Monday, May 16, 2011

On Palestine & Sri Lanka: the Politics of Aid & Development - Some Reflections and Notes for Future Research

(Graphic Courtesy: The Hindu, May 20 2011)

Dr Sara Roy of the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University is an eminent scholar on Palestine. Her profile can be viewed here at wikipedia. In this speech delivered in 2008 she talks about the politics of donor activities in Palestine which ignored Gaza and supported West Bank with the intention of dissecting, splitting and diluting the Palestinian movement for independent statehood (Fast forward to the 38th minute of the video for this part of her speech). She talks about how Western donors engaged with the status quo in a manner whereby donor support by design and effect supported/support Israeli Occupation. She points to how the earlier notion of occupation as bad for peace is being replaced with 'normalising' occupation. Also see her response to a question on Hamas here.

There are definite parallels to Sri Lanka. Scholars like Patrick Peebles have commented on how the dry zone colonisation programme had an impact on the ethnic conflict. Serene Tennakoon has commented on how the rituals of big developmental project was important to the kind of post colonial nation building project that was being experimented by the Sinhala elite. Amita Sashtri in 1990 wrote an important article that dealt with the material basis for the movement for Tamil separatism. Sunil Bastian has extensively written about the politics of land reform. His recent article for Panos Sri Lanka provides for a good overview.

More recently in 2009 the International Crisis Group in a report (couched in a language that seeks to make the point without discomforting donors) points to the need for conflict-sensitivity and to ensure local participation in planning and implementing developmental projects in post-war Eastern Province.

In a lecture that i delivered at the invitation of the Jaffna Science Association at the Faculty of Science of the University of Jaffna on the 13th of July 2010 titled 'Environment and the Law in the Contest of Post War Development', I drew attention to the ADB Funded Dry Zone Water Supply Programme and how it related to the Maavilaru Anicut Controversy of 2006 that triggered the final war. I also drew attention to how quick fix, rapid, mega style development and associated political imagery is being used by the GOSL (with explicit or inadvertent support from donors) in post-war Sri Lanka to undermine the political project for sharing of state power. In that speech I drew attention to the following projects being currently funded by the ADB: 1) ADB's Dry Zone Water Supply and Sanitation Project - its sub project in Vavuniya - which involved the construction of dams requiring 700 acres of land (including the acquisition of 96 acres of private land belonging to Tamils), 2) The Iranaimadukulam Project of bringing ground water to 300,000 residents in Jaffna peninsula which i claimed would have a 'Cauvery dispute effect' in relations between the people of Killinochchi and Jaffna thus dissecting the Tamil community in the North and weakening the focus on the need for a political solution. (Consider parallels to what Sara Roy says about dissection of the Palestinian community) I also drew attention to the Extra Ordinary Gazette Notification 1617/32-2009 which detailed plans to build Mankulam as an urban centre and eventually the capital of the Northern Province. The Urban Development Authority disclosed plans to settle 100,000 people by 2010 in Mankulam and estimating the population to triple to 300,000 people by 2030. I questioned 1) whether this was being planned with the objective of further effecting demographic changes in Tamil majority areas with the focus now including the Northern Province and 2) the intelligibility of the water supply project to Jaffna from Iranaimadukkulam (in the Killinochchi District) given the water scarcity in Mankulam (also located in Killi). I also raised issues relating to the Lime stone quarrying taking place in Jaffna which in fact is a major contributor to ground water salination, being carried with support from the Ministry of Defence. I proposed that rain water harvesting would be the best response to the ground water problem in Jaffna and requested at that meeting for University academics from the relevant departments (Community Medicine, Geography, Law, Economics et al) to come together to study this issue scientifically. So far nothing has come out. I hope to research further on this on my own later this year.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

On why the Tamils (& the Minorities) Have No Space in the English Print Media in Sri Lanka

We have known this all along. But if someone was looking for post-war evidence of it, they should read today's Sunday Times Editorial. If anyone thought a section of the English media in Sri Lanka leaves some space for 'liberal', 'progressive' politics, think again. Note that the tone of the editorial is critical of the Govt. But note how even in being critical of the Govt they cant help but spat the communal venom.

The editorial:

1) spats venom on the TNA ("MPs of the TNA, most living in Colombo preaching the gospel of hate and communalism from their local pulpits seem assailed by convenient amnesia");

2) says that the GOSL is right in being wary of devolving powers to the North and East ("If the Government in Colombo is wary of devolving political power to the North, and quite rightly so, then there is a bigger onus on its part not to choose to ignore the happenings where its writ is now back in force")

3) justifies the High Security Zones ("it is far too early to dismantle the large scale and widely spread military garrisons in these areas");

4) has a utilitarian advise to the Govt on dealing with paramilitary forces ("No doubt, these political elements did yeoman service in helping the Security Forces neutralize the LTTE during the latter years of the 'war', but their determination to enforce an iron grip on the populace and run their writ on the politics of the area has all the hallmarks of backfiring on the Government.")

5) and plays on the Sinhala polity's fear psychosis that India/TamilNadu has an expansionist agenda in the North and East. ("The Government had better beware. Into the vacuum of inaction comes increased Indian presence. The opening of a consulate was the first step. The Sri Lankan Government must treat the North as part and parcel of this country before someone else considers it as an extension of Tamil Nadu".)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Building internal capacity for autonomy

Watched two past episodes of Hard Talk regarding challenges faced by sub-state actors in making the case for a separate state (in the case of Martin McGuiness - the case for a unified Ireland) in the current climate of financial crisis- the primary question being whether small states can cope up on their own when they are faced with a crisis of similar scale and sorts.

Interview with Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland

Interview with Marin McGuiness - Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland

Alex Salmond cant fail to impress. An economist, he was very much in control of the subject of Stepehen Sackur's questions and argues persuasively why being an independent country might have helped Scottish economy face the crisis better. Our minority leaders - and those within the TNA would do well by watching this interview - I don't know anyone within the Tamil political circles who has a good understanding of the economics of the North and East and the country in general, and articulate the need for more fiscal autonomy for the provinces. We need to develop better capacities to make the scientific case for autonomy.

The interesting part of the the McGuniess interview is the section where Stephen Sackur asks McGuniness whether he now feels trapped and cooped by the Birtish state into the devolution agreement with dissident Republicans getting more and more angry with Sinn Fein. The culture of politics is different here in the UK - McGuiness's point about political evolution might not make sense in our context - but there are lessons for Tamils as the Sri Lankan Government tries to co-opt our political formations into something very inadequate - PCs and the 13th Amendment.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The 'Sui Generis' Nature of Kosovo

Read this on Prof William Schabas's blog:

"Dick Marty, the member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe who exposed the secret US detention centres and the rendition flights, confirms the charges of Carla Del Ponte that forces associated with the Kosovo Liberation Army took Serb prisoners into Albania where they were murdered for their organs, which were subsequently trafficked through organized crime networks".

The Political Leader of KLA is now the Prime Minister of Kosovo. Something that was and is repeated by western diplomats in Sri Lanka is how it was impossible to side with the LTTE because it was highly illiberal. Clearly the KLA seemed to be worse. So supporting a secessionist movement really comes down to nothing but pure and simple geo-political calculations. Hence the US promoting Kosovo's independence as a 'sui generis' case. All this talk about earned sovereignty doesnt really help make sense of why Kosovo and why not Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Staying on the Kosovo topic this recent opinion piece in the Guardian restates the realist school on the politics of state recognition:

Notwithstanding that states encompassing between 80% and 90% of the world's population (by my rough calculations) recognise the state of Palestine, while states encompassing only between 10% and 20% of the world's population recognise the Republic of Kosovo, the western media (and much of the non-western media as well) act as though Kosovo's independence were an accomplished fact while Palestine's independence is only an aspiration that can never be realised without Israeli-American consent; and much of international public opinion (including, apparently, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah) has – at least until recently – permitted itself to be brainwashed into thinking and acting accordingly.

As in most aspects of international relations, it is not the nature of the act (or crime) that matters but, rather, who is doing it to whom. Palestine was conquered, and is still occupied 43 years later, by the military forces of Israel. What most of the world (including the UN and even five EU member states) still regards as the Serbian province of Kosovo was conquered and is still occupied, 11 years later, by the military forces of Nato; the American flag is flown there at least as widely as the Kosovo flag and the capital, Pristina, boasts a Bill Clinton Boulevard and a larger-than-life-size statue of the former American president.

Note: I am back to blogging after a 8 month absence. One of the new year resolutions is to blog more regularly.