Ilankai Tamil Sangam

24th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Playing God

by V Gunaratnam

It is frightening to think how a handful of unelected officials, who arrived on the Sri Lanka scene only months ago, are fashioning policy on the fly, and taking critical decisions on a ‘life and death’ question that’s defied resolution for decades and is haunted by the ghost of failed past regimes that resorted to brutal force.

Dream

People dared to dream of good things to come when Percy Mahinda Rajapakse ascended to the presidency just over a year ago in 2006. He promised peace with honour, vowing to bring the conflict to a swift end, declaring expansively that Sri Lanka belonged to all its citizens whether they were Sinhalese, Tamils, or Muslims. It was as if he was going to wave a magic wand and - presto - the country would be released from the curse of war.

Murderous War

Instead, Rajapakse has been prosecuting a murderous campaign against the Tamils, a shadow war that has become a national nightmare, deepening the racial divide even further, leaving the CFA hanging by a thread, and the prospect of a political accord teetering on the brink of being destroyed altogether.

Hell-hole

Sri Lanka has been turned into a lawless hell-hole, a killing field, where no opposition or criticism of any sort is brooked. Abductions, disappearances, and assassinations are the order of the day. Journalists are hounded into echoing government propaganda under new terror-fighting PTA measures. Journalists are threatened with prosecution, even death, murdered for daring to expose the truth about the conduct of the war, corruption, and misdeeds in high places to public view.

But the measures essentially target the Tamils, to terrorize them in an insidious plot to drive and disperse them from their traditional homeland into inhospitable places, or to risk death on the high seas fleeing to the sanctuary of Tamil Nadu. Life for the Tamils has become a daily grind, a terrifying ordeal, living in constant fear of starvation, sickness, and bombs, under a cruel ritual imposed by the Sri Lankan armed forces.

Contradictions

Rajapakse never committed to peace, despite pious words to the contrary. His duplicity only showed its real face after he became president. But his promise to peacefully end the conflict was doomed to fail from the very beginning, because of contradictory obligations.

He found common cause with the extremists, willingly mortgaging the country to the terrible twins of Sri Lanka politics: the virulently extreme Marxist JVP, and the bald-heads of the JHU, who opposed everything the Tamils aspired to. In one fell stroke he also destroyed the incremental process provided by the Thimpu, Oslo, and Tokyo conferences as bases to advance the search for a solution.

But the unkindest cut of all was wrecking the post-tsunami P-TOMS agreement through his proxy, the JVP, and cutting off aid to the Tamil victims. And he did nothing to rescue P-TOMS, and again when the JVP led the charge and got the NorthEast merger invalidated, destroying the last bit of integrity left in the peace process. And to rub it in, he blithely proceeded to administratively unravel the merger. It was willful negligence.

Now Rajapakse is trying to shoot down the majority report of his own APRC and replace it with a watered down version. When, as expected, it is rejected by the LTTE and gets blamed for it, he would have the excuse to continue with his war strategy, and deflect international criticism and pressure while procrastinating.

Rajapakse is trying to play god. If there was any doubt about his intentions, what he has done in the short space of a year is a chilling reminder of how he is trying to tear down everything cherished by the Tamils. It is lunacy therefore to think that he is going to render justice to the Tamils, or for that matter bring sanity to Sri Lanka politics and steer a course towards an equitable settlement with the Tamils anytime soon.

Word of Honour

Rejecting what previous governments had used as a basis to advance the peace process is a fundamental failure of judgment by Rajapakse, and a grievous mistake, indeed a betrayal of trust by Sri Lanka

When a government goes back on its word, commitments, or passive acquiesces, it destroys the trust at the very heart of negotiations. What is then left to talk about? Can the Tamils put up with this sort of contempt and treachery? Is there any purpose in continuing to engage the government of Sri Lanka in talks?

But even then to keep on fighting, without ever having offered any solution to the Tamils, is total insanity.

Frightening Prospects

Sri Lanka holds virtually all the cards in its hands to end the conflict tomorrow if it so desires; there is nothing or little the LTTE or the Tamils can do. But while Rajapakse’s refrain is about peace, it’s only been bloodshed without respite. Even Bush’s Iraqi fiasco, despite the might of US military power, has not given Rajapakse pause to think about the futility of using force. But then history is full of fallen tin-pot tyrants like him who tried to rule by force of arms, as an instrument of oppression against their own peoples.

It is frightening to think how a handful of unelected officials, who arrived on the Sri Lanka scene only months ago, are fashioning policy on the fly, and taking critical decisions on a ‘life and death’ question that’s defied resolution for decades and is haunted by the ghost of failed past regimes that resorted to brutal force.  

The presidency has been turned into a ‘family business’ with Rajapakse’s brothers, Gotabhaya, a lowly ex-army expatriate lording it over the defence ministry and determining national policy from scratch, and Basil, the president’s man-Friday, taking care of everything else. Their tentacles are all over government business.

Parliament has been castrated, and elected representatives of the people, from cabinet ministers to MPs have been reduced to being just yes-men. It’s chaotic. With support in parliament crumbling because of the JVP’s refusal to play ball with him, Rajapakse has been invading the ranks of opposition parties, shopping for MPs. Many from the UNP crossed over to accept ministerial positions, provoking utter disbelief and amusement as Rajapakse’s cabinet swelled to jumbo-jumbo size with almost all MPs becoming ministers!

Predictably the cross-over killed the MoU and sent UNP boss Ranil Wickremesinghe scampering to New Delhi, to complain and strategize. But it is a fact of Sri Lanka politics that patch-work coalitions haven’t lasted for long, ever since proportional representation became a part of the electoral process made stable government a thing of the past. Perhaps UNP Trojan horses too have found their way in to return the favour to Rajapakse!

But this sort of trickery does not accord with Rajapakse’s avowed search for peace because, with the MoU dead, constitutional accommodation on power-sharing becomes practically impossible.

False Pretences

The ethnic problem is - undeniably - the invention of Sinhala politicians, who have artfully managed to create and live off the perennial bogey, fed by the myths of the Mahavamsa, that acceding to Tamil demands poses a dire threat to the Sinhala race, their Buddhist heritage and their way of life.

When are they collectively going to stop living in denial and accept that what they like to paint as terrorism to the world is but the political weapon of the Tamils, transformed into an angry and fierce fighting force by their own intransigence, violence, oppression and bloodshed over the last 25 years?

But if the violence in return was terrorism, it made no sense why the Sinhalese were engaged in peace talks all these years, and wanting to do so even now. However, what is apparent is that the peace rhetoric is only a cover for the shadow war on the Tamils, to crush their resistance and impose a solution on them.

Why blame the victims? And why keep crying about terrorism when it is the Tamils who are the victims of state terrorism, and Sinhala extremism? Why get their Supreme Court to rule on anything, when their constitution itself is illegal, having been constructed without Tamil participation? Why keep accusing the Tamils of avoiding peace talks, and instigating violence when, in nearly sixty years, not a single realistic offer of a solution meeting even the most basic demands of the Tamils for equality and freedom has been made?

But it is clear that Rajapakse does not care in any way for the Tamils, their rights, security, or well being, proving yet again that he is just the president of only the Sinhalese!

Civilized Politics

The biggest roadblock to power-sharing is the Mahinda Chinthana. Rajapakse is inexorably wedded to it and any move to deviate from it, after all the rhetoric to elevate it like it was the gospel of the Sinhalese, would be his political demise. He is thus caught in a war psychosis, which has made him a prisoner of his own “vision”, a visualization that’s beginning to looks more and more like a hallucination.

What he has done to the country is to turn it into a sort of gulag, a repressive political and military apparatus run by a handful of unelected individuals with no accountability to the people, and an acquiescing president, who collectively have exhibited scant respect for the civilized norms of humanity.

Rajapakse has failed to grasp the reality that no peace is possible without equilibrium, by trying to upset the balance reached after nearly three decades of fighting by conducting a shadow war to make gains, knowing well how previous regimes had miserably failed attempting the same strategy. Until this happens the chances are the conflict will proceed until it is forced to a stop.

It would need an ‘external’ force to make him change course – like India, the US, the UN or the EU. Even the LTTE counts as an external force, if it succeeds in inflicting enough military reversals to force a ceasefire and get international intervention.

But there are some puzzling questions about what is happening in Sri Lanka crying out for answers.

* What are the UN and the Co-Chairs doing about the flagrant human rights violations against the Tamils by the Rajapakse government? Why worry so much about a handful of child soldiers, when thousands of children are caught up in the violence and suffer the same fate as their parents: the thousands of civilians, bombed to death, and the tens of thousands driven out of their homes to fall sick, starve or die in no-man's land, and nothing is being done to stop the violence?

* Why are the UN and the Co-Chairs not doing anything (except make noises) about the blatant violations of the CFA by Sri Lanka and preventing the SLMM, Norwegians, and NGOs from freely doing their work?

* When is the international media going to focus its attention on the violence in Sri Lanka - the endless killing of Tamil civilians by the Rajapkse government and whitewashed as victories in the war on “terrorism” - and expose it as crimes against humanity?

* Why are the UN and Co-Chairs not condemning the occupation of Vaharai by the Sri Lanka armed forces as a violation of the CFA, and declaring that the rights to Vaharai are attached to the people, the Tamils, who have been its perennial inhabitants, and not the land, and its temporary occupation by force or guile does not change anything (unless and until the Tamils give it up by their own free will)?

It is a profound tragedy to see what is happening to the Tamils of Sri Lanka today. Nearly six decades after independence in 1948 they continue to live as an oppressed people in their own country, killed, starved, and driven from their homes in a cycle of ever-increasing violence.

Rajapakse and the Sinhalese have shut their eyes and ears to learn from what is happening in East Timor, Aceh, Nepal, and Northern Ireland, the democratic changes that are sweeping the countries, bringing peace and hope of new beginnings to the peoples of these countries after decades of strife and bloodshed.

What are we fighting over? It’s nothing that cannot be shared, and shared alike. The land, sea, air and inland waters are the bounties of nature, to be enjoyed freely by all.