Ilankai Tamil Sangam

25th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Interview with Anita Pratap

by Puthinam, July 15, 2008

Of course there will be talks. But not this year. People don’t realize there are two lame duck governments that are integral to peace in Sri Lanka. India and the United States...

India is very concerned about the problem... There is no inclination or time left for the current UPA government to facilitate a new set of peace talks. But that does not mean total disengagement on the part of India. India is clear that it does not want a major escalation of war in Sri Lanka...

India doesn’t want either the LTTE or the government to gain an upper hand. A balance of power that keeps the status quo and violence within acceptable limits, is what India wants in the absence of a peace settlement, which at the moment is remote. Both from the security and from the foreign policy points of view, India is clear it does not want the war in sri lanka to spin out of control...

I still hope I will return some day to do a biography of Pirabhakaran. That’s one of the few remaining unfulfilled dreams I have left in my life. I have no doubts that he is THE most important guerilla leader of our times.

Tamil version here.

Anita Pradap’s Exclusive Interview to the ‘Puthinam.com’ website.
July, 15th 2008.

Anita Pratap Pradap Prathap July 2008 Where do you see the end for the current cycle of violence in Sri Lanka?

A: The ethnic violence is Sri Lanka is a vicious cycle – it goes round and round. There are times when the violence is up, and then it comes down and then up again. I don’t see an immediate end to the violence. If anything, my guess is that violence will increase. Right now, the government thinks they have an advantage, so they will press ahead. They think they can militarily weaken the Tigers to force them to the negotiating table. Previous governments have thought the same, but it doesn’t work like that. The government has denied it, but if true, the attack on President Rajapakse’s convoy aircraft is serious. It shows the LTTE’s lethal capability to come close to the heart of the government apparatus. I expect the government to therefore crackdown even more, if only as an act of punishment and a warning that such attacks will unleash deadly reprisals. But if civilians get hurt or killed in retaliatiory attacks, the LTTE will only be strengthened in terms of public support.

What is your take on the current military situation in Sri Lanka? There is a perception that the LTTE is militarily weakened. Your comments please?

Yes, there is a perception that the Tigers are militarily weakened. But going by past experience, the Tigers tend to lie low when the current is against them. But they are not idling or wasting time. They are recouping, reorganizing, preparing for a comeback. Pirabhakaran is a patient man, but I have never, ever known him to waste a moment. His mind is ticking all the time. The LTTE is best as a guerrilla outfit. When the might of the state is unleashed, it is counter productive for the LTTE to stay put and fight as if they are a conventional army. Pirabhakaran tried this way back in the very early 1990s and realized it doesn’t work, it's too costly in terms of Tiger casualties. So when the might of the army is omnipresent, the Tigers retreat the way a guerilla group should, re-strategize and reorganize and bide their time. To think this is a decisive military victory for the government is a fatal mistake. Short, sharp, lightning strikes out of the blue is what the LTTE is best at. Literally ambushing the government – speed and timing then is on their side. So I don’t think the government can afford any complacency or misplaced conclusions that the Tigers are down and out.

In the current context of war against the LTTE, do you think the Government of Sri Lanka achieves its goal?

A government should never think solely in terms of war. I hate war and can never support war and no government should even think in terms of war against its own people. But reality is different. Governments unfortunately do wage war – not only against its enemies, but even worse, against its own people. I am not in government and if I were, and forced to wage war, I would be very clear in my mind that war, at best, is an instrument to negotiation, to bring peace. Ultimately, for any government anywhere, peace and prosperity is the goal. War is a means to an end – and that end is peace , stability and prosperity. The tragedy of Sri Lanka is that war seems to have become an end in itself. Too many individuals, groups and lobbies attain a vested interest in the perpetuation of war.

Is there any chance for the commencement of direct peace talks between Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE in the immediate future?

Of course there will be talks. But not this year. People don’t realize there are two lame duck governments that are integral to peace in Sri Lanka. India and the United States. Bush will be out this year and elections in India latest by spring next year will produce a new coalition. So nothing will happen on the talks front for another year. There is a hiatus now and that’s another reason why I expect the Sri Lankan government to quicken and intensify the pace of war – especially after the monsoons are over.

What do you think India should do at this moment to solve the problem?

India is very concerned about the problem. India is not overtly active as there is no stomach for direct military involvement after the IPKF fiasco. But the goings on in the region, the security and stability of the entire Indian subcontinent is a matter that India takes very seriously. There is no inclination or time left for the current UPA government to facilitate a new set of peace talks. But that does not mean total disengagement on the part of India. India is clear that it does not want a major escalation of war in Sri Lanka.

Can you elaborate the intention of the top level Indian delegation’s recent visit to Sri Lanka and so-called 'Military Support' to the Lankan Government?

I think the purpose of that mission was to ensure what I stated just now - ensuring regional security - that this top level delegation went to Colombo. The composition of the delegation should make it clear to anyone that this is no public relations or routine visit. India is aware that there is calculation among the Sinhalese establishment that India is now stuck with a lame duck government and very distracted with elections around the corner. This encourages adventurism in certain sections in the Sinhalese establishment. It is to warn against such adventurism that this delegation went to Colombo. India doesn’t want either the LTTE or the government to gain an upper hand. A balance of power that keeps the status quo and violence within acceptable limits, is what India wants in the absence of a peace settlement, which at the moment is remote. Both from the security and from the foreign policy points of view, India is clear it does not want the war in sri lanka to spin out of control.

Do you think any policy shift in the eyes of western countries regarding the Tamil Liberation fighting recently? Can you elaborate with the incidents which took place in Canada and Italy.

A: One of the biggest distortions that has happened because of Bush’s general “war on terror” is that all groups, including national liberation groups, are classified now as terrorist. If we had this war on terror two decades ago, Nelson Mandela would still be in prison classified as the world’s most dangerous terrorist. By the way, Mandela was only very recently removed from the terrorist list! The war on terror makes no distinction between acts of terror and liberation groups. Vidar Helgesen, a former Norwegian Deputy Minister and a peace negotiator in Sri Lanka has written an excellent paper focusing on this issue. So the mindset across the world is to classify even liberation movements as terrorists – and the LTTE has suffered because of this mindset because it is classified as a terrorist group in many countries. This mindset has also closed the door to any negotiations with so-called terror groups. This has strengthened the hand of governments trying to crush liberation movements. What about the rights of the Tamils? The LTTE has consistently stood for that. But that unfortunately is not the issue, crushing and eradicating terrorist groups is the primary focus.

Have you ever wondered why is it that in the UN, countries are unable to define “terrorism”? What is so hard to define about this word? Any act in which innocent civilians are injured or killed and civilian property is destroyed is terrorism. But why can't governments come together to define it? Because this definition – which is simple, factual and to the point – makes many governments also guilty of terror. Included then in the terror list would be the governments of Israel, the United States, Britain, China, Russia, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and so many others. All these governments have used terror – overtly or covertly - as a tactic. But there is so many double standards. Libya’s Gaddaffi is brought to his knees because of a plane bombing, but what about the United States bombing out an Iranian jetliner way back?

The fact is terrorism is not a military issue. It is political. Groups are classified as terrorist because it is politically expedient. They are removed from the list when it is politically expedient. And even if they are not removed from the list, nothing stops even the most “anti-terror” government like Bush’s Administration from holding covert talks and even arming and funding groups that figure on their terror list, such as the Iranian Khalq group. Seymour Hersh’s recent article in The New Yorker states that the U.S. government has secretly sanctioned $ 400 million for covert operations in Iran to topple the Ahmednijad government. So politics triumphs principles and the U.S. government is actively dealing with Iranian terror groups – as they always have in the past.

What do you think about the Tamil Nadu influence in the India’s policy towards the Sri Lanka?

It's not as strong as it was in the 1980s. India and Tamil Nadu have moved on. The Tamils in Sri Lanka are stuck in a time warp, they are mired in the mud of violence. They are not aware the extent to which India has changed. The last five years saw India make enormous strides economically. Many people have prospered and they don’t want to be held back by old wars. The Indian middle class and intelligentsia have also become terribly insensitive and selfish. They have bought into the hype of India as an emerging economic superpower, paired always with China. But one only has to go to Beijing and Shanghai to realize how many million miles China is ahead of India in terms of economic power – of course China has terrible internal weaknesses.

The average Indian is currently obsessed about making money – and is least bothered about what is happening in Sri Lanka or Nepal or even in the Indian hinterland. In that sense, I would say that Manmohan Singh has shown more sensitivity to the real issues of India than the average citizen. That’s also because the media in India – like in most other countries – is completely controlled by the corporates and so focus only on trivial issues and pursuits - on cricket, films, celebrity lifestyles and sensex. There is a huge gap in the coverage of real, serious issues. As far as the media is concerned, they are addressing consumers, not citizens.

What do you think about the LTTE’s mindset in the current situation of Sri Lanka and the International scenario?

You know there is no LTTE mindset; there is only a Pirabhakaran mindset. The Pirabhakaran mindset IS the LTTE mindset. Nowhere in the world is there a group that has such total obedience and loyalty to the head. Pirabhakaran is not just a brilliant military mastermind. He is also a very shrewd political strategist. He has a very sound knowledge of international politics and even more importantly, has a fantastic grasp on how international scenarios directly impact the Tamil struggle. I have said this before – way back in the mid 1980s, at the height of India’s support to the LTTE and other Tamil militant groups. Pirabhakaran told me, one day he would have to fight India. I was stunned and asked him why and his reply was “India would never tolerate an independent Tamil Eelam because of its own Tamil population that would be then encouraged to secede”. Pirabhakran is also aware of the might of the United States. They have a bearing on most countries. And they do in Sri Lanka too.

Pirabhakaran realized that nothing much can be gained as far as his goals are concerned as long as Bush and his war on terror wreaks havoc across the world. From 2001, I had expected and publicly stated that the LTTE will lie low and wait out Bush’s regime. I think I have been proven right. Bush will leave in January 2009 and if it is Obama who is elected next, it will be a very different United States.

In any case, the last eight years have also seen the weakening and unpopularity of America across the world. The American empire has peaked and will decline in the coming years. The looming recession, messy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the low morale of Americans, the housing and credit crises all will take their toll on America. This is happening against the backdrop of a resurgent Russia, a rising China and an emerging India and Brazil. This will mean the world will be a very different place in the 21st century. I think Pirabhakaran will be assessing these changing geo-political scenarios and will begin making his moves from next year.

As a journalist who deals with the western media, what do you think the reasons behind the western media still sidelining the Tamil freedom struggle news and the violations against the Tamil people?

The western media (primarily American and British) is focused on issues that are of strategic importance to their governments – so they focused on the Balkans, now Iraq and Afghanistan. The Sri Lankan Tamil struggle is not of strategic concern to their governments. Media is part of the establishment – make no mistake about that. I wouldn’t say there is no press freedom –there is perhaps greater freedom there than in many other countries – but media is part of the establishment and so is very close to the government when it comes to foreign policy and military/security issues. The state often covertly uses the media (by planting stories and deliberate leaks) as an instrument in their war or pursuit of foreign policy objectives. The way the western media covered the Iraq war, especially in the beginning, is proof of that. They swallowed the Bush propaganda – that there were weapons of mass destruction, that mission was accomplished and so on – and regurgitated it as if it was their own findings.

Jounalists are suffering in Sri Lanka under the present government.Can you comment?

Civilized societies must have zero-tolerance for attacks on journalists. Citizens must raise their voice against this. I think it's also important for media organizations to contact Reporters Without Borders and other international organizations that promote media freedom and register their complaints so that concerted protests can be lodged with the government. One must raise national and international awareness and build pressure on the groups and agencies that attack journalists. Protecting journalists is a fundamental duty of any civilized government. But it is also the fundamental duty of journalists not to meddle with politics. Very often they are spokespersons for one party or ideology. They are partisan and not independent as they profess to be. They exaggerate, they sensationalize, and they even lie. It is a journalist’s fundamental duty to be truthful, fair and non-partisan. Not that attacking them is the way to handle non-partisan journalists. They should be exposed and discredited, not attacked and killed.

Are you planning a trip to SL soon? If not why?

No I am not planning a trip. As you mentioned the media is not interested in Sri Lanka. In fact, they are not interested in most serious issues. I still hope I will return some day to do a biography of Pirabhakaran. That’s one of the few remaining unfulfilled dreams I have left in my life. I have no doubts that he is THE most important guerilla leader of our times. And I do feel I understand his mind better than any other journalist or writer. And I can write in a way that makes his biography comprehensible and fascinating to not just Tamils, but to the whole world.

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