Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Weakening the LTTE Before Talks

A myth

by Dinesh D. Dodamgoda, Sri Lanka Morning Leader, 30 May 2007

[S]ecessionism (or any other political ideology which has a communal base) will consistently reappear, forming various organisations as the heirs of the struggle for an independent state until their fundamental issue, secessionism, is addressed. Therefore, there are no shortcuts, gimmicks or options; it is important to bring the sole representative of Tamil secessionism to the negotiation table if we are looking for a permanent political solution. Thus, weakening the LTTE does not mean anything in terms of reaching a permanent political solution.

The question of destroying LTTE’s military capability has dominated our strategic discourse for more than three decades. The answer of a war of attrition against the LTTE, has been as immutable and inscrutable as religious belief. The present government has clearly indicated their determination to continue fighting against the LTTE and they believe that this strategy would ensure their victory over terrorism. However for those strategists who accept terrorism as a tactic but not as an ideology, the process of weakening the LTTE’s military capability prior to political negations is of paramount importance. This article is an attempt to assess ‘the question of destroying the LTTE’s military capability’ as a means of reaching a permanent political solution.

Despite many interpretations of our history, theoretically and empirically it is evident that Sinhalese and Tamils display two different identities. We have few similarities and many differences. Historically, culturally and politically we are two divided ethnic groups and history has produced more evidence to prove division between Sinhalese and Tamils than to prove harmony between them. The Tamil secessionist movement was born with the gradual enlightenment of many Tamils who now believe and advocate the idea that the Tamils can have neither justice nor a future from a Sinhalese government. Therefore, there will be no harmony between Tamils and Sinhalese and this reality has emerged as a result of historical, cultural and political polarisation.

Sole representative

Tamil secessionism has no geographical boundaries and therefore, the truth I have observed is that the vast majority of the Tamil diaspora supports and promotes this ideology regardless of where they are based. Furthermore, since secessionism is an ideology and not an organisation, the secessionists need an organisation in order to achieve their aim. There is no argument that the LTTE is currently the sole representative of Tamil secessionism.

It is in this socio-political context, that the question of destroying the LTTE’s military capability has dominated our strategic discourse for so many years. The original idea put forward by our strategic advisors was to destroy or dismantle the LTTE.

However, after realising the limitations presented of our military capability, we have amended this tactic and diverted our focus to weakening the LTTE. Nevertheless, there are two limits to this weakening process: a psychological limit and a physical limit. No one knows where these limits lie except the LTTE leadership. Therefore, we do not know with certainty when to stop fighting and when to start negotiations and therefore, this duplicity strategically blinds us.

On the other hand, the LTTE may not come to the negotiation table when they are weak. Furthermore, there is no point in bringing them to the negotiation table when they are weak because they will not be representing the Tamil secessionists’ original ideology which is imperative to reach a permanent solution. Why is this so important? It is evident that the Tamil community will not accept any political agreement that was reached by a representative backed against a wall.

As we have already seen in other contexts such as Northern Ireland, secessionism (or any other political ideology which has a communal base) will consistently reappear, forming various organisations as the heirs of the struggle for an independent state until their fundamental issue, secessionism, is addressed. Therefore, there are no shortcuts, gimmicks or options; it is important to bring the sole representative of Tamil secessionism to the negotiation table if we are looking for a permanent political solution. Thus, weakening the LTTE does not mean anything in terms of reaching a permanent political solution.

Ample Evidence

Furthermore, history has proven that the process of attrition is counterproductive against an ideology based on asymmetric warfare. It deepens the societal polarisation and strengthens the determination of the secessionists and their ideology because it spreads hatred everywhere; not only in the Vanni but in Colombo too. And not only in the hearts and minds of Tamils but also in the hearts and minds of Sinhalese.

Furthermore the escalation of violence, killings, abductions and human rights violations as a part of this process will provide more evidence to the secessionists that the Tamils can have neither justice nor a future from the Sinhalese majority and so there will be no solution to their woes except a separate state. This evidence will be presented to the international community, which is instrumental in recognising nation states.

Many believe however that interested nations will stop at nothing to prevent the spread of secessionist ideology, especially India, the USA and the UK. India especially, they say, will do everything in its power to disallow an example of secessionism from emerging within the SAARC region. I feel that this too is a myth. The end of the Cold War and rules of contemporary international law suggest to us that there is a context in which secession is possible, by pushing the idea using diplomatic terms such as internal and external ‘self-determination’.

Therefore, whether we believe it or not, we do not have many options before us since our society is ethnically polarised. The first option is to succumb to secessionism. The other difficult option is maximum power sharing, which gives certain autonomy for the Tamils over selected subjects. There is no magical middle ground.

Deja Vu

The emerging picture in Sri Lanka shows us a really disturbing puzzle and it is evident that the political discourse in Colombo is enhancing societal polarisation and they are strengthening and internationalising Tamil secessionists’ ideology more than before. What is plain to see is that the government is strategically blind, operationally confused and tactically arrogant. They do not know where they are going and what they are encouraging because they have not seen the ‘big picture’ as yet. Yet, I sincerely hope that they will not repeat either 1956 or 1983.

However, my aim is not to criticise the government but to make the point that it is time to dismiss the goal of destroying the LTTE’s military capability and to banish the mythical belief that the international community will snub the idea of secessionism, before we are left with no other option.

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Comment by Nadesan Satyendra, TamilNation.org, May 30, 2007

It is  refreshing to note the views expressed by a Sinhala writer, Dinesh D. Dodamgoda  in a Sinhala owned newspaper published in Sri Lanka - refreshing, though we do not agree with all that he has said, and in particular with his categorisation of the Tamil Eelam national liberation struggle as 'secessionist' and/or 'communal'. On the matter of categorisation, we find the views of Dr. Jeff Sluka in 'National Liberation Movements in Global Context' persuasive -

"The use of the term "national liberation movements" has political implications, particularly when the groups so named are generally referred to by states and the media as "terrorists." No one opposed to or critical of these movements calls them "national liberation movements" because liberation (freedom) has positive value connotations for most people. Nowadays, in the conservative global New Right era we live in, most academics seem to prefer the term "armed separatist (or secessionist) movements," which they claim is a more objective or neutral description.

This is not true; it isn't that one label has value connotations and the other doesn't, both have latent value connotations. In "armed separatist movement" the emphasis is on "armed" - the first word - which stresses means, in this case a means most people find morally problematic. Just as "liberation" expresses a positive value, "armed" stresses a generally negative one. Then separatism is stressed rather than freedom or independence; that they they want to break up an existing state (usually one which most people have been taught about in school geography and assume to be "natural" and legitimate). I unapologetically use the term national liberation movements, because armed separatist movement is in no sense more objective or neutral, rather it is simply more conservative and pro-state/government."

Said that, Dinesh Dodamgoda is right to point out that "whether we believe it or not, we do not have many options before us since our society is ethnically polarised."  But we believe that he is wrong when he says:

" The first option is to succumb to secessionism. The other difficult option is maximum power sharing, which gives certain autonomy for the Tamils over selected subjects. There is no magical middle ground." 

Here, Dinesh Dodamgoda appears to fall into the Singer error of thinking inside the box. Faced with diametrically opposed positions, it is easy to conclude that the only way out is to explore the whole area  in the continuum between 'Independent Tamil Eelam' at one end and 'Unitary Sri Lanka' at the other end - in a search for the 'magical middle ground'. This then is the path of district councils, provincial councils, regional councils, the unit of devolution, the extent of devolution, federalism, and confederation - a path which has ended in failure, time and again.

- the box -


Independent
Tamil Eelam
  Federation
like
Canada
Federation
like US
  Significant
Devolution
to Provincial
Councils
  Regional
Development
Councils
Unitary
Sri Lanka
European Union Confederation
like
Switzerland
Federation
like India
Modest
Devolution
to Provincial
Councils
Very moderate
Devolution
like UK
 

 

We need to think out of the box. No state is 'totally' independent. We live in an inter-dependent world. But, inter-dependence comes after independence from alien rule, not before. Associations such as the European Union are associations of independent states.  Such associations do not represent a stage before independence and they rightly belong to the left of "Independent Tamil Eelam" A figurative representation more in accord with reality would be:

- outside the box -

- the box -

 
Independent
Tamil Eelam
Federation
like
Canada
Federation
like US
  Significant
Devolution
to Provincial
Councils
  Regional
Development
Councils
Unitary
Sri Lanka
European Union Confederation
like
Switzerland
Federation
like India
Modest
Devolution
to Provincial
Councils
Very moderate
Devolution
like UK
 

 

A meaningful negotiating process will need to address the question of working out a legal framework for two free and independent peoples to co-exist - a legal framework where they may pool their sovereignty in certain agreed areas, so that they may co-exist in peace.  There will be a need to telescope two processes - one the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam state and the other the terms in which an independent Tamil Eelam state may  associate with an independent Sri Lanka, so that the national security of each may be protected and guaranteed.

Admittedly, the negotiating process may be complex but if Germany and France were able to put in place such 'associate' structures despite the suspicions and confrontations of two world wars, it should not be beyond the capacity of Tamil Eelam and  Sri Lanka to work out structures, within which each independent state may remain free and prosper, but at the same time pool sovereignty in certain agreed areas. 

And so in 2007 (as in the past 30 years and more), the question remains whether two peoples sitting together as equals can agree upon political structures which secure the equality of each people and  which address not only the aspirations but also the concerns, the fears, and the apprehensions of each.  

In the end, it is for the Tamil people and the Sinhala people to be unafraid to have a continuing, open and honest conversation with each other and in this way help mobilise a critical mass of people committed to secure justice and democracy - a democracy where no one people rule another. An independent Tamil Eelam is not negotiable but an independent Tamil Eelam can and will negotiate.

Tamils who today live in many lands and across distant seas know only too well that sovereignty after all, is not virginity. At the sametime, we must pay careful attention to the words of Professor Margaret Moore in Normative Justifications for Liberal Nationalism: Justice, Democracy and National Identity

"...The problem in nationally divided societies is that the different groups have different political identities, and, in cases where the identities are mutually exclusive (not nested), these groups see themselves as forming distinct political communities. In this situation, the options available to represent these distinct identities are very limited, because any solution at the state level is inclined to be biased in favour of one kind of identity over another. That is to say, if the minority group seeks to be self-governing, or to secede from the larger state, increased representation at the centre will not be satisfactory. The problem in this case is that the group does not identify with the centre, or want to be part of that political community...One conclusion that can be drawn is that, in some cases, secession/partition of the two communities, where that option is available, is the best outcome overall. .."

Constitutional structures must accord with the political reality on the ground - and not the other way round. But if the the people in the island of Sri Lanka  are not persuaded by all that  has happened during the past several decades, then yet again conflict resolution will take the form of war - directed to change minds and hearts. [see also Sri Lanka - Tamil Eelam: Getting to Yes]