to the Chinese ‘Capitalism with Asian Values’, but the US and India operating on a different premises are likely find themselves left in the lurch sooner or later. Besides, if the genocide of the territory and nation of the Eezham Tamils is complete, “Sinhala dvipa” (island of the Sinhalese) would implode making it unviable for anyone.
The only thing that worked in the favour of the Sinhalese till now is the strategically vital geo-political location of the island. Even here, the US and India have a greater chance of effecting a change in the island than does China.
The diplomats in the Tamil diaspora here need to use to their full extent the soft power they have. Any geo-political calculation for the island does not take place without taking the Tamil diaspora and Tamil Nadu, one of the economically dominant states in India, into account. Tamils, as a whole, are a politically and economically vibrant community, with far global reach, entrepreneurial spirit and a pluralist society. Will the powers be willing to alienate such a people for the sake of short term geo-political interests favouring a genocidal primitivist Sinhala nationalism or will it be possible to arrive at a win-win situation?
If the negotiating Tamil diaspora organizations, with their knowledge and resources, can play its cards well, such a situation can be achieved. But it should be wary that the Powers, in the name of immediate alleviation of suffering of the Eezham Tamil nation in the island, do not lead them into a blind alley where they only end up strengthening the unitary state, through this regime or through a regime change.
The need of the hour is neither a blind faith that the Establishments will automatically deliver justice nor a belief that our moral high ground will automatically take us to victory. What are needed are meticulous planning, non-dogmatic thinking, efficient organization and co-ordination, an acute sense of tactics and strategy, and optimum utilization of available resources.
Using the opportunity created by global circumstances, the Sinhalese wreaked genocidal havoc on the Eezham Tamil nation in May 2009. In the current circumstances, if the diaspora organizations engaging in negotiations and diplomacy can persuade the powers to agree to the immediate tactic of the interim solution, while not losing sight of the larger strategy of securing Tamil sovereignty, the losses can be reversed and the “Thamizharin thaagam” (Tamils’ thirst) can be satisfied.
It should however be added as a sort of a postscript here that, while very important, battles in the grey terrain of diplomacy are not substitutes to grassroots mobilizations based on firm, uncompromising principles. It is a front, and a tricky front. As long as those engaging to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the powers do not forget the national will of Eezham Tamils in settling for nothing short of a Eezham Tamil sovereign political mechanism, so much the better.