Saturday, December 19, 2009

Judging Public Intellectuals: Dayan and Sivaram

Beyond Borders, as part of a discussion series aimed at connecting youth activists with key opinion and decision makers, organised a discussion with Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka on 8 October 2009. Around 25 young people interested in politics participated in the discussion. Negligible Minoritist, SP and i who were present shared our reflections on Groundviews. My piece is reproduced here with two comments that were specific to my piece.

It is impossible not to be swayed by Dayan’s display of intellect. The way he answered questions was exemplary, being able to quote from very ‘high theory’ and then engage with us the very next minute in some very good ‘common sense’ but vivid and sharp analysis, replete with anecdotes, a quality I must say, is in the dying in our intellectual tradition.

I asked Dayan a very lengthy question with primarily two limbs 1) the role of public intellectuals and the choices that they make regarding direct, mainstream political engagement 2) his prescription for Tamil politics (I asked him rhetorically: what would he say if he after twenty years is invited to lecture at the Jaffna University). I shall reflect only on the first one here and save the second for sometime later.


Dayan explained his alignment with Rajapaksa and earlier with Premadasa as justified because he thought the greater evil of the LTTE and JVP had to be wiped out. He argued that the Sri Lankan state offered always a ‘minimum democratic space’ which these two actors never were able to provide and for the oppressive politics that LTTE and JVP practiced they just had to go was his argument. He compared his engagement with the GoSL as something close to Kethesh Loganathan’s decision to join the Peace Secretariat. He was careful to point out, as he has done in the past (see for example his interview with the Groundviews editor given shortly before his departure from Geneva) that he did not defend what he thought he could not associate with – some of the atrocities committed by this regime, like for example the Trinco five killings. He maintains that there was no willful targeting of civilians during the final war (which I am not sure) and that to have defended Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Council was right because the resolutions brought by the West was not about things like the Trinco five but about war crimes which Dayan wants to believe did not happen. (This question of how to be ‘anti-imperialist’ and at the same time ‘anti-statist’ in a third world country is a pretty fascinating debate. Can you be unhappy about the West for its double standards and still agree with the content of their accusations of what they say are wrong with Sri Lanka? I think you can.) He told us that this was not him disassociating with the Rajapaksha regime and in an abstract sense said part of the decision to engage and take sides is also the readiness to take the moral guilt that comes with association. I am not sure however what moral guilt that Dayan is prepared to share with this regime. At this point I asked him about the process of disassociating as justifying any engagement including the Late Dharmeratnam Sivaram’s (Taraki’s) engagement with the LTTE. Could not then Sivaram argue that he never sided with the LTTE on all what was bad about them but only aligned with them because he believed in the importance of the struggle and chose to ignore the mistakes of the LTTE?

Sivaram is quoted by Mark Whittaker his biographer as having said:

“Let history judge.. to all these people I ask do you sell off your mother because your brother has cut off your arm? Because your brother is a scoundrel? So are we just going to say that the LTTE is a static thing, that it is fascist and that it killed a lot of people. Yes it killed a lot of people… I don’t care a f*** being called an LTTE apologist.. Because I am fighting another war – my war. .. This problem has nothing to do with the LTTE. It started long before there was a LTTE in the 1950s, when Prabaharan was a f***ing kid…If the LTTE was not there we would all be f**ed. At the end of the day that is why the Tamils do not want the LTTE gone. Because we know what the Sri Lankan state has done… So you have to make practical choices – that this is your own man, was a brother once, so you try to reform him. And it is not just him who is the problem”

(See Mark P Whitaker, ‘Learning Politics from Sivaram: The life and death of a Revolutionary Tamil Journalist in Sri Lanka’, Pluto Press, London (2007), pp. 216-7)

Dayan at the discussion referred to an article in which he was quoted, written by Philip Gourevitch for the New Yorker,

“Rather than blaming the dead journalist for failing to denounce the crimes of his side, Jayatilleka said, the Sinhalese should ask themselves what offenses they have chosen to ignore. He posed as “the final question” of his friend’s life a conundrum that belongs equally to every side in every ethnic-nationalist conflict on earth: “Had we been Tamil, are we sure we would not have been Sivarams?”

(available here)

I am very happy that Dayan acknowledges this difficulty – that choices of engagement by public intellectuals are not divorced from considerations like ethnicity. But I think Dayan argued (if I understood him properly) despite all of this that Sivaram’s choice of supporting the LTTE was a wrong one.

I understand that the choice of side for political engagement that one makes can never be satisfactory. While I don’t blame people for non engagement for the reason that they do not want to be associated with any sort of guilt, I respect people who make the decision to do so and get their hands dirty. This paragraph from Edward Said which is from a speech that he delivered n the subject of public intellectuals says so much about the difficulty of taking sides:

“..Just as history is never over or complete it is also the case that some dialectical oppositions are not reconcilable, not transcendable, not really capable of being folded into a sort of higher, undoubtedly nobler synthesis. The example closest to home for me is the struggle over Palestine which, I have always believed, cannot really be simply resolved by a technical and ultimately janitorial re-arrangement of geography allowing dispossessed Palestinians the right (such as it is) to live in about 20% of their land that would be encircled and totally dependent on Israel. Nor on the other hand would it be morally acceptable to demand that Israelis should retreat from the whole of former Palestine, now Israel, becoming refugees like Palestinians all over again. No matter how I have searched for a resolution to this impasse, I cannot find one for this is not a facile case of right versus right. It cannot be right ever to deprive an entire people of their land and heritage. But the Jews too are what I have called a community of suffering and brought with them a heritage of great tragedy. But unlike Zeev Sternhell, I cannot agree that the conquest of Palestine was a necessary conquest. The notion offends the sense of real Palestinian pain, in its own way also tragic.”

Edward Said, “Public role of Writers and Intellectuals’, Alfred Deakin Memorial Lecture, 19 May 2001 available at

Given this complexity that Said so vividly explains how does one then pick and choose a side? I think we need people who will not pick sides and will make contributions that will help us see politics beyond what the different sides show us. I also think it is important that there are people who choose one or the other side and work towards transforming it. But the emphasis is engagement and the picking of one side should help transform the other side. Did Dayan and Sivaram do this is the question? How much of criticism did Sivaram make of the LTTE at least internally? Is Dayan with the demise of the LTTE now prepared to take on this Government for all what it is wrong about it, at least in the post war scenario?

Dayan Jayatilleka said: It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t say something about Aacharya’s post which is the most philosophically probing. For those who are interested, I have dealt with some of these issues in my treatment of the Sartre-Camus debate on commitment and violence, and my attempt at a resolution or synthesis, in my “Fidel” book.

Suren Raghvan said:

It is a positive sign that even under some NGO arrangement the space is created for direct (honest?) discussions on how we as different nations and schools could move forward. Let this be a beginning of a long and fruitful endeavor. The kinds of stimulation that average university lecture(r)s have failed to do in SL to investigate the current political anthropology.

Having read the questions and the comments, I believe Acharya is spot on in his politically transcendent analysis.

Having associated and worked with Siva (Anna) in his last days, on an important project to connect him to the noted Sinhala intellectuals for a wider dialogue , I could vouch that he was involved in the internal as well as the external dialectical on the LTTE and the State of SL. I am sure Prof. Sumanasiri Liyange, Prof Desmond Mallikarachchi, Prof Jagatha Weerasinghe and many other academics and some members of the (thinking)JVP and (former ) X Kandayama, will testify that Siva was a defender of the State while willingly challenging its post-independent surrender to the world order , largely led by the Sinhala elites. Those who were associated with this project will remember his analytical defense of Lanka even against the Indian Imperialism into the very late hours of every night that we met with. In this sense he was more Bhoomiputhra than the ones claiming to be. And that is the reason that the majority of the Sinhala youth gathered in these discussions, who were originally hostile even to have him as a speaker, agreed to continue the discussion with Siva, till he was assassinated.

I agree with Achraya, one has to take sides as much one can avoid sides. But that decision should be governed by the judgment one makes on the outcome S/he intend to bring however marginal it may appear.

Since we have talked of him, I wonder whether Dr Jayathilake with his international and local connections help to narrow the search of the killers at least for the friendship (he had) with Sivaram? Because Siva Anna in the manner he lived and died was a true internationalist beyond lecturers or writing thesis on the same.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The need for an independent Attorney General's Department

Today's New York Times reports:

"Despite the C.I.A. pressure and the stated desire of the White House not to dwell on the past, Mr. Holder (the US Attorney general) went ahead with an investigation that will determine whether agents broke the law in their brutal interrogations (during the Bush era)"
Here is Obama saying no to looking back into the past and the CIA saying please dont. But still the US AG is pushing for investigations. This would be unthinkable in Sri Lanka. I have seen the AG's department fellows vigorously defend the political programme of the GOSL in front of both judicial forums (Journalist Tissanayagam's Trial in the Colombo High Court , Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu's IDPs case in the Supreme Court) and in international political forums (like the UN Human Rights Council). Same goes with the AG absolutely surrendering his independence in advising the government on bills that might be constitutionally incompatible. The AG basically nods for everything.

The Ag's department should be acting in the public's interest and they are paid by the public. But they act as the Government's lawyers. They have absolutely no integrity. The AG has been appointed by the President whereas he should have been by the Constitutional Council which remains unconstituted by the President for more than four years now.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Analysis of how the Jaffna people voted in the Municipal Council Elections

(I wrote this first as an email to colleagues and friends. Groundviews published it yesterday night here. I reproduce it here on my blog)

It appears to me that the TNA and TULF might have got more of the Tamil votes than EPDP in Jaffna.

Out of 13 seats for the UPFA, 4 have gone to Muslims candidates. 9 are from EPDP.

A Northern Displaced Muslim friend of mine says that 3000 votes were cast by the displaced Muslims living in Puttalam (If anyone has a better/accurate number i am willing to correct myself on this). Moulavi Sufiyan of Independent Group 1 himself polled around 1100 votes. The rest went to UPFA.

Total number of votes polled by UPFA is 10,000. If you subtract the Muslim votes from the 10,000 only about 8000 votes have gone to the EPDP from Jaffna Tamil residents. (i substract only 2000 since about 1000 have gone to the Moulavi) TNA has then got almost the equivalent number of votes that EPDP polled- 8000 - from Jaffna Tamil residents. Add to this TULF's votes that's 9000 votes. More than actually what EPDP received. This also reduces the number of Jaffna MC Tamil residents who have actually voted from 20,000 to around 17,000.

Remedius, TNA's Mayoral Candidate has topped the preferential votes (4,233 votes). That is 1000 votes more than the second on the preferential list (an EPDP candidate). UPFA's Mayoral Candidate Theyvendran didnt get enough preferential votes to be elected.

It is also no secret that most of the 3000 resettled from the Jaffna IDP camps on the 5th of August were from Kurunagar. A key constituency for the EPDP. This link is from EPDP's Official site:

No wonder Douglas Devananda has told Daily Mirror that he is disappointed with the results. He has told the local newspapers that it was a loss in Jaffna and a heavy one in Vavuniya.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Chechen model of Conflict Resolution for Sri Lanka

The soon to come back home UN Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to Geneva, Dayan Jayatilleke has repeatedly wrote about the Chechen (Chechnya) model (yes he loves Russia) for conflict resolution in Sri Lanka:

In a recent interview with David Blacker Dayan noted:

I have long advocated the Chechen solution — an all-out, combined arms war to destroy the terrorist militia, followed by the implementation of some form of autonomy and self-governance for the area and stabilization through the rule of an elected local ally. Our military victory has to be politically conserved and socially stabilised. That’s what my advocacy of the 13th amendment is about.

Earlier this year he wrote:

Do we attempt to imitate the Israelis and practice a policy of occupation, settlements and discrimination, triggering endless cycles of conflict, or do we follow the no less tough-minded but much smarter Russian leaders, who having had to smash the Chechen terrorist insurgency with untrammeled force, have since ensured a high degree of stability by devolving power to their Chechen ally the tough young Ramzan Kadyrov, and transferring enough economic autonomy to guarantee a surge of prosperity in Grozhny?

I excerpt this paragraph from the Times topic introduction to the Chechen issue from the New York Times:

Vladimir Putin anointed Ramzan A. Kadyrov as the region's president; his father had held the post before being killed by rebels in 2004. Mr. Kadyrov crushed the rebel movement. He has strong support in Moscow, where he is praised for quelling the insurgency, rebuilding areas devastated by the war and rejuvenating the local economy. But he has also been the focus of widespread accusations of human rights violations.

Mr. Kadyrov has sought increased autonomy for Chechnya. That goal may be helped by the official end to Russian counterinsurgency operations, announced in April 2009, a move of at least symbolic value to Mr. Kadyrov.

The announcement also underscored his success in establishing a stability that has, among other things, allowed rebuilding to begin in the obliterated capital city of Grozny. But critics charge that the peace has been achieved through campaigns of unsparing brutality that have included widespread human rights violations.

The announcement did not mention troop withdrawals, though Russian officials said they would now have more legal leeway to scale down the number of federal military and security forces. While the violence in Chechnya has declined, however, the insurgents have not been completely routed, and it seems likely that many troops and security forces will remain there for some time.

I will leave it to my readers to draw the parallels to how GOSL is positioning its local allies in the East and now in the North. It does look like the Chechen solution is taking shape except that President Rajapaksha is trying to do it without giving away anything, not even as basic as the 13th amendment. So Dayan who presses for it is sent home. Now at least Dayan should come out and say that he was wrong to have expected from this regime anything like even the 13th amendment and hence that his support for the regime right from the beginning was wrong. He won't.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

'Aid'ing and Abetting

There are whole load of spontaneous citizen initiatives that have propped up to respond to the IDP needs in the camps in Vavuniya.

Now i must at the outset say that such initiatives are good and probably needed but all i am saying is lets not forget the larger issues that need to be addressed and the politics of aid. It is acknowledged that those involved might be doing it without being aware of the politics and/or not caring is there is politics behind it. It is also not the intention of this blogger to ask for a halt in the aid effort. I would be a demon if i do suggest that. My intention is purely to raise some questions so that our response can be better.

One of our prominent bloggers who is involved heavily in the aid effort thinks that killing 50,000 people to get rid of the LTTE is ok. (See earlier post on this blog). Now thats not an indictment on all those involved. But i cant help thinking that this is a further indication that humanitarian concerns cant be divorced from politics and if the politics of these people are not good then there is no point.

Why do i say there is no point? The value of citizen initiatives is that they are symbolic. They provide for an opportunity for people to people connection and confidence building. Their usefulness as actually providing relief to people is secondary. Why, because the big humanitarian agencies are doing their best and the citizen initaitives will never be able to match their capacity. Of course these initiatives can help bridge the gaps and loop holes. But that also i am doubtful because these initaitives do not have the access to information etc to do this. Now, this people to people connection is that happening? Are people meeting these IDPs and are they able to talk to them? I dont think so.

The worse part of all of this is for example the JHU types who are going on padhayatras to collect rations. Add the state media initaitives to this. Their intention is to support the claim made by the government that 'these are our people. we know our responsibility to protect. these are our bretheren'. Now thats bull shit. I wont be able to believe anyone who says that the govt cares for the tamil people. Of course there might be individual army personnel who show care for the IDPs (the inherent huamneness) but thats no reflection of what the govt's attitude is. They are bombing the NFZs, hospitals etc. So these JHU and state media types are out there collecting rations as part of a govt image building exercise. I say dont support them.

Now to the question of what can we do at this moment - my appeal to all those genuine aid collectors and people concenred for IDPs. The problem in the camps seems administration and distribution of relief. Suresh Premachandran MP (TNA) in an interview with BBC Tamil Service says that the GA Trinco (an army fellow) and the military establishment are the ones involved in running the camps. The Tamil GAs of Killi and Mullaitivu are sidelined. 20 people have died since coming to the camps. Two children died of stampede during a dry ration distribution. Now these are the concerns that people worried about IDPs should raise. Sunday Times reports that Walter Kalin the UN Special Representative for Human Rights for the IDPs has given the Govt certian conditions that they need to adhere to for UN support for the camps run by the Govt. Back in October 2008 the UNHCR issued an aide memoire stipulating the basic minimums that need to be satisfied for their engagement in running the camps. Most important of these is freedom of movement. These camps are internment camps. We should urge that these will be lifted. Issues relating to space (because the govt doesnt want to open more camps), visit by relatives etc all of these are issues that we need to raise.

One further question that everyone has been meek on is as to whether the money that the Govt is getting specifically for spending for IDPs being properly used for the purpose? There is very little information available regarding this.

Unfortunately for this sort of activism there is very little interest. And the govt is happy that we collect the anchor packets. They will be worried if we talk about the other humanitarian issues.

By not raising these issues arent we guilty of abetting with the Govt? One of my friends involved in the effort said if we riase these issues then we wont be given an opportunity to help out in the aid effort. This prominent blogger has been talking about 'cooperating'with the govt and the military establishment to get this done. But i ask the question then whats the point? I dont think we can keep these issues for later.

A small note on our experiences during the Tsunami. Even during the Tsunami we saw this out pouring of humaneness: Helping out irrespective of who has been affected. A lot of commentators wrote that this humaneness should be used as the base that opens the window of opportunity for conflict resolution. That was not to be. PTOMs was crash landed by our CJ and the JVP. The Ache example didn't work here. The social capital that one was able to generate during the Tsunami could not be transformed into productive political capital.The people of this country elected MR. And we keep voting for him at all elections. We have allowed the war on terror to be a war on the minorities. So what is the use of this bubble humaneness?

Oh then once somebody told me dont be such a cynic. When we help atleast we help one child get a cup of milk or some buscuits. Isnt that a good enough reason. Of course it is (though you might be duplicating). Lets not get satisfied with that. How do we make sure that that child will never ever have to be in a position where he or she will have to rely on our aid?

I do not want to be mistaken for having a generalised suspicion on the genuiness of people involved in the aid effort. I am only asking for introspection and care for detail.

PS: I stand corrected by a friend who is very involved in monitoring IDP related humanitarian issues and HR stuff in general that the relevance of the citizens initiative in the immediate phase of the relief (especially after the arrival of more thank a lakh people on April 20) has been crucial and life saving (in the light of aid agencies and the govt not being able to cope with the immediacy of the situation. They were under prepared). I reiterate however my call on the need for wider activism.

Killing for the promise of democracy in the aftermath

Sanjana has posted here on Groundviews a poll asking whether it will be acceptable to kill the civilians if along with it you can get rid of the LTTE. He was triggered by a comment made by one of Sri Lanka's most prominent bloggers who in an email conversation with him had said:

“I would accept 50,000 dead to finish the LTTE. That’s what it comes down to. And I would, to end that war.”

I had noted this blogger slipping to nationalist ego (now worse this is extremism and i wont mind calling it racism as well). I said on my twitter deck on the 1st of May: "one of our prominent bloggers formerly very critical of the govt has now got caught up with the nationalist ego. very sad".

The question that Sanjana poses is as follows:

Would killing 50,000 civilians to finish off the LTTE bring peace?

and the voting options:

Yes, if this is what it takes.
Maybe, if there are guarantees of a post-war political process on power-sharing.

One commenter on Groundviews was disgusted:

"Much as admire what you have accomplished with Groundviews this poll does it a disservice; I am very disappointed. It is just stoking extremism based on heresay, surely not what you intend to foster with Groundviews. How can the numbers or the sources you quote be verified or the implication that it is the aim of the government?"

Sanjana had a good response:

"This post intends to interrogate extremism. The numbers in the quote are really peripheral to the argument, which exists today, that to finish off the LTTE, collateral damage is not just unavoidable, it is even a prerequisite. What do you feel about that?

"If you cared to read them, and I suspect you’ve not, *both* stories referenced above are unverified, yet the immediate reaction of both you and another before you is to believe the one against the LTTE and question, nay, vehemently deny the one against the Government. I find that an telling reaction."

I responded:

"Most of the commenting on this post so far wishes to be in denial of the extremism/racism that is there in this country - largely probably because they are uncomfortable with this rise in racist/extremist instincts in our society and/or because they think this cant be . I know who Sanjana is talking about and i was one of the first to note this prominent blogger slip away to nationalist ego. This prominent blogger was a very good critic of the Government and politics in general and it is very shocking for me to find people like this blogger slip away. The change in the mindset of this blogger is indicative of two things that have been part of the moderate southern polity’s psyche (sorry for this random group formulation) especially in the Mahinda Rajapaksha era: 1) That what the govt is doing is acceptable or tolerable given that the other side (the LTTE) is a larger evil 2) (1) is acceptable because of the very huge democratic potential that will be opened after the defeat of the greater evil the LTTE. These are the reasons, i suspect, for our prominent blogger to be happy to see 50,000 people die if it will wipe off the LTTE as well.

I contest both and i comment on some of these questions in a comment/s i wrote to Rohni Hensman’s post on the same here at

Niran Anketell, Ahilan Kadirgamar, Nirmala Rajasingham and Ragavan’s comments to Rohini’s post are valuable reading.

I am with Sanjana on posing this question. Ya it shocks but its the kind of question that our society has stooped low to even consider".

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

To be able to call for a Ceasefire

I posted this on kafila. org in reponse to an article by Rohini Hensman.

Rohini Hensaman: “One of the demands, for example, has been for a ceasefire and peace talks with the LTTE. But Rajan Hoole and K.Sritharan of the award-winning University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) report that Sri Lankan Tamils are wary of any peace talks that will give oxygen to the LTTE.”

Just to clarify should there then be no ceasefire? Even if one is to agree with Hensman that the destruction of the LTTE is in the interest of peace in Sri Lanka - at what cost? Is it that we can sacrifice a few thousand lives because it is in the long term interest of achieving peace? More on this later but to remain on the question of a ceasefire let’s look at Hensman’s alternative:

“Stop shelling safe areas and civilian targets within LTTE-controlled territory; this only results in propaganda gains for the LTTE.”

For any even layman observer of the history of the war in Sri Lanka or for that matter any civil war it is an obvious fact that you cannot do this. Distinguishing civilian targets from rebel targets is impossible especially now in the No fire Zone which is heavily congested. So how do we save the people? If the LTTE will never release the people what should be the option? Still go ahead and finish off the LTTE (and in the process a few thousand people) because its good for peace?

Is it possible at all to argue for a ceasefire without being then associated with the LTTE? The fear of such association should it prevent us from calling for a ceasefire? I am not sure of how one handles the LTTE. It is not easy. But their destruction at any cost is not an option for me.

The other point that Tamil alternative political commentators have to consider is, if we agree that both the warring parties are equally brutal in the execution of their military agenda and that both parties’ political agendas are absolutist how can one party winning over the other in a war desirable? She’s definitely worried about the war crimes that the Govt is committing but minus that is the war acceptable then?

Added 15 April 2009

Nirmala Rajasingham Responded:

“Is it possible at all to argue for a ceasefire without being then associated with the LTTE? The fear of such association should it prevent us from calling for a ceasefire? I am not sure of how one handles the LTTE. It is not easy. But their destruction at any cost is not an option for me.” Aacharya

Could Aacharya explain why the destruction of the LTTE is not an option for him? Is it because in the course of the government prosecuting a continued war against the LTTE to destroy it, it would end up killing many civilians? Or is it for other reasons? Why is the continued existence of the LTTE desirable?

I think the key is in Acharya’s own question:
“If the LTTE will never release the people what should be the option?”

That is the problem. Let us look at a couple of scenarios:

1. If a temporary ceasefire for humanitarian reasons is announced the LTTE will not let the civilians go. That is what is happening now. The 100,000 people are their only chance of survival. The civilians are the forward defence lines , unarmed and totally exposed. We note that more people escape during hostilities than during the pauses, because when there is active fighting going on the LTTE finds it difficult to prevent the people from fleeing. This is the macabre irony of the situation.

2. If there is a ceasefire and the LTTE is asked to come for talks they will still not let the civilians go out, as they need to hold territory and people under their control, to be able to go for talks to legitimate their claims. This bank of people is necessary for the LTTE as labour, as reproductive resources to provide man/woman power. They need to rebuild their fortifications and earth bunds; rebuild their army, and get fresh recruits. If they let go of these 100,000 civilians where will they go? Even during the Norwegian peace process when they controlled a large area of land and had a very advantageous ceasefire agreement civilians in the Vanni were in an open prison, having to get passes to go out for even funerals, urgent medical treatment; family members were held as guarantors till they returned. If there is a new ceasefire a desperate LTTE will be even worse than it was before the war.

The government is opposed to the ceasefire as it believes that its military gains could be undone if the LTTE is given a respite. I am opposed to it for different reasons – as any ceasefire in which the LTTE is allowed to dictate terms, it would not be in the interests of the trapped civilians as it would want to hold them.

These 100,000 people will never be released by the LTTE, ceasefire or no ceasefire. For the LTTE the civilians do not count for anything except as a resource. A blanket ceasefire solution is only helpful if we want to rescue the LTTE from its current defeat. If we want to save the civilians we have to think of something else.

The government wants to press on with the war and destroy the LTTE militarily. but that will in the current circumstances result in massive civilian killings. The government cannot pursue this option. Any military objective of the government should be subordinate to that of civilian safety.

Because of what has happened the LTTE has lost all credibility and legitimacy. Its sole strength lay in it being a mighty fighting force and now it has lost even that. All those who desire peace but with democracy, must emphatically state that there is no room for an organisation like the LTTE. All those who want to secure the future of these trapped civilians and the Tamil people should publicly denounce the LTTE, regardless of their views about the State. A powerful message should be sent to the SL government and the international community by Tamils that they are willing to ditch the LTTE but want the civilians to be saved. We have to make it clear that we understand that the military survival of the LTTE is irreconcilable with the objective of saving the civilians but that no military action should be taken to jeopardize civilian safety. There were reports in the press that the international community was to negotiate a deal in which the LTTE leadership could be offered a way out of its presumed political responsibilities to lead the Tamil people. If the LTTE meets the conditions then that could be one solution for the moment to save the civilians. There could be offers of amnesty for the cadres. This could save civilian lives more than any other option.

I am opposed to any talks with the LTTE before it is willing to renounce the armed struggle,, without giving up the demand of secession and while holding onto the notion of sole representation. All of this is a must in the interests of the Vanni civilians. These are conditions essential to ensure the security of the Tamil people, much abused by the LTTE apart from the broader interests of democracy. What is unfortunate is that I do not believe that the LTTE is capable of acceding to these demands. Even if it agrees to these demands it then has to let go of the civilians as a good faith measure first.

As for the correctness of the war, many of us from the Tamil dissenting community opposed the war when it first began and have consistently done so, including Hensman, if I remember correctly. This is a war of LTTE’s own choosing. It walked out of the Norwegian backed peace process barely a year after it began in a pique for not having been invited to the international donor conference. It refused to discuss substantive issues. It had a most advantageous ceasefire agreement through which it wreaked its revenge on Tamil dissent and ran its writ across the whole country through murder and assassination. In 2005 itself it began its attacks on the SL Army which was then confined to the barracks. These unprovoked attacks intent on teasing the SL Army to a war was capitalised on by Mahinda when he was elected and he mobilised the Sinhala Buddhist constituency behind him and went to war with the LTTE but then used that as an excuse to wage war on the Tamil people as well. The war that was courted by the LTTE has become its nemesis. This is a military contest between two extreme nationalist armies, and the vagaries of military success of either party is immaterial to us except in terms of their impact on the peoples of Sri Lanka.

The bottom line here is that one has to be clear about where the future of the Tamil people lies – in cohabitation with other communities within a united Sri Lanka or in a tryst with death in the company of the LTTE. We have to develop a clear perspective on the fact that the LTTE’s continued presence and survival is inimical to civilian safety in the short term and the future of the Tamils in the long term. If we are for the former option then we can begin anew , to build a democratic struggle to challenge the Sri Lankan majoritarian state and its Sinhala Buddhist nationalist backers. We need to join forces with the other minority communities and with progressives in the South in a common effort to challenge the Sri Lankan State for peace democratisation and demilitarisation. We can begin to do this without having to watch over our shoulders that we will get shot at from behind by the LTTE. Tamil progressives and the Tamil people have to opt out of the exclusivist Tamil mindset that the LTTE has trapped us in.

And I responded:

Nirmala, my stances have been that 1) I say ceasefire because it will stop people being killed. 2) I do not comment on the desirability of annihilating the LTTE in any of my comments but what i did ask why it would be better to have one devil annihilate the other.

Nirmala my question is then are we prepared to make an ‘instrumentalist’ use of the State - A majoritarian state that is at the root of all these problems- to finish off the LTTE because the latter is bad.

And then after the LTTE is done what is the the way forward?: Build a grand coalition with other minorities and the South? Yes this is important. But what would be the incentive for the other minority communities to join hands with the SL Tamil community? Cooperating with the Majoritarian state is how the leadership of the Muslim Community and the Up Country Tamils seem to think is the best operandi for them to achieve their goals. And who in the SL Tamil community is going to stand up to build this coalition? What does the experience of the formation of TULF where Thondaman and Ashraff were on board tell us about the scope for a grand coalition? Given that we see no indications that the majoritarian state is not going to let go its coercive tactics wont such an initiative be crushed in its budding stage? Nirmala makes it sound so simple. And i am confident that she knows that it is not simple.

The discrediting of the armed struggle is painful. The fact that it was not conceived properly; that it was monopolised and delinked from the people; it lacked politics in it - should not discredit it as a response. It was the only response and the only plausible response that the Tamil people have and had. If not for armed struggle what are the other options? Go back to Parliamentary coalition politics? Or for a grass root movement? How is such a movement going to succeed within a heavily militarised society? Haven’t movements like this been crushed in the past by both violent actors. None of these suggestions are novel. (I am aware of Ahilan and Raghavan’s similar view points on this and the post on Lines to this effect. I am hoping to write regarding this on my blog in the near future)

Finally then, while Nirmala is good at pointing out how the LTTE will not release people under any circumstance, she does not offer then what the option that will save the people would be.

So my question remains for the sake of finishing off the LTTE are we then not to call for a ceasefire?

As for my stance on the long term question i think the Tamil community is doomed. (i am very much typing this from within inside the country with family still in Jaffna). The South will not offer anything, they will deal with the Tamils’ political demands minimalistically. Will crush all dissenters and assimilation will continue.

The LTTE has no doubt contributed to where the Tamils stand right now but the only option (if there is an option at all) is to see how the armed struggle can be brought back to its basics. This can only happen either 1) by starting all over again or 2) the LTTE changing course. Of course i am tired of deaths and hence even i am not happy with my suggestion and that’s why i say that there is nothing much to hope for. You can call me a defeatist.

Niran Anketell also commented:

Nirmala Rajasingham’s argument that a ceasefire at this stage would be inimical to the interests of the civilians within the safe zone is perplexing, bewildering, and if she is to be understood to mean what she says, downright facetious. She argues that the LTTE will not allow people to come out, and thus the destruction of the LTTE is desirable. This is patent nonsense. Yes, the LTTE cannot be expected, brutal and cynical as they are to allow the civilians to come out, even during a ceasefire. But doesn’t she realise that a ceasefire will bring the number of daily dead from 70 to 0. Is this not a sufficient incentive to stop the fighting? The killings will not stop until the guns are silenced, and the guns will not be silenced unless there is a ceasefire. Pure and simple. No ceasefire = more killings, and yet she deigns to suggest that no ceasefire = better for the civilians, at a time when all the world is calling for a ceasefire from the UN to the EU to the White House.

To be fair she seems to suggest that, (even if she doesn’t, it remains a popular view), that a ceasefire will only delay the inevitable. The war will resume again, and the LTTE will use the civilians as shields again. Again, this is possible, but isn’t it less inevitable than the certain prospect of increasing civilian deaths! Are we as certain that of 70 people being killed per day after the presumed resumption of the war after the presumed breakdown of the presumed ceaefire, as we are certain that in the next few days hundreds of civilians will lose their lives, and hundreds more will be injured?

But perhaps I am not going to the root cause driving Rajasingham to her opposition of a ceasfire, that seems to me to be a sure way of saving lives in the now. And that root cause is her political agenda, the one that undergirds her opposition to the ceasefire, although such opposition is facetiously framed as one that is civilian friendly. But what is this political position.

She articulates it best

“I am opposed to any talks with the LTTE before it is willing to renounce the armed struggle, without giving up the demand of secession and while holding onto the notion of sole representation”, she announces.

Ok, that is what it is isn’t it. There is a logic here. The temporary ceasefire is opposed because it will inevitably break down. But is it not her position that a temporary ceasefire MUST and SHOULD break down, because a permanent ceasefire and peacetalks with the LTTE should not take place. So she doesn’t want unconditional peacetalks, and because she doesn’t and is aware that the LTTE will not meet her, and incidentally Rajapaskshe and JHU’s conditions, she sees no need for a brief interlude to the fighting she anticipates will happen anyway. This is not an unpopular view. The Southern polities clearest thinkers share this view. It is deeply thought out, and it stems from a political position that views unconditional talks with the LTTE as repulsive. This is unfortunate, that Nirmala Rajasingham can consider the lives of the civilians as a worthwhile sacrifice to the utilitarian political objectives she is committed to. It is also sheer hypocrisy, because that is what she, rightly , accuses the LTTE of doing.

The ICRC evacuation programme

The ICRC has posted an interview with its Surgeon on the 31st of Marchon its website where some details about the nature and modus operandi of its evacuation programme from Putumattalan (in the 'No Fire Zone') are revealed. Here are excerpts and questions:
Given the large numbers of sick and wounded people in Putumattalan at the moment, how are patients selected for medical evacuation?
Because of the limited space available on the ferry chartered by the ICRC, there is no way to avoid selecting patients based on need. Patients are selected for evacuation on the advice of medical professionals who work in Putumattalan. Every evacuation is carried out with the agreement of the local authorities. The ICRC is not involved in the selection process. After patients board our ferry and arrive in Trincomalee or, as has been the case in recent days, in Pulmoddai, health facilities take over from the ICRC. They set priorities for treatment based on the degree of medical emergency.

The 'selection process' is possibly handled by the Deputy Director of Regional Health Services. Does the LTTE have an influence over this? How does the SL Navy treat this issue? Its known that once the initial treatment is given most of these people are transferred to the Vavuniya camps. Note how the interviewee says that in recent days people are taken to Pulmoddai. This is where the Indian Doctors are working from. What is special about what they are doing? Why Pulmoddai? Why cant they work in the Trinco Hospital and help boost the capacity there?

The Putumattalan Health authorities dont even seem to have things like basic surgical cotton etc:

Many patients need to have a limb amputated because of a shrapnel injury. We also treat injuries to other parts of the body, sometimes to remove shrapnel. I have seen many patients with heavily infected wounds, sometimes in the area where the amputation is required. Infections set in rapidly when a wound is not treated with antibiotics or a dressing cannot be changed. On some patients arriving here, strips of sarong or tee-shirts have been used instead of dressings. Pieces of wood are often used as splinters to immobilize a fracture and spare the person a lot of pain.

Also see further here.

Monday, March 02, 2009

'Moral Relativists' of our time

See Kumar's post on Groundviews here.

A moral relativist is one who hastens to compromise with iniquity and injustice on the pretext of laying “foundations in ground realities“.

When simple folk do it we call them apologists, when the well schooled bring their scholarship to bear for these unbecoming ends, it is moral relativism.

A lot of people have joined this wagon. Kumar identifies Dr Michael Roberts as one of them. Dayan Jayatilleke is another. Rajiva Wijesinghe is a third. I wont be as kind as Kumar. These are truly apologists. Why give a special status just because of their 'master-serving' scholorship?

Wijepala on Groundviews responding to a comment by Kumar on the same subject in a different post does ask this significant question:

Why is it that the people who complain about being tarred as LTTE apologists for criticizing Mahinda, are the same people who label others as Mahinda apologists for pointing out Western shortcomings and hypocrisy?

and Kumar's response:

Wijepala's comment is well taken. Yes pointing out the things Michael has, is reasonable. But overall the article to me seems to seriously lack balance; this is intellectually troubling in an intensely politicalised time like the present.

My problem is indeed fundamentally with the 'exposure of the Western hypocrisy' that Roberts seeks to make in his post. Its a cheap one used by a cheap Sinhala Chauvinist. In simple terms it goes like this: "you all bombed indiscriminately earlier. now dont shout when we do it". How can this be 'well- schooled scholarship'?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Indiscriminate slaughter from the air is a barbarism that must be abolished"

I find this piece from Simon Jenkins in the Guardian written in the context of the aerial bombardment of Gaza very very relevant to Sri Lanka's war in the North as well.

The tragedy in Gaza surely marks the time when the world declares air-launched bombs and long-distance shells to be illegal under the 1983 Geneva convention. They should be on a par with chemical munitions, white phosphorous, cluster bombs and delayed-action land mines. They pose a threat to non-combatants that should be intolerable even in the miserable context of war.

I can accept Israeli claims that they are not intentionally targeting civilians in Gaza - or the United Nations base set on fire yesterday. But the failure of their chosen armaments had the same effect. The civilian death toll is now put at 673, mostly women and children.

It is barely conceivable that the most accurate weapon of war, an infantryman, would deliberately enter a house and massacre unarmed women and children as they have their dinner. As a result, mercifully few do. When such cold-blooded murder is committed, from the 1968 My Lai killings in Vietnam to those now coming to light in Iraq, we are appalled, and inquiries, trials and disciplinary procedures follow.

Those killing from the air need have no sight of the carnage they unleash. They are placed at both a geographical and a moral distance, with a licence allowed no soldier on the ground. Whether they are dispatching free-fall bombs or GPS-guided missiles, tank shells or predator drones, Hamas's Qassam rockets or improvised explosive devices, they know they often miss their targets, but they launder any carnage as "collateral damage" and leave politicians to handle the backlash. The soldier shrugs and walks away, with no obligation to humanity beyond the occasional apology and a reference to the other side being just as bad.

If gas, landmines, chemical weapons and cluster munitions are now banned - a ban broadly obeyed by most civilised armies - why not aerial bombardment? Instead, bombing is becoming ever more prevalent. It precedes any operation, as a sort of overture, and eagerly takes part in each tactical twist. Counter-insurgency war, in Iraq and Afghanistan, has seen western armies take heavy casualties. But such is the political aversion to them that Israeli, American and British ground forces operate under strict "force protection" rules to minimise losses.

This has led to the reckless use of stand-off munitions, as regularly reported by embedded correspondents. Rather than employ infantry to clear an apparently hostile settlement, commanders call in air strikes and pound it to rubble. The Israelis have responded to the Hamas bombardment of their towns with a far heavier bombardment of Gaza. Both endanger civilians to a degree that cannot be other than criminal. That human shield tactics may be involved is no excuse: the law does not permit the killing of innocents in the hope of reaching the guilty.

Also see Jayantha Dhanapala: (I wonder whether he has the guts to see the same thing to the SL Govt)

the high number of civilian casualties in Gaza indicates once more that there is no such a thing as a clean, technological and aseptic warfare where civilians are spared and only combatants (soldiers or insurgents) are hit.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The connection between the celebration and the mourning

Lankadissent run under the auspicies of the Sri Lanka Freedom party (Mahajana Wing) - Mangala Samaraweera's party - and edited by Senior Journalist Kusal Perera (good friend of murdered Journalist Dharmaratnem Sivaram-'Taraki') has decided to call it a day after Lasantha's killing.

They have issued a statement in this regard. Hats off to Kusal Perera for this part of the statement

"Many who thought they as the media have a right to freedom of expression, they have a right to information, that the people also have the same right and that it is a fundamental right in a modern civilised society, have been told very bluntly and at times most brutally, that it isn't so in this land of the compassionate, democratic republic, run by a "patriotic" regime.

The Tamil media in the North were the first to have been told this bluntly and ruthlessly while the Colombo media did not want those dissenting voices in the North, heard elsewhere. They had to learn that lesson, first hand."

My friend Dinidu has got it spot on:

"If you tell me that four guys on four unmarked bikes, wearing all black, can kill a man in broad daylight and vanish, or twenty people can come to an office, blow it up, and then disappear without anybody knowing, yet I can’t stand on the road for my bus for longer than five minutes without one of your uniform clad brainwashed cronies coming and asking me who I am, what I’m doing there, and when I plan on buggering off, then there is something seriously wrong in what you say."

This capturing of land business if it is done in the name of providing humanitarian relief to the Tamil people why would you celebrate that? Why celebrate as if though you have annexed land to your territory or as if though you have conquered the Tamil people? The celebration has a direct link to providing courage to those parties who now think they can do anything they want. I was so dismayed with the fire crackers yesterday. Would it not have been right for the President if we has so much of feeling for the death of Lasantha to say lets not 'celebrate' this time, unless of course he saw that the incident on the 8th is also a reason for celebration.